Archive for the 'Expat stuff' Category

26
Oct
10

One month and one day

I’ve felt a bit of a shut down creatively. Not completely shut down. I am not saying that I feel darkest depression or paralysing grief over my mother’s death. I did feel that at the appropriate time, and I suppose I am feeling what I am meant to be feeling now in both timing and measure. Kübler-Ross would probably nod her head in confirmation and approval. At one month and one day after my mother’s death, I don’t feel burdened with grief, but it’s still there.

But it’s more complicated than that. This goes beyond the fact that we had a complex relationship even for a mother-daughter one. Although it is incredibly painful that once I strip away any residual anger I had (because what’s the sense in being angry at someone who has already paid the ultimate price for living?), the love I feel for her, that I have always felt for her lies there more powerful and apparent than any anger or frustration I felt. But it’s not like that is the main thing that’s been so difficult.

I could have easily modified this a bit and made this a part of my Expat Survival Series. That’s probably what sets this apart from the ‘normal’ grieving process. When you choose to live your life in a country that is different from the one in which some of your family lives, you too will have to deal with this added complexity if any of that family dies.

It’s totally different than grieving surrounded by people who knew and cared for the person that died. Even my parents’ postal carrier knew my mom, and in a sense, shares a bit in the loss, even if it’s minor. Sure, some people here in the UK can relate through losses in their own lives (if you were to bother telling them about your loss), but being near people going through the grieving process helps you go through your own as well. That feeling that people talk about that comes after the funeral and wake when people stop offering their condolences is amplified if you live abroad.

And you may feel guilty. Well, at least I feel guilty. I should have spent more time with them. I should have done more to make sure she knew I cared about her. I should have not rolled my eyes inwardly when she started talking about her possible death during our visit in mid-September. I should have insisted Mom and Dad got their passports and visited me here in the UK years ago.

I don’t have advice to deal with the guilt. I don’t have advice to deal with the loss and feeling a bit lost without your family. What I do have advice for is to expect it as a possibility and to realise that it is probably just a part of the process.

As I’ve said, I am not crippled by the grief, and I feel a bit better day by day. It no longer shocks me that the seemingly permanent, solid fixture that was my mother is no longer a part of this Earth. I’ve stopped mourning her life as not quite as happy as it could have been. It wasn’t for me to judge the quality of her life. Who am I to say whether she was happy or not? I do still cry for her sometimes, usually every day. I don’t know if that will stop any time soon.

When I was five years old, I had my tonsils out. Unbeknownst to me (and my doctors) at the time, I am very sensitive to most medications and anaesthesia. They had used ether on me, and I started throwing up as soon as I came out from the anaesthesia. I didn’t stop for hours, so they decided to keep me in the hospital overnight.

During the night, after my parents went home in the evening, they moved me from my semi-private room to a ward. I knew I was going home in the morning, so I was up early when I saw my mom walk past the doorway to the ward. I panicked and ran after her. Because I just had my tonsils out, I couldn’t do anything but painfully rasp, “Mommmmmy! Here!” It took a few attempts for her to hear me, but the fear I felt that she would not be able to find me was palatable. Of course, the floor nurse would have just told my mom about the move, but my kindergärtner knowledge of how things worked didn’t comfort me with that realisation. I remember having reoccurring nightmares about her losing me in the hospital and leaving me forgotten in the children’s ward. Later the nightmares became dreams about my mom saving me from one disaster or another. In them she was always striding the same way she did on that morning, and when she found me (in the rubble of the bombing/in the burnt out building/in the plague ward), she’d always smile and open her arms in the same way she did when she found me when I was “lost” all those years ago.

When my mother died, I lost any idea that home was back in the US. I definitely cannot go home again, but I realise as much as that is a loss, it’s also a liberation. I thank her for being what I saw as home and for being the one I know would come and find me when my life fell apart. I am going to have to take it from here. Although I will miss her like crazy, it’s going to be okay. It’s got to be.

26
Apr
10

Expat Survival Course, lesson 2- Groceries

So you are used to jumping in your car, driving to your nearest grocery store, grabbing a cart from the corral, browsing the aisles with their dizzying selection, and heading home having done all your shopping under one roof.  Well, maybe that’s not how grocery shopping is for every American, but more often than not, that’s sort of what happens after most Americans say, “O.K., off to get some groceries.”

In a lot of ways, in the UK it’s not that different.  Chain shops are becoming the only option in some areas, but if you look hard enough, there are still independent butchers, green grocers, fish mongers, and even cheese shops.  In some places you can still get milk delivered from a dairy.  Many towns, cities, and boroughs have open air street markets and farmer’s markets.  Even the biggest shop tends to at least try to cater to their cycling, walking, and bus riding customers so you probably won’t have that “crossing miles of blacktop to get in the front doors” experience you get when walking to many American grocery stores.

Looking at the chains, there’s a whole range of options here, some more expensive and upscale (like M&S) and some more bare bones (such as the discount chains like Aldi and Lidl). In regard to prices within the same chain, the rule seems to be the bigger the shop, the cheaper the prices.  A small convience store sized Tesco in the middle of London might sell bread at 30p a loaf more than the gargantuan Tesco in the suburbs.  While it might not be worth hopping on a train and travelling out to the country to go to a superstore, going a few blocks more to a slightly bigger one might save you a few pounds more on your total shop.  Plus, you will have better selection in an even slightly bigger store.

Make sure you bring a pound coin so your trolley (shopping cart) can hold it hostage.  Don’t worry, you will get the pound back, but it ensures that you don’t run off with the trolley and use it for tasks around the home.  As handy as having your very own trolley may seem, it saves the shops from having to replace them.  Plus, it pretty much eliminates the jerky habit of leaving a trolley right in the middle of a car park (parking lot) where it can block people from using bays or be blown about by the wind, mowing down random people.  You might find your shop keeps free range trolleys, but for your first trip, bring a coin.

Inside most shops are pretty similar to what you’d find in an American grocery store of the same relative price range.  Things might seem a bit different at first, but you will get used to it.  The only other major thing I can think of is that you should be prepared to bag your own groceries because that’s pretty much how it’s done here.  I know I don’t have to tell you to bring your own bags when you can, but if you join up with many of the shops’ points cards, they will give you extra points for bringing your own containers.

Instead of actually travelling to the store yourself, many of the chains offer delivery either for free on orders over a certain amount or for free.  Definitely an advantage to living in a small country.

You can also sign up for organic meat, dairy, and produce delivery from smaller companies and farms.  I think this “produce box” service is becoming more available in the States as well (I don’t think it was widely done when I left), but it’s rather common here.

On top of all these options, there still remains the option of shopping in corner stores for small shops.  They tend to be close to each other in clumps.  I wouldn’t recommend relying upon them for all food, but for a couple pints of milk or a can of tuna, it’s usually easier than going all the way to a larger shop.

I am not going to go into where to buy your favourite American breakfast cereal, because for the most part there is no straight answer.  What’s available in one Tesco might not be available at another.  There are plenty of websites and even bricks and mortar speciality stores where you can buy  imported American products for a premium.  Then there’s the Costco option (you can use your American card here).  But really, why move to a different country just to try to recreate your home country there?  Don’t get me wrong, I occassionally crave a good dill pickle or Diet root beer, but I’ve allowed my tastes and habits to change.  You will change too, and I think people who become too dependent on care packages from home or overpriced imported goods just delay that change and miss out in the meantime.

Current supermarket chains in the UK (The “Big Four” are Tesco, Asda (owned by Walmart), Sainsbury’s, Morrisons)

Discount Chains

Certified Farmers’ Markets

London’s Farmers’ Markets

Milkman

Deliver milk
Note: For veg, fruit, and/or meat box deliveries, you should really Google for the one that serves you best.  I’ve not found a single page listing them all.  Each of the chains which offer online delivery should be listed in those Wikipedia lists, and you can find their websites with details on their delivery schemes.

Happy shopping.

22
Apr
10

Immigration: The myths and realities

It would be easy to entitle this post “I learned all I know about immigration from The Daily Mail” (or telly, or that film from the ’80s with that huge-nosed French guy). But the myths about immigration are not just held by those who buy the red top tabloids or live somewhere in home counties (or in the case of the US, “real America”). People of all sorts of political persuasions have shown in their arguments and discussions about migration to not fully understand the system(s). If we are going to have real discussions about immigration and migration, we need people to know some basic facts about it.

So sit back, forget what you think you know, and I hope by the end of it, you will be standing on better ground to make your arguments either for or against continued immigration.

Myth # 1- If you marry a Brit (or American), you automatically have residency (or better still, citizenship) in their country.
We’re told this a lot in the media, less so in the press but more so as a familiar narrative to many television shows and films. In reality, there are financial tests you have to pass because you can’t claim benefits in either country for years after you arrive (more on that later). You then have to live as a resident for a few years before applying for either permanent residency and then citizenship (UK, but this process is changing) or citizenship (US). The US route also includes medical checks.

Having a child won’t make the process any quicker. It also doesn’t entitle you to British (or American in the case of American born children) citizenship or residency either.

It’s not impossible for most, but for those just leaving uni or those who find themselves unemployed or even in a low paying job, it can take years to get it sorted. It’s not automatic, although it is a lot easier for EU migrants to bring their families into the UK. Which brings me to…

Myth #2- People moving to the UK from the EU are immigrants and all immigrants follow the same laws.

Well, no. People who move to the UK exercising their rights under EU law aren’t considered immigrants. They are EU migrants. They have the right to move to the UK to seek work, school, set up a business just like Brits have the right to move to anywhere in the EEA.

If your town or city has no work, you indeed have the right to move anywhere in the EEA (slightly larger than the EU). People from elsewhere in the EEA have the right to move here. The process is simple. You get your passport and leave. Of course, this means that people can move here to the UK rather simply too.

Immigrants from outside the EU have no such rights. Which brings me to the next myth…

Myth #3- It’s cheap or even free to immigrate to the UK.

No. It’s free to migrate as a EEA national. It’s not free to immigrate outside the EEA. It was significantly cheaper years ago, but when all is said and done, someone like me will have paid thousands of pounds for the right to live here with my husband. The cost goes up every year with some observers expecting the people who are entering now will pay about £10,000 for the entire process.

More information on the current fees can be found here. Remember, everyone has to apply for a few of these before eligible for citizenship.

Banging on about immigration isn’t going to change EEA migration. It’s just going to make it harder for non-EEA immigrants, and in turn, harder for British citizens who marry people from outside the EU. Oh, and for people like the guy who runs your local curry house and needs to hire Indian workers. Do you really want a Brit making your chicken tikka? Do you really think many Brits would make your chicken tikka if offered that job?

Myth #4- Brits (or Americans) can’t hold dual citizenship This is a dated myth in the case of Americans and I don’t think it was ever the case for Brits. People who naturalise in either country do not have to give up their citizenship provided that country allows dual citizenship.

Myth #5- Immigrants can collect benefits. No, migrants can. Legal immigrants cannot for years after immigrating. Full stop. Doesn’t happen. The Mail is wrong on this one. Having a child here doesn’t make you eligible for benefits either.

Myth #6- If someone wants to move to the UK from anywhere in the world, they just need apply. No. Outside the EU, most people can’t come to the UK even if they wanted to.

If you don’t have a Master’s degree, a special skill or expertise, a lot of money to start a business, work for a multinational which transfers employees, married to a Brit or EEA national, or are a student of means, you aren’t coming here without British or proof you are an EEA national. It used to be a bit easier, especially for students, but that has all changed recently.

Myth #7- If your grandparents were born in the UK, you can come live here easily. No. There used to be a route to residency if you were a citizen of a country in the Commonwealth, but this “ancestry visa” is no longer a route to citizenship. It was never an option to most people regardless of their ethnic background.

And just because someone is of British heritage doesn’t mean they get an easier time with other visas. I didn’t get to jump the queue just because most of my family is descended from people who came from Wales, England, and Ireland a few generations ago. This confused my sister-in-law to no end. She figured I’d get a special bonus for my ethnicity and speaking English. Turns out, it just means I don’t have to have my documents translated for immigration applications.

Myth #8- Immigrants can vote Most can’t. Immigrants from the Commonwealth can and EEA nationals who are living here can. The majority of immigrants cannot.

Myth #9- Brits, Americans, and so on are expats when they move to another country. Although I use the term, it doesn’t mean I am not an immigrant. A Ugandan living in the UK is an expat. A Brit with residency in Australia is an immigrant as well as an expat. Brits in the EU, however, are migrants.

Immigration is huge issue for many families in the UK, but the only way we are going to have a grown up debate about it is to stop reading the tabloids’ take on it. They aren’t here to inform you. They are here to swing your vote. Every last one of them. I don’t care who you are, if you’re coming to the table to talk about immigration, please make sure you understand what immigration is about first.

01
Mar
10

New Month, New Series: Expat Survival Course

This is the first in a series of posts I will periodically make for North Americans spending any time in the UK, whether spending a semester or moving here to live out their lives (at least for the foreseeable future). This is in no way is with the intention of belittling how things are done in either country, nor is it to come off as superior or to give the impression that living in the UK is roughing it or is overly difficult. I also am more familiar with life in the US, so some of the differences might not apply to Canadians.

I meant to do this a while ago, and the first was to be about staying warm. Since we’ve had our first day of the year that is 10C (about 50F), the timing seems off. I guess I could start with the seemingly banal topic of laundry. It seems timely as today is the first day I hung clothes out since before Christmas.

What could be different? Well, the last sentence of the previous paragraph might give you a clue. While dryers are becoming more common, many UK households will have a washer, but no dryer. In fact, even in rentals, washers tend to be standard along with a stove and fridge. So where you may be lucky to have a hookup to supply your own washer and dryer in the States but were more likely to have to lug your clothes to a communal laundry room or laundromat, you will probably have your own washer here.

First, I am going to talk about the washers themselves. They tend to be front loaders, although a few people have hung onto the duel tub top loaders. Chances are you will not have one of those, so I won’t go into detail about them except that they are a washing tub which usually has an intake hose you attach to your sink (sort of like a portable dishwasher) along with a separate spinning compartment. A few people have top loaders like the ones common in the US, and they are called, unsurprisingly, “American style washers”.

The front loaders tend to be more energy efficient in both energy and soap but can take much more time to wash a load. You usually have a drawer to use for soap and softener, but it’s better to use a ball or dispenser in the drum itself, especially if using powder. You should find out if you are living in a hard water or soft water area and adjust your detergent use accordingly (Google for maps). If you are in a hard water area, you should consider water softener or soda crystals, and you should read your washing machine manual about maintaining your machine. Front loaders tend to have bits and bobs that need checking on (traps and drawers). Your manual will help you with that. Oh, and don’t forget, unless it’s an elderly machine, the temperatures will be in Celsius. 30 and below are cold washes; 60 and above are hot washes.

You should also consider what laundry soap you might want to use. Bio soaps tend to be pretty popular here. They use enzymes instead of harsh chemicals to deal with stains and grease. We tend to have skin problems, so I use non-bio soap, soda crystals, and run at least one extra rinse. Don’t worry. You’ll figure things out.

Next is drying. My mother in law had a separate spinner. It’s sort of like half the dual tub washer. Chances are your regular machine will spin well enough to make this unnecessary, luckily for you. I spent many nights with my back all spasmed from leaning on the spinner to keep it from travelling across the floor. It did shorten the length of time needed to dry the clothes though.

Your washer may be a combo unit. I’ve not heard great things about these. They are meant to wash and dry your clothes without you needing two big machines. They take a long time to complete a load, and they don’t dry things so well. If you do have a tumble dryer, it could be a condenser or a vented dryer. Vented dryers are like most dryers in the States. There’s a big tube that can lead out a vent, be directed out an open door or window, or adapted to condense the moisture into a pan that can be emptied. They tend to work relatively quickly. Condensers draw the moisture out and deposit it into a container, usually a big flat jug, that should be emptied every few loads.

If you don’t have a dryer and you absolutely can’t stand the idea of air drying, you can try to find a launderette. I personally prefer air drying. I just like the idea of saving on electric, and provided it’s nice enough out, I love drying my clothes outdoors. Yes, they tend to be a bit stiffer than overly softened tumble dried clothes, but the smell is far superior than any fake perfume your detergent or fabric softener can add.

Just because you don’t have a dryer or a garden doesn’t mean that you have to take forever to dry your clothes. Opening a window in nice weather will speed things up and help add that nice aired smell. Plus, having a dehumidifier or using an airing cupboard will prevent the “clothes hanging for days” problem.

Even I, an emphatic supporter of air drying, can really get sick of having clothes hanging on the radiators and on racks. It’s not perfect, but it gets easier in nicer weather. Of course, then you’re left to the fickle nature of British weather to determine whether your clothes get drenched (luckily most British washers allow you to spin dry your clothes without running a full wash) or you are rewarded a few hours later with dry, sweet smelling (if slightly stiff) clothes.

Well, this seems to be the longest, least exciting blog post I’ve written, but I hope it helps a few people.

09
Feb
10

Borderlander

I remember the first time I felt full of love for my adopted homeland. I thought, very honestly, I think I was born in the wrong place. I was meant to be British. This thought occurred to me sometime after the novelty of hearing British accents on the telly and all around me most of the time wore off, but sometime before any sort of homesickness had set in.

Now, after the long wait for my indefinite leave to remain, my crush has grown into the comfort of really finding this place home. The realisation that I could happily live within its borders for the rest of my days–although I’d probably still need to travel. I don’t think my wanderlust has been totally quenched. I don’t know if I could adequately put either state of mind into words, outlining the differences, and showing the connections where one has grown out of the other. I love my new home, and I’ve found my new home.

But I also realise that I can never go back to the US and really find myself wholly of that place. I’ve lived elsewhere before, but always as an outsider, and never expecting to remain for more than a short time. While I was changed before, the change was more on an intellectual level, or to add layers of curiosity and worldiness to the stable core. I have been altered by my time as an immigrant here in a much more profound way.

Parts of me are unshakeably American. Parts of me will forever be of this new home of mine. For that reason, I can never view myself of one place or another. The same old immigrant story, borderlanders each and every one of us.

05
Feb
10

Dual Nationality

I am not going to spend much of this post explaining the legalities of dual citizenship, but contrary to widespread belief, Americans are allowed to hold more than one citizenship. So Dad and Mom, please stop asking me every time I bring up my (planned) British nationalisation if I am sure I will still be an American.

This is going to be more about my opinions on Americans who immigrate to other countries, have dual national children (children born abroad to American citizens are usually Americans at birth). They do, however, have to have their births registered by the time he or she turns eighteen. This registration doesn’t make them an American citizen, but failing to do so can complicate future claims to American citizenship, especially if they have travelled into the US on a foreign passport.

Most Americans register their kids, but a small, yet surprising number of parents don’t and refuse to use US passports for their children when entering the US. Some cite political reasons or fear of a bellicose administration trying to draft their children into a war they don’t need to fight. Some recognise the tax liabilities it creates (the US is one of the only countries which taxes its non-resident citizens). Others point to complications in holding high office in either country (although the likeliness of this being an issue is not great, and it is something that always can be resolved later when that choice is made). In any case, they always claim that it is their child and their decision.

But it’s not really. What they are doing is making future limiting decisions for their children that could be easily made by the children themselves when they become adults. If the children don’t want to be drafted, and the US government suddenly re-starts the draft for the first time in over 35 years, they can renounce their citizenship as adults. If they don’t want to pay taxes, they can consult their accountant, make an informed decision, and decide whether to renounce or not.

I cannot see the world, if we manage to navigate the challenges we face globally, becoming anything but more multinational. Having dual nationality opens more employment, travel, and educational opportunities, and really, the chance at a more multi-cultural life. The once rare and now commonplace practice of meeting future mates online is going to increase and having more options for those who happen to get involved in an international pairing is only going to make life easier for them.

This isn’t a patriotic rant. I am not questioning why anyone would specifically deny someone an American citizenship. I would feel just as strongly if there were people interfering with the nationality status of their children from other nations.

I’ve been struggling for about a half an hour to come up with a way to say what I want to say next without being rude in some way. I may not be a parent, but I was a child and had to live with the consequences of my parents’ decisions about me (some good and some bad). You don’t own your children. They aren’t “yours” any more than my husband is “mine”. You have responsibility for them, and part of that responsibility is to guide their future. But that responsibility ends at a certain point, and if you guided them correctly, they will make the right decision about dual citizenship, whether it is the decision you’d like to see them make or not.

Even if these children can manage to obtain a US passport as an adult without having to naturalise, this robs a child of part of their culture, denies their identity as a child of the world, and limits their personal view of their own potential. This would be true for any country, even if it weren’t the US. That some people think it’s justified because we’re talking about an American citizenship and American culture really baffles me.

01
Feb
10

Worry from abroad

No matter if you live across town, across the country, or across oceans, chances are you will come to worry about your parents. For me, my parents have aged quickly for their years, and from a few months leading up to my move to London in 2007 until the present time, they have seemed to have one crisis after another.

This past year has been tough on my mother. She has had sepsis twice in the past eight months or so. She refuses to go to the hospital until it is too late to do anything simple. The first time she had sepsis, she left an infection go, and then didn’t tell anyone that she was ill until she was totally out of it and near death. Over Christmas, her doctor wanted her to go into the hospital for her pneumonia, which she refused. Neither time did she get out of going to the hospital. The only thing she avoided was the possibility of getting treated easily.

On top of frustration with doctor phobic parents, there is the lack of information. If I call too much (daily or twice a day when they are at the worst), I feel I am bothering people too much. If I don’t call, I am sure it appears that I don’t care.

Then there is the question of whether to visit or not. Everyone claims that mom is doing fine. I doubt very much though if my help wouldn’t be welcomed by my sister.

Right now mom is looking at a discharge soon, but she has to go back for treatment (heart catheterization being one) because the sepsis caused some heart problems. I am hoping for the best, and for her to be more cooperative, but it still makes me feel guilty about living so far away. Ultimately, it is the best for me, but it doesn’t make the worry and missing my family any easier.




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