Welcome to the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide

“I wish I’d had this book when I first became an Expat Wife”

Brigid Keenan, author of Diplomatic Baggage and Packing Up

Welcome to the blog that accompanies my book, the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. Here you will find many posts about expat life and, in particular, about life as an accompanying spouse. If you are not sure exactly what I mean by an accompanying spouse – also known as an expat partner or “trailing spouse” – then a good place to start would be this post I wrote for the Expat Focus website: Accompanying Spouse – What is It?

But if you pretty sure what this term means and you are looking for more information, then an even better place to start would be with my book.

From what to pack to how to cope in the event of an emergency, the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide is a light-hearted yet supportive book which uses the experiences of more than 70 contributers to help guide you when you move abroad. Aimed initially just at accompanying spouses, since publication I have had a lot of very positive feedback from all sorts of expats – and hope it will be of use to anyone, anywhere moving abroad.

click here to buy the book

The Blog

As well as information about general expat life, you can also read posts about some of the issues that have come up again and again during my research for the book and for the blog. This includes more specific information just for expat partners,  the important topic of expat depression, and what life is like for male trailing spouses.

As well as writing about expat life, I also enjoy writing about travel and, in particular, about our adventures in South Africa.

I hope you enjoy both the blog and the book – do get in touch if you have any comments, feedback, ideas, topics you would like me to cover or if you would like to write a guest post.

Stories from Blogging Africa #3

We’re back!

After a wintersummer (it’s winter here in the southern hemisphere but Frances, my Africa linky partner, is up in Kenya so summer for her) of fun and indulgence it’s time to roll up our sleeves, spit on our hands and get back to work. And this means another Stories from Blogging Africa link-up!

In case you’ve missed our first two linkys, this is a chance for anyone, anywhere in Africa who blogs to share their work. We don’t care what your blog is about, whether it’s travel or literature or expat life or politics or even sport – all we ask is that you either in Africa or write about Africa. In fact, the more diverse the better – see this as a great way to discover things about this great continent that are as yet totally unknown to you.

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What can be more African than an African elephant?

If you want to know what a link-up is and how it works first of all take a look at our earlier linkys – HERE and HERE. You will be taken to a page where you can click on a variety of blogs. Have a read and please, please if possible leave a comment, give it a like, let people know you have visited. This only works if people visit each others blogs.

So if you want to join in all you have to do is write a new blog post or pick one that is already published, grab the badge below and add it to your post with a link to this site , click on the frog link below and then simply follow the instructions to add your post. Happy posting – I look forward to reading your Stories from Blogging Africa and, please, don’t forget to check out the other posts in the link-up.

Five things South Africa gets right

South Africans, for some reason, have a habit of putting their country down. Not all of them, for sure – many are fiercely proud of their nation. But before we arrived here almost everyone had a story of a South African they knew from work or through their children’s school or just some bloke down the pub who warned them about the crime or the violence or the soaring costs or…..

Of course we ignored them all and came anyway and – as regular readers of this blog well know – are very glad we did. And what we have found here is quite a mixed bag: a beautiful country with mansions and shopping malls that could come straight out of the States or Europe, surrounded by some of the worst slums you will see anywhere. Busy restaurants with patrons spilling out onto the sidewalk, but beggars at every streetlight. A nation of many races where outright racism still happens blatantly and openly but is then called out from every corner. It’s definitely a paradox – and not like anywhere I have ever lived before.

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Soweto wash day

Of course I realise South Africa has a lot of problems. A lot – massive unemployment, poverty, some of the worse rape statistics in the world, HIV, corruption…..And yet there is plenty of things that this country does right, very right. But it isn’t always easy when you are in the thick of things to take a step back and look at your country objectively. And sometimes you need the perspective of someone who has lived in many places and therefore has a few yardsticks to measure by. So, from an outsider living inside at the moment, here is my list of five things that South Africa gets right:

Wayde van Niekerk, Caster Semanya, and other Olympians

It’s not just about the medals – all you need to do is read some of the back stories to realise what an incredible achievement the SA team is. Remember, they only rejoined the Olympic movement in 1990. Two games ago (Bejing) they only got one medal. This time they got 10, including two golds, and van Niekerk’s 400m world record. Plus, you only have to look at the names of the atheletes over the years to realise how times have changed. It really is a rainbow nation team – with the medalists reflecting this perfectly.

National Parks

It’s not just what’s in the parks – wildlife, mountains, waterfalls, scenery etc – but how accessible they are, what good value they are, what fantastic accommodation at incredibly reasonable prices they have. It means that even if you are feeling a bit broke you can still afford a few days away somewhere without necessarily having to break out the tent (although that’s always an option too). The only downside for me is how many there are – we could live here for years and still not make it to more than a handful. Maybe one day, when we’ve retired, we’ll return sans kids and really “do” South Africa properly. Park by park.

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Kruger National Park at dawn

Water from the taps

I have lived in and travelled to a lot of places where you can’t just turn on the taps and drink. In Pakistan we couldn’t even use the water for washing vegetables – it all had to either come out of a bottle or be rigourously boiled first. But here in SA you can. I don’t know if this is country-wide and have no idea what it is like in the townships but certainly  the fact that clean water comes out of the taps is indicative that something is being done right.

Toilets

And in the same vein, roadside toilet stops are not the nightmare they can be in some countries. I have encountered toilets so bad, peeing in the bushes was definitely preferable. Here though they are almost always clean and usually have plenty of paper. We’re travelling to Mozambique in a couple of months – I am already nervous about what we will find there…

Radio

Okay, specifically one radio station: Five FM. Back home in the UK I have pretty well given up on radio. Sometimes I will listen to it for the news or current affairs shows but for music, there isn’t really anything that floats my boat. Either it’s trying so hard to be hip and trendy and down with the kidz that I’ve never heard of any of the songs (and the presenters jar appallingly with their attempts at cooldom) or it’s full of the sort of awful music from about 15 years ago that they think we’re interested in. And not much in between. Here, 5FM is fresh, funny, and plays fantastic music – with no ads! I don’t know how they do it but I have heard more good music on 5FM in the year since we arrived than I have in about the previous ten years in the UK. I suspect this is one I will be streaming over the internet when we leave for good.

So those are just a few things I think South Africa gets right – I can think of many, many more but now it’s over to you: please tell me in the comments section below some of the things that YOU love about this country. Or if you are not South African, do not live in South Africa or have never even visited South Africa, I would love to hear what your general impressions are of it. Good or bad…

 

 

Are you a blogger in Africa?

Calling all bloggers in Africa! Or even bloggers who aren’t in Africa but write about Africa!

The next Stories from Blogging Africa link-up will be out this WEDNESDAY. Yes, you heard that right, this WEDNESDAY. August 24th. Only three days away.

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Soweto market

If you haven’t participated before, this is a very simple link-up for anyone who blogs in or about Africa. All you have to do is have a post ready to go on Wednesday, add it to the page, check out the other posts (and hopefully like/comment) and voila! You’re done. See, couldn’t be simpler.

But in case you are still confused, here are the links to the two previous link-ups we’ve already done – this one from May and then this one from June.

And yes, we did miss July but it was the long holidays, we were travelling, life got in the way…..

Please comment below if you have any questions but otherwise, I hope to see you on Wednesday! Happy blogging folks.

We need to talk about dog poo

This morning as I dragged Cooper around the block on his lead (he can be very obstinate when he wants to go in a different direction to you!), I thought about how hard it is to clear up your dog’s poo when there are so few bins on the street. One, on my usual walk, to be precise. And as night follows day, Cooper will always, ALWAYS, do his business after we have passed that lone receptacle. Nevertheless, I dutifully bag up his offering and carry it round with me until we either get back to said bin or reach home. After all, I’m a Brit: it’s what we do.

The dog park we frequent is another matter: bins dotted about everywhere, each one close to the main path, ready and waiting for the deposits. But sadly, even this doesn’t seem to make the slightest bit of difference: the park is littered with dog turds of all shapes, sizes, colours and smells. It is particularly bad at the moment, thanks to there having been no proper rain for months. But it’s not the lack of rain that is putting the poo there in the first place: it’s the local population who simply don’t have a culture of picking it up. And yes, it is pretty revolting.

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So why do I feel the need to share this story with you? After all, who wants to read about dog crap when you could be reading about sunsets and cocktails?

Well, mostly because this is exactly one of those small (but not insignificant) things that can trip you up as a new expat somewhere, one of the culture shock traps perhaps no-one will tell you about and you yourself won’t even have thought about until you move. One little thing like this on its own may not be a problem, but lots of little things added together can be. Especially if they happen slowly, one at a time, drip fed into your psyche until one day you reach your limit and you blow – without really understanding why.

Half way through writing this post I downed tools and walked to our local shopping mall to pick up a bit of food shopping. As I did so, I thought about what other little things were “different” from what I would be used to back home. Not better, not worse, but different. There were loads – the way people cross roads, the way people drive, the type of food available in the shops, the etiquette at the check-out tills in the supermarket, the types of childrens clothes for sale, the rubbish on the street…..after you have been here for a while, you get used to it all but when you start looking at it through a newcomers eyes it reminds you again what it is like to have to adjust to a totally different culture. The trips and the traps are everywhere.

But back to the dog poo. One of my newly arrived friends here (she will know who she is if she is reading this!) stated the other day that she wanted to start a campaign to clear up the dog mess in the park. It’s a great idea and I’m behind her but really, even if successful, it would be a drop in the ocean (or in the mounds of poo). Ultimately, as expats, we might be able to make small differences to our immediate surroundings but we can’t control the wider world we live in. So in the end we just need to get used to it, go with the flow, embrace the differences – or, at least, live with them.

So next time you go out for a walk and find yourself stepping around or over a bit of dog crap on the floor stop and think. Does it bother me? Did I even notice it? Am I even letting my own dog do his business and leaving it on the path? All of these things will help guide you as to which part of the culture shock cycle you have reached. And if it’s the latter, if you are so comfortable in your surroundings you’re at the “living like a local” stage then congratulations! Hopefully this means you have fully intergrated and can now enjoy your expat life to the full.

So this is the time to start encouraging your nieghbours to pick up their dog crap. Good luck!

 

Photo credit: Phil Thirkell

 

Dear Leaver, your Perfect Brexit is going to be tricky…

Some interesting facts and updates about the Brexit campaign (which is going nowhere fast at the moment). As it’s August there is not a lot happening but it will certainly be interesting to see what happens come September…..

Nog's Musings

Hi Excited Leaver,

Note: originally this was written during a discussion with a leaver (Rod, I hope you are out there and doing well) but was then turned into a more generic post.

So, you’ve won the referendum and you’e excited about that great new deal we’re going to do with the Europeans. So lets just recap the deal you are after:

Free trade, access to the single market, whatever we call it its trade more or less exactly like we have now with the EU.  BUT you want to drop some of the extras:

  • No EU contribution
  • No Freedom of Movement
  • No pooled sovereignty

This seems to be the desire from many people, a simple, “grown up” free trade deal with no strings.  How are we going to get this?  Well, there’s that huge Trade Deficit, we’re in a  strong position because we buy far more than we sell therefore you’re confident that we can…

View original post 1,960 more words

A Day in my Expat Life – France

This edition of A Day in My Expat Life is a special one as it features old school friend Phoebe who I caught up with a few years ago and now keep on contact with via social media and blogging. Keen-eyed readers might have spotted an ad at the side of my blog with the words “Book Me” on it. This ad links to the Gite run by Phoebe on the Cote D’Azur in France called Lou Messugo. I haven’t managed to visit (yet) but after reading about Phoebe’s life, it’s certainly on my list……

 

01 breakfast

I get up at 7.30 but my day really starts around 8.15 after the kids have gone to school when I have a calm breakfast on my own usually consisting of a Franco-British combo of toasted leftover baguette “tartines” with marmite, some fruit and a coffee. At this time of year I eat it outside on the terrace.

02 Lou  Messugo Facebook page

8.30 Next up I usually check and answer emails and update the Facebook page for my gite. I also check and reply to other social medias, link up to blog linkies etc. I take my laptop out on to the terrace and spend anything from 1-2 hours doing this.

03 laundry

9.30 There is always laundry to do, living with 3 sporty males and running a holiday rental. Every day I do at least 2 and often more loads. Our climate is good enough that for most of the year I dry everything outside in the sun and avoid using the dryer.

04 goodbye guests

11.00 The gîte is very popular and for most of the year I have 2 changeovers a week. Today is one of those days and check out time is 11am so I go to check over the apartment and say goodbye to the guest.

05 unblocking septic tank

11.30 While cleaning the gîte today I discover the septic tank is blocked so I call my husband who has to pop back from work to deal with it. It is not a pleasant job! This is one of the worst things about running a holiday rental and unfortunately it happens reasonably often.

06 cleaning gîte

13.30 Cleaning usually takes me 2-3 hours depending on the state the guests leave it in. Last job is to mop the floor. I haven’t had time to eat lunch….

07 supermarket shopping

14.00 I just have time for a quick rush around the supermarket as we’re out of most things. I also go to the weekly market and several small shops on a daily basis but today is the big weekly shop and not market day. Supermarkets in France are excellent (but quite pricey!)

08 school pick up

15.45 School pick up. I car pool with neighbours and today it’s my turn to pick up my younger kid and a couple of others from primary school. (My oldest at high school, he takes the bus and is fully independent). I go straight from the supermarket.

09 welcome basket

16.15 I put the finishing touches to the welcome basket for the next guests in the gîte and pick some flowers from the garden for them. Check-in is from 16.00 but today’s guests aren’t due till 17.30 so I’m in time!

10 guests arrival

17.30 New guests arrive (and get photographed!) I don’t usually record arrivals but today’s guests have stayed at Lou Messugo several times and I asked if they wouldn’t mind! As they’ve been so often I don’t have to explain anything to them, just welcome them in.

11 edit photos

17.45 Time for another session on the computer catching up on admin, comments on the blog and other social medias. I have my phone on me all day for immediate answers to booking enquiries etc but I still like to sit down at my desk to deal with booking contracts and other details of running a holiday rental.

12 bus to Nice

19.00 I’m off for a rare night out in Nice with a group of friends to watch the Euro football in the “fan zone” (official spectator area with giant screen and bars). Buses are free tonight as the match is in Nice (one of the host cities) so I take public transport.

13 Nice fanzone

I grab a snack in the fan zone. On changeover days I often don’t get time to eat lunch. I get home around midnight and go to bed.

Thank you Phoebe for this peak into your French life. If you haven’t already seen them, please take a look at the other posts in this series A Day in My Expat LIfe; and do get in touch if you would like to feature.

Watch out for mini-culture shock

We’ve been back in Pretoria for a couple of weeks now and I am starting to feel back on top of things. Starting. By that I don’t mean I feel settled back in at all – in fact, I really feel like I could do with about three weeks holiday to get over my holiday, now that the children are back at school…

Because, apart from all the extra work there is to catch up on, the friends I want to see, the chores that have laid abandoned since the day term broke up back in mid-June, there is also that strange feeling of disorientation which we all have to go through on returning from a long trip overseas – especially when it is to your home country.

We all know about culture shock and, to come extent, we all expect it when we first move somewhere new. Most people at least have some understanding of the sort of rollercoaster of emotions they are likely to go through as a new expat – even if many of us don’t realise how hard or how long it may hit for. However, what I hadn’t expected was to go through a sort of mini version of this when we first returned from our long break in the UK.

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Expat life can be a bit of a roller coaster at times…..

I was looking forward to coming back. We’d had a good holiday and seen a lot of people we were missing. But it’s always hard when you have to keep packing and unpacking, moving between different places, never sleeping in the same place for more than a few nights at a time. I also missed my own bed, my own shower and my own space. And yes I missed my dog!

So it wasn’t that I didn’t want to return. We had had long enough away and even the children agreed nearly nine weeks out of school is way too much. They positively hopped onto the school bus the first morning back! We also returned to glorious weather (hot, sunny days, cool nights…) and lots to look forward to including various trips and holidays. No, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to be home in Pretoria – it was more just that when I got here it took a bit of time to settle.

For the first few days I felt a bit down, grumpy and even various degrees of anger. Usually exercise and sun helps with these things but I couldn’t shake the feelings. I also felt disorientated, to the extent that once or twice I woke up and couldn’t work out where I was. I don’t think my feelings were helped by the bad memories of the first few days of “Brexit” which were also my last few days in Pretoria before the holiday – sitting in the car park at our local supermarket I suddenly had a flash-back to checking on my phone and discovering our prime minister had resigned while I was doing the weekly shop.

These feelings didn’t last long and gradually I started to “re-adapt” to my surroundings, getting back into the rythm of a life that mostly revolves around working, writing, dog walking, food shopping and organising holidays. But these feelings threw me as they weren’t expected at all and it made me realise that, as expats, we have to continue to be aware that life isn’t linear and the ups and downs of the roller coaster ride will continue throughout our time away from home. It also reminded me that I needed to be kind to myself – it isn’t realistic that I would be able to jump straight back where I left off nine weeks ago; and that the guilt I felt about not making arrangements to see people or starting a new project within a week of returning should be parked straight away in the unrealistic car park.

So here  I am on day 13 and I do feel like I am getting there. I have managed to write a few new blog posts, caught up with most friends, met some of the newcomers (who so far all seem lovely), sorted out the last details for our coming trips to Cape Town and Mozambique and more or less got up to date with work. I realise there is still a long way to go and my to-do list is as long as ever (although sometimes I think that is just what life in the 21st century is like for everyone). But at least now I know what to expect next time I return from a long trip home. Buckle up those seat belts!