A question for you dear readers

This is kind of off-topic but I am interested in hearing from as wide a range of people as possible on this scenario:

A question for you. If you belonged to a small company, let’s say a flourishing flower selling business with franchises around the country. Once a year or so all franchise owners get together to strategise for the year ahead. At this year’s meeting, a group of you meet in the kitchen ahead of the main meeting. While getting your coffees, someone mentions that they have just seen a new type of flower on offer – let’s call them Leavonias. Apparently these Leavonias were stunning and smelt beautiful. At present, your particular company doesn’t sell Leavonias – they are so new to the market that no-one knows much about them. But this person who saw them keeps on and on about how incredible they were. When pushed he doesn’t have many answers about how much they cost to buy or grow but he manages to pursuade most people in the kitchen that the company should start selling them. A few people even get on their phone and start ordering them from the wholesaler. Remember – this is before the annual meeting has started.

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Anyway you all go into the main meeting and start discussing strategies. Someone brings up the Leavonia idea. All those who were in the kitchen support the idea whole-heartedly and start to talk about how good it will be for their business. But someone who wasn’t in the kitchen is a little more cautious. “I know someone who tried selling them and it didn’t work very well,” she says. Apparently they cost a lot more to grow than you get back when you sell them. Nevertheless the enthusiasm for the venture in the room is still strong. As a group you decide to go away and think about it. Two or three people are designated to look into the pro’s and con’s – to draw up a risk strategy if you like.

Over the next few weeks, those designated people can’t find a single reason as to why selling Leavonias would be a good strategy for your company. They can’t find any evidence they would make money and in fact in many scenarios they would lose money. The only plus would be to save the blushes of those franchisees who have already started negotiating to buy their Leavonias from a wholesaler (who has already said it’s fine, they don’t have to go through with the deal).

Oh and they also find out that if you do decide to start selling Leavonias there is no going back.The only people that sell them make you sign a contract for life (or until the demise of the company). Even at a loss. It doesn’t make business sense but everyone can still smell that lingering scent of the beautiful flowers.

So – question: do you still go ahead and start to sell the Leavonias or do you bin the idea and carry on selling the flowers that are already making you a profit?

Learning to live with the New Normal.

Phew! What a week. I don’t know about you but I feel like I’ve gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson over these past few days, with news coming at me from every direction. There was the travel ban in America, the huge protests against Trump being invited on a state visit in the UK, and then there was the Brexit debates and vote in London. It just seems like every time I check the news something else has happened….

But somehow, with all this going on, we have to learn to carry on.

In all honesty, I am finding it inceasingly difficult to focus on anything. I have plenty of work and am in the middle of an essay-writing course with a view to increasing the amount of freelance work I do. I also have this blog to keep up! Never mind all the normal, daily routine work like shopping and dog-walking that you can’t just forget about. But on the other hand there is Facebook and Twitter and another check of the latest news and before I know it half the day has gone. I also find my mood swings all over the place with the increasingly worrying information we are getting on a daily, nay hourly, basis.

But I know it’s just going to keep on coming so somehow we have to find a way to live with this new normal. And one of the ways I have been doing it is talking to people who have been surviving for years, decades even, in the sort of uncertain political environment that we in the UK and the US (and other stable democracies) perhaps haven’t ever had to contemplate. In particular, I spent last weekend in Harare visiting with relatives.

For those that don’t know (which hopefully is few of you!), Zimbabwe has been living under Robert Mugabe for more than 35 years. I am not about to go into a plotted history of the country and its politics – especially as, to my shame, I am actually pretty ignorant as to exactly what is happening in that country despite living righ next door and having relatives there. But if you are interested to learn more, here is a link.

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Trying not to get crushed in Zimbabwe

However, what is true is that life in Zimbabwe has become increasingly difficult for many of its nationals and change still seems elusive. It is that lack of WHEN things will improve that I think is the hardest to deal with – many people can cope with difficulties if they know it is for a limited time. If nothing else, contigency planning is easier when you have an idea how many months, years or even decades you are planning for.

It obviously isn’t easy and there aren’t any simple rules but it certainly seems that trying to get involved, in one way or another, in any opposition to the ruling government can make you feel a lot more positive. Just to feel like you are DOING something can certainly lift your spirits. How much you are actually able to do will of course depend on where you are and your particular situation – but in the UK and the US we are still in a position to be able to petition, march, write, donate and share information pretty widely. Hopefully all of those things will continue.

Otherwise, distraction is a great way to deal wth whatever is going on around you – epecially when you feel so helpless to change it. Change does and will come – we only have to look at history to know that we won’t stagnate in this situation forever. But it may be slow, a lot slower than we would want – so in the meantime we need to find ways to cope with the wait. Whether that be writing or crafting or sewing or baking or even burying yourself in work, it is always going to be healthy to take your minds off things for periods of times.

Getting together with like-minded friends is another thing that can really help when you are feeling despondent. As an expat I do sometimes feel quite isolated from everything going on in my home country, especially as I am surrounded by American expats so the news of Trump does tend to dominate. But every so often I get together with another sympathetic British friend who reassures me that no, I am not alone in feeling like this (I know the internet and Facebook in particular is another way to bring people together but there is nothing like a proper, face-to-face get together).

Finally the other thing that really helps me is what this blog is really all about – which is that many people, in many countries have been living with these uncertainties for years and whatever happens we will still almost certainly remain some of the most privileged people in the world just by dint of our passports. Although I speak about Zimbabwe, South Africa also has been going through interesting political times with a difficult and unpopular government, student riots, allegations of corruption right to the top of government…..

But I look around me and people are getting on with their lives. They are shopping and cooking and drinking wine and selling mobile phone cases at traffic lights and sweeping leaves and walking dogs and going to business meetings….in other words, life goes on. It is frustrating, incredibly frustrating, when you feel that you can’t do anything to bring about the immediate change that you crave but actually what you do need to be doing is living.

Now I am going to take my own advice and go and make a cup of tea. Please let me know your thoughts – these are interesting times.

Brace yourselves Americans because the worst could be coming

Wherever you are in the world, next Wednesday morning is going to be an interesting one. Whether you stay up late or get up early, whether the results come in for you in your time zone at breakfast, lunch or dinner, we are all going to be be focused on one thing. And I can tell you from our experience of Brexit, it is not going to be pretty.

Above all else I hope with every core of my body that the worse doesn’t happen. And by that I mean of course the worst would be if women-hating, xenophobic, climate-change denying and quite fankly terrifying Trump is elected. I believe that would not only set the US back decades in social policy but would put the entire world at risk. But almost as bad would be a slim win for Clinton – because I don’t believe Trump and his rabble rousers will simply sit back and accept the result. And it could go on and on and on….

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And while it rumbles on, the hatred being spewed out across the internet will get nastier and nastier and nastier. Because now this election isn’t just about he delegates, it isn’t just about the horrific campaign that has been run by Trump to villify Clinton or about some emails that Clinton didn’t handle too well. No, in a way they have become the side show. What it has become about is the horrendous, malicious abuse that this election (just like Brexit) seems to to have legitimised. While Stateside is is now apparently ok to call for a presidential candidate to be not just jailed but murdered, over in the UK internet trolls are calling for the rape and beheading of a woman (Gina Miller) simply for daring to ask the law to clarify how we leave the EU. And worse – then accusing our judiciary of being traitors for simply doing their job.

Where this will end I have no idea. I am frankly terrified. I have two children and they are coming of age in this climate. Social media is rampant – totally out of control, as is our so-called free press which at the moment appears to basically be running the country. If anyone can come up with a way to put the genie back in the bottle please let me know!

But in the meantime for all you Americans wondering how you will feel next week, I can only tell you to prepare yourselves mentally for the worst (and then hope it never happens). I wrote about how I felt after Brexit and I suspect many of you will go through something similar. It is like culture shock although for us Brits is is hard to move on in the cycle because we have no idea what is coming next.

I only hope that by going through the worst case scenario in your head you may be able to limit the damage to come extent. I honestly think Brexit was such a shock because we didn’t really expect it to happen. I know I did have some inkling it might because I was awake every night in the weeks leading up to the vote worrying about it. But I don’t think I had any idea quite how bad it would be – and that nearly five months on we still wouldn’t have a clue where we were headed.

So prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The next week is certainly going to be a roller coaster so make sure you have your seat belts securely fastened. I’ll see you on the other side!

Photo credits: Trump/Clinton – Ted Eytan

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 trip home: what did I learn?

So I’ve just returned to South Africa after five weeks home in the UK – my first trip back since we arrived in Pretoria a year ago. I am very happy to see the sun again (ok, we saw it a bit at home but there weren’t that many of the cloudless days you get in the African winter), and to swap Brexit politics for South African politics. The former is as depressing as it comes; the latter is quite exciting and in an entirely selfish way won’t affect me or my family as much as what is happening back in the UK.

Everyone who is an expat knows what it feels like to go home after a spell away from it. Always slightly surreal, like nothing has changed but everything has. You know that people will be less interested in you and your adventures than you hoped they would be. You also know you will not be able to see everyone you would like to – and will feel guilty for half the holiday about this fact. And then get over it: by the time you have driven 3,000 miles between eight different places, unpacked and repacked 28 times and slept in about 13 different beds, you will stop fretting about those people you couldn’t catch up with. After all, they can always come to you!

But apart from the obvious, what else did I learn? Following our visit, here are a few of my observations:

  • The United Kingdom has become obsessed with Prosecco. This obsession had started before I left and it was already the drink of choice when I went to the pub with friends. But now the price of a bottle seems to have come down to lower than a decent bottle of red and it’s everywhere! There were even Prosecco bars at shopping malls – as if the proleteriat wanted to mimick the “ruling classes” with their champagne and oyster bars at Harvey Nicks……

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  • I think we can now safely say there will never be a proper summer in England again. We have been going to the same place in Devon for the end of July/beginning of August period for 10 years now and without fail it always rains non-stop for at least two days. My childhood memories of endless sunny days are just that – memories.
  • After you have been away for a year, you will be that fumbly person at supermarket check outs with their new-fangled card machines and paying 5p for bags and not having someone to pack those bags for you and trying to remember you enter the card into the machine yourself rather than simply hand it over…..ditto petrol stations – what do you mean you have to fill it up yourself?!
  • Politics is the new soap opera. It is the main topic of conversation with pretty much anyone you meet. If you don’t get on to the subject of Brexit within 5 minutes of meeting someone there can be only one reason: you suspect they voted differently from you. In which case talk about the weather, last night’s tv, sport….anything but the EU!

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  • Have we reached tipping point with social media? I have never seen so many people spend so long staring at their phones as I did this last month. Surely something has to give soon?
  • For the first time ever on a return from a period of living overseas I didn’t go mad in a supermarket – which proves the quality of food here in South Africa. I did, however, go fairly mad in all other shops including clothes and book shops.
  • The Brits love their dogs. But luckily they do not love their dog poo. It was very refreshing to be able to walk around without watching where you were stepping, especially in parks. I wish South Africans would learn to use their doggy poop bags…..
  • I still love London more than any other city in the world. Yes the crowds do my head in, yes it’s flipping expensive. But it still feels to me like the centre of the universe – there is always something going on, and something new happening. Bath and Bristol run it a close second though.
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Bath – my joint favourite UK city after London.

  • It was also nice to be able to walk out of the house, including at night, and feel safe. I started off always locking my car door as soon as we were in but got more relaxed as the holiday went on. I am now doing the opposite and have to keep remembering to lock doors, keep windows up etc. It hasn’t helped that my domestic helper’s son was kidnapped, tied up and badly beaten for his card and pin nuber last weekend. A timely reminder that we are “not in Kansas anymore”.

I’m sure there are many other things I could say about my trip and my feelings about being home but this post has gone on long enough already so I will leave it there. But let me know if you’ve just been back to your home country after a spell abroad and if so, what were your observations? Did you find it just as you left it – or did everything feel a bit off-kilter? Did it live up to expectations – or were you happy to leave it all behind again?

Photos: glass of bubbly – Meg, EU umbrellas – Jeremy Segrott

 

Post Referendum culture shock

Yes I am devastated. I am also angry. Depressed. I feel like a car crash is happening in slow motion in front of my eyes and there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it. Welcome to the world of post-Brexit Britain.

It’s been a month now since we voted to leave the EU. A vote that should never have been put into the hands of the people. It has become clear very quickly that no-one really understood what they were voting for. And by that I mean people on BOTH sides of the vote. After all, how were we meant to understand about tariffs and subsidies and trade negotiators? Bank passports and freedom of movement. Access to the single market. These are all very technical matters that very few people really get. And the people who do are the ones we know as experts. The experts who were warning us of the consequences of our actions, but that were apparently ignored by a small majority of those people who actually voted. The consequences that we are now starting to see slowly happening although, if you read many of the social commentators, they aren’t happening at all and this country is a much brighter, happier place. I personally think these people are deluded.

There is so much I could write about here. We have had an incredible roller coaster of news over the past few weeks. Blink and you would miss another resignation. The biggest “suprise” was the appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary – although many still think this is part of a clever game that Teresa May is playing. Time will tell.

But putting aside the news, I’ve been thinking about how this weird period in time feels very much like another thing – it feels like we’ve just landed in an alien country and it feels like we are collectively going through the culture shock cycle.

I have written about culture shock many times and discussed the cycle in the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. For those who haven’t read the book it goes something like this:.

Culture shock could be defined as disorientation on moving somewhere unfamiliar, a rollercoaster of emotions. It is said to have four phases and each phase is described differently by different people but generally speaking they are: wonder/honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment and acceptance. You can move between the four phases in order or back and forth between them; you might skip some of the phases or not experience any of them.

So here we are, in a new, angry world and it feels very much like culture shock.  First is the honeymoon period. In my book I do also discuss the grief cycle and in fact at this stage, what we are going through/have been going through is much more like grieving than anything else. So whilst some of us did experience a sort of honeymoon stage (a weird “high” of the excitement of the first day or two), many jumped straight into the second stage which is denial.

Probably the most obvious way people have indicated their refusal to accept that this has actually happened is with a petition calling for a re-run. More than four million people have signed this petition even though it is very unlikely to happen (and there would probably be civil war if it did). But it was the only thing we felt we could do. This couldn’t be happening. This shouldn’t be happening.

Denial was mixed up with anger and frustration – which has led to a huge rift opening up in this country. I had already seen this happening before the vote and wrote about it here, but since the 24th June things have descended into a place I never thought I would see in this country. As well as a horrible rise in reports of racism on the streets, the comments sections of online newsites is not a place you want to be. I am seriously upset by the vile that is being spat out across the internet. I just want to turn back time and wish it had never happened.

But what comes next? It should be adjustment and I guess that is what we will slowly have over the next year or two. At the moment we can’t move on because we don’t really know what we would be adjusting to. I am still very hopeful that sense will prevail and even if we leave the EU we will still retain close links to our neighbours including access to the single market in return for freedom of movement If nothing else, I truly, truly hope that our ability to live and work and study in Europe will still be there when my children grow up. I also hope all my European friends in the UK are able to stay and live their lives happily – as can my British friends in Europe. It is a worrying time for a lot of people.

Eventually comes acceptance. At the moment I seriously cannot see how this is going to happen. But I know that eventually we will have to accept whatever the outcome of this debacle is. Or at least we will have to accept the new terms under which we will be living. We won’t have much choice unless, as many probably will, we leave permanently to live in another country. An awful lot of people are currently looking into gaining citizenship of another EU country at the moment.

So here we are stuck in the awful culture shock/grief cycle that has followed the referendum. I feel no better about things than I did straight after the vote but I realise that partly this is because my life is slightly in limbo at the moment anyway – we are still on holiday in the UK so I don’t have the normal distractions that would keep me sane. I recently read an excellent article about how to keep us level at times like this (which you can read here) and I will certainly be following some of this advice – in particular building a supportive community and getting out into nature (eg dog walking when we return to Pretoria).

But for now I continue to plough on, writing to my MP, answering mis-informed views on social media, talking to people about why they voted the way they did. I can’t do nothing, this is too big just to “let go”. We all have a duty to our children’s futures and I for one don’t want to say I didn’t step up when my they ask me in thirty years what I did to try and stop the madness.

In the meantime, all of you Americans need to prepare yourself for what you will be going through in November should Trump be elected. I suspect it will make post-Brexit shock look like a walk in the path…..