A Tale of Two Expat Spouses

For my monthly blog post for Expat Focus, I wanted to write something about the launch of my book. But quite frankly I am getting a little bored of telling people why I wrote the book…..living in St Lucia….meeting other spouses….hadn’t got a clue…needed to be better prepared…blah blah blah. When you’re boring even yourself with the story then you know it’s time to move on.

So I decided to write about two fictional women, both caricatures but both with elements of real people that I know (elements, guys, elements; neither of my characters are ACTUALLY based on anyone I know).  One of these women, who I chose to call Rachel, is hopeless. Totally un-clued up about what her new expat life will be like. The other, Sarah, is basically that annoying woman you probably always try to avoid who seems to know everything and want you to know it all too. Okay, it’s NOT me, alright. Anyway it’s not a very long story and you can read it for yourself here. But here’s my question:

If you have ever moved somewhere new, as an expat or even within your own country, how prepared for the move were you? Do you wish you had done more planning? Or do you think that sometimes doing too much planning can spoil the sponteneity and excitement of a new life somewhere?

Answers on a postcard please! (or altetnatively leave your thoughts in the comments section below).

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When there’s 20 types of Mangoes but No Bananas: How I chose a name for my book.

One of the most difficult tasks I faced in producing the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide was what to call it. I’m sure I’m not alone amongst authors in struggling to find a title that would appropriately convey what I wanted the book to be – in a succinct, catchy and interesting manner. It took me quite a while – at various stages it was called various different things and even now I still waver. But I’ve got a cover now, and this website.

There’s no going back.

At the beginning, it was the Rough Guide to Being a Trailing Spouse. Even typing it out, I cringe a bit – it certainly doesn’t trip well off the tongue. But I had originally approached the Rough Guide publishing house having been inspired by some of their non-travel guides (in particular the Rough Guide to Pregnancy and Birth by author Kaz Coomb, whose chatty writing style impressed me when I was pregnant myself for the first time). I received a very nice rejection from the Rough Guides – it wasn’t a huge surprise as they were the first (and probably largest) publishers I approached and I was happy to get a reply at all, let alone one as encouraging as theirs was. But this was always going to be a “niche” book so rejections from publishers were not a huge shock to me.

The Trailing Spouse issue…

Being able to ditch the “Rough Guide to…” part of the title was actually quite a relief. I would have lived with it for the sake of being part of the famous Rough Guide series, but I was a lot happier when I moved on to The Trailing Spouse Handbook. Except as I researched deeper into my subject, and started to talk to more and more long-term expats, I began to realise that the Trailing Spouse part of the title was starting to sound a little well, old-fashioned. The phrase, whilst descriptive, was now being used as shorthand to describe particularly  helpless women trailing around after their husbands – not how I would ever want to describe the audience I was trying to reach.  Global companies were beginning to use other more appropriate terms, like accompanying partner.

I was loathe to drop the term trailing spouse completely as this is almost certainly still the most searched-for term for someone looking for the sort of guidance I offer in the book. But when I realised there were still ways to keep the words as searchable terms without having them in the title, I reluctantly decided I needed to keep with the times and ditched the “trailing” part of the title. I also decided that this was a book that wasn’t aimed just at married couples (not least because I include information for same-sex partners, many of whom live in countries where you still can’t get legally married) and thus decided against the word “spouse” in the title.

Trying something completely different.

At this stage I decided to try something totally left-field. One of the anecdotes I include in the book relates to the time in Islamabad when almost the only fruit available in the local shops were mangoes. We had never seen so many different varieties of the fruit, not to mention so many varying degrees of ripeness. But at the same time, it was impossible to buy a single banana. Which was difficult for us as we had a baby used to one type of fruit (the banana) but certainly not the other.

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I told this story as typical of the sort of living overseas experience that most people have no idea about – until they’re there. There isn’t much you can do about it, but just knowing that everyone goes through similarly frustrating times can make it feel a lot easier to cope with.

So I thought I might call the book “When there’s Twenty Types of Mango but No Bananas”. It was a great title – catchy, interesting, funny even. But did it tell the reader enough about what was in the book, or who it was aimed at? I decided to try it out in a few different online forums that I belong to – one made up of personal friends, one of professional writers, and one of expats. The results were fascinating – as well as disheartening. The general consensus amongst my non-expat, non-writer friends was that this was some sort of euphemism for sex. The expats mostly liked it – they were much more likely to get it, although they all had their own ideas about what the book should be called and I soon got into a lengthy discussion about whether I could at least use the term “trailing spouse” in a sort of post-modern, ironic way.

But the one who finally put me off using the title completely, even with a sub-heading which explained more about the book, was a member of the writers group who was also an Asian expat. She explained that in some Asian cultures, the term banana was used to describe an Asian who had become too westernised – yellow on the outside, white in the middle (I had heard coconut used in a similar way in the Caribbean). That settled it. I really didn’t need a title which might be associated in any way with a possible racist term when it was about living in foreign cultures. Just like I didn’t want people to think it was about how differently men and women adapt to living overseas (one of the other guesses!).

Going back to basics.

So it was back to the drawing board. I was starting to feel frustrated – but through it all, I realised what this process had done was make me think as much about what I DIDN’T want the title to be as what I DID want of it. It also made me realise how much this was MY book, my vision. Others had ideas for the title, but very few of them resonated with me. None of them quite said what I wanted it to say. And finally I realised what I was looking for was a title which reflected the phrase “does what it says on the cover”. My book isn’t complicated. It isn’t emotional, it isn’t a journey, it doesn’t take you into the depths of your soul or the recesses of your mind or all those other places some books promise to take you.

So in the end what is it? It’s a guide (returning to the original concept of the Rough Guide). What’s it for? It’s to help you cope. In fact, to help you survive. Some thought the word “survive” was too negative, that I should be encouraging more than survival, it should be about conquering and winning, getting to a point where you love your new life. But that isn’t what I want – I want to help you make it through. Some will conquer, win, end up having the overseas life they always wanted. But others won’t, others will just get by until they can go home. And that’s okay too.

And who is it aimed at? It’s aimed at people going overseas – Expat’s – but specifically it’s aimed at the people they are taking with them – partners. Not spouses but partners. The term itself does imply that there should be some sort of shared ownership of the adventure and I think this is a good thing.

And that’s it. The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. I hope you like it.

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My first blog post

The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide

From how to organise an overseas move to what to do in the event of an earthquake, the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide is a light-hearted yet in-depth guide for anyone accompanying their partner on an overseas assignment. To find out more about the book, please visit my About the Book Page.

If you would like to buy the guide (prices start at just £2.99/US$4.45) , please click on one of the links below. You can also buy it from other Amazon outlets in Europe and around the world. And remember, I would LOVE to hear from you – good and…not so good.

Do leave a comment, send feedback or email me at clara@expatpartnersurvival.com. And finally, I will love you forever if you take the time to leave a review on Amazon.

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