Monday, 20 May 2013

Let's talk about the Eurovision Song Contest

There's one day a year when my combined degrees in media and European politics become supremely useful. Wikipedia states that it's the most watched non-sporting television event in the world: Eurosong night.

I know far more about the Eurovision Song Contest than is healthy for a dynamic young woman like myself.

I probably could have done a week's worth of posts during the run up to the final, but I spent most of the week sulking that I wasn't going to be able to watch it. Due to a twist of events, combined with Irish broadcaster RTE graciously providing a live webstream for displaced European expats like myself, I did have the pleasure of introducing this strange cultural phenomenon to my US relatives. Next year, I promise, I'll give it the attention it deserves.

To all those who are completely oblivious to what I'm talking about, Americans especially, here's how Eurovision works:

In the 1950's, after Europe had been all but torn apart by two world wars, experts and leaders devised some clever soft power policies to ensure that kind of devastation would never happen again.

One solution was a series of trade pacts that eventually evolved into the European Union. Another was a solution composed (sorry) in Switzerland: A continental pop song talent show.

And so for over 60 years Europe has been lumbered with an overly complicated political system from which no member country can quite disentangle or disassociate itself. It comprises petty spats, an impenetrable voting system that leaves everyone unhappy, cultural faux pas, lingual slip-ups, a hugely bloated budget which favors certain large countries over others, and some questionable fashion. And that's just the song contest.

During my first year living here in the USA I've compared a number of American events to Eurovision, such as the July 4th concerts, the Superbowl and the Draft. But there's no one way I could explain Eurovision to my American family: they had to see it for themselves.

Americans are unashamedly proud of their cheesy bravado, while Europeans hide their glittering pride behind a layer of sarcasm. I don't think any American can truly understand the Old World until they can truly understand the feeling of simultaneous pride and shame that Europeans feel about the song contest. It's like an ugly handbag - it is just so hideous that it's actually kind of fabulous.

Yes, I watch the whole three hour show every year. But as a Brit that doesn't necessarily mean I enjoy it, I'm just fulfilling my patriotic duty.  So when my dog literally ran out of the room at the sound of a Romanian singing falsetto opera to a dupbstep track, or when my Irish-American mother-in-law felt cheated when Ireland came last, and when my US husband (an International Relations professional) bemoaned the shocking political voting, I felt like they finally did now understand the true meaning of a peaceful Europe. Viva L'Eurovision!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Sunday Supplements (and Sunday Puppy too)

This is her Grumpy Cat impression


This week I've been living on homemade smoothies, chorizo and melba toast. Not a bad diet if you ask me.


Eurovision - The Eurovision Song Contest is uniquely European. The only way I could explain it to my American family is that it's like the Superbowl, but with terrible pop music instead of sport. I'm going to have to do a full post on this one I think!


Hybrid Animals - Bizarre, funny, but fantastic Photoshop skills. I have to admire!



I've been reading The Great Gatsby on my morning commutes, amidst all the super-fun SEO, web design and marketing books I've been reading lately. Fabulous. What have you been up to this week? I must confess I haven't done much blog reading lately!

Monday, 13 May 2013

The Great GLadley

Sometimes I just make myself laugh, that's all.

But also I was told that when I moved to America I'd have to learn to sell myself. That is, be able to toot my own horn about my skills and achievements. Apparently Brits are too good at the humble brag and Americans don't get it. If I say I'm no good at something then my US peers are more likely to take it at face value than assume I'm just being modest. Oops.

So I pulled this funky little graphic together on Saturday and sat for a good long while laughing at my own joke. There's so much wrong with it technically (I mean, look at the font I used for "the great" for a start), but hey, that's ok. I'm proud of it!

A while ago I taught myself how to use Illustrator. I also taught myself how to use Inkscape, which is the open source equivalent. Originally nobody cared that I could use Inkscape, although they might now that Adobe is dropping Creative Suite and pushing Creative Cloud onto everyone (Inkscape is free, Adobe is not-free). About half the stuff I do on my blog is Illustrator, the other is Inkscape. Can you tell the difference? Probably not, right?

For a while I've wanted to make Mondays on this blog about all the cool stuff I'm interested in: media, social and online media, culture and cultural policy. You can see February and March's related posts. This blog was never really going to be exclusively about me and my husband (even though he's kinda cool): We just don't bake/craft like those other lifestyle bloggers do, sorry. But you knew that already, right?

Don't worry, there's be the usual expat chat, photos and the occasional recipe (maybe). Sunday Puppy will come back too, I was just distracted by another project at the weekend, which I'll tell you about soon because I think it's pretty great.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Strange things expats do: Get denied for store credit cards

I recently experienced the shame of being denied for a JC Penney's store card.

It was harsh. I feel unloveable. But I know it wasn't their fault. It's my fault. It's not them, it's me. I need to change.

I don't exist. To the credit bureau, that is.

Despite my amazing credit rating in the UK (paying off my student overdraft, paying bills on time, that jazz), that means diddly squat here in the USA. Expats like me end up in the annoying situation of having no credit rating. At all. And in the USA you need credit. You just do.

And everyone knows that to get a credit rating you need credit, and to get credit you need a credit rating. Fun, huh?

I knew this was an issue for expats, but for some reason I thought it wouldn't happen to me. Until I got banned from Amazon Payments. Banned!

That in itself is a real bummer because their customer service is terrible and they wouldn't tell me why and won't even let me access my account to shut it down. But that's a while other story I'll rant about another time.

I'd heard that getting a store card was one way for expats to build credit, but when JC Penney (very politely) denied me I realized I only really have one option.

Capital One has a Secured Credit Card for "newcomers" - ie expats and immigrants. It's secured by a pre-payment, and seemingly designed for people who don't exist according the federal credit bureau.

This isn't an advert or affiliate link, I'm actually really hesitant to get this card because I've read mixed reviews.

Do any of my expat readers have any other solutions? How did you start to build credit?

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Strange things expats do: Confuse ticket agents on public transport

I'm pretty adept at traveling, especially on public transport.

I've navigated the London tube, the Barcelona metro, le metro a Paris, the DC system, Boston's T, trams in Prague, ferries to remote Scottish islands, Malta's emblematic buses from the 1950s, and local train services in Eastern Slovakia (using a bumbling mix of Slovak, German and Russian). I have never been to Asia yet (would love to) but I'm confident in my worldliness.

I can get about. I actually enjoy those moments in the first hours of arriving in a new country - wandering around like a bemused toddler, trying to figure out how the world works. Spending far too long struggling with ticket machines in transport stations and annoying lines of commuters behind you. Getting stared down by locals who know you have no clue what you're doing, especially when you get off a train and cross the platform to go back the other way, oops.

But when you move somewhere it's different. There's more pressure. You don't get the cover of being a pesky tourist. You need to start acting like a local. Stat.

So imagine my embarrassment yesterday: I stumbled to the ticket booth in a morning daze to get the train to Philly. I murmured politely, blithely, "Discovery Ticket please."

"What ma'am?"

"Discovery Ticket please."

And it dawned on me. I had made an expat faux pas.

Every city has an unlimited pass, sure. In Philadelphia it's the Independence Pass, with its nice Love Park motif.

Discovery ticket? That's Glasgow. You know, that city I keep comparing to Philly? The words had just slipped out, like it had for six years previously. Same nonchalant intonation.


I know this is a minor trip of the tongue, but it is one of those many little things I really have to concentrate on when I'm doing. I have to reprogram my reflexes, use an extra braincell or two when the coffee hasn't quite kicked in yet. And when it happens it's like a sad reminder I'm not quite a seasoned local yet.

I corrected myself, paid, and slinked away in my own personal humiliation of trying to pretend I'm cool and know what I'm doing in America's funkiest city.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Sunday Supplements (and Sunday Puppy too)

Hey look at this - a cellphone special. I don't just take photos with an old beat-up DSLR. I do take photos with my cellphone, but I haven't quite dipped my toe into the Instagram pool yet. That may well change soon as I'm excited about using Instagram (and Vine) for some social media marketing purposes, not for me exactly, but I sense that might happen too… Tell me your thoughts on photo-sharing-socialite-marketing.


Rittenhouse fayre  - I attended the Philadelphia Art Alliance's annual fundraiser this week, formerly the Wetherill Ball and now re-branded as Spring at the Mansion. It was a sumptuous and bright affair, but this is the only photo I took:

This is Instagram fodder, right?


Portlandia - I think this show appeals to that certain kind of hipster who understands the whole premise of the sketches but isn't too hip to be able to laugh at one's self. And I'm not sure how I feel about being one of those people.


Never Give Up: Covers of the Postal Service - found through Mooreaseal. As per my 'watch' of this week and all the stereotypes I embody, I really enjoy the name, purpose and sound of this EP. Always love a good cover of Such Great Heights.


Across the Pond: Planning ahead - Fellow expat blogger Meg captures the essence of being Gen Y as she plans to move back from the UK (Glasgow, no less) to the USA. I felt exactly the same a year ago as I quit my job and planned my move, so this post really struck me.

Postcards from Rachel: The Trouble with moving  - Expat diaries host Rachel writes a slightly unintentionally hilarious account of having a meltdown from trying too hard not to appear like an identity thief.

To talk of manufacturing - Katherine from Of Corgis and Cocktails does it again with this account of why it's good to buy Made in the USA, even if it's more expensive. This is something I struggle with as a consumer, and hence why I did a few 'fashion' posts focusing on thrift, not just 'fast-fashion'.

Tell me what you've been up to, what you've read, and especially your thoughts on what works and doesn't with photo-sharing. I'd love to hear it all.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Time, Travel and Time Capsules: Keep, delete, or bury?

To anyone who's ever moved, travelers and expats especially, there comes a moment of sorting through the 'stuff' that represents your life, and deciding what to keep, delete, or bury.

Yes, bury!

After my recent post linking to the beautiful 100 year old time capsule, my own mum got in touch to tell me that she's been inspired to bury a time capsule. She asked me for suggestions of what to put in it, and even asked me to put out requests over social media for suggestions.

So I did. 

And the responses were fascinating.

What started as a list of items such as "photos of the local area" and "pictures of family" became a short debate over what format should go in a time capsule. Some people said only include hard copies of photographs and paper materials, others suggested hard drives, old laptops, video footage, etc.

Which is going to last longer and be most relevant in 100 years?

It reminded me of when I was packing to move to the USA for good. I sorted through all the stuff that I'd accumulated and the memories that it held, knowing I only had limited shipping space. I ended up packing an old VHS of a Snoopy movie, even though VHS is obsolete, I'm not sure the video still works, and it definitely doesn't work in the USA anyway. I just couldn't part with it.

We humans are funny and emotional like that. We like to hoard things that we think represent ourselves. And we do it online too. How many pins do you have on Pinterest for example? Or how many photos on Facebook? How many of your blog posts are going to matter to you in 50 years?

Some people think that we should regularly delete elements of our past, and that the internet is detrimental to our need to forget. I'm not sure I agree.

First of all, I think it's important to keep mementos of our past and present. When I worked on a project helping baby boomers set up healthy aging initiatives, so many of them were concerned with memories and reminiscence. Our memories are important, and they keep our brain healthy. Cool apps like the Museum of Me (which creates a visual museum from your Facebook page) could be really useful to help us look back, but could even help to delay forgetfulness in old age.

Secondly, digital is not quite as permanent as we think. Sure, the Way Back When machine is archiving the internet, and the Library of Congress is archiving Twitter, but formats get corrupted or deleted, and new technologies come along. Old film prints are slowly deteriorating and without funding to transfer them to new formats, we're slowly losing bits of history.

So when it comes to my mum's time capsule, should I put my Facebook wall on CD, or print it out? Should I send back my dated Snoopy VHS and put that in too?

This is probably not the kind of debate that would take place 100 years ago. It would be funny if the time capsule only contained emails, Facebook posts and this blog post discussing what should go into a time capsule, and nothing else. Imagine 100 years from now, digging up the most annoyingly post-modern time capsule ever!

What useless thing did you keep with you when you moved or traveled somewhere new? 
What would you put in a time capsule? What should my mum put in her time capsule? 
How will you feel in 50 years looking back at your old Facebook timeline?