Wednesday, July 8, 2009


This is a subject that's long interested me, I even tried to introduce here once, long ago, unsuccessfully.
There seems to be a significant portion of the Spill/RR community that are living away from their native countries plus another group who've lived abroad for long periods and then returned. Times change and now there's a large expat population in Europe, though mostly retired, that choose to live in sunnier climes, ie; Spain, France, Morocco etc. The economy, cost of living, taxes and the weather all are factors in their decisions to leave, but they're not who I'm thinking of here, our group, I suspect are still working, still active but have chosen for a variety of reasons to to live 'abroad'. I'm curious re. those reasons, is there a common thread that we expats all share? I probably hold the expat record for longevity, I've lived away from the country of my birth for over fifty years, though I've visited there many times. I have very warm feelings for many aspects of England, but conversely there's also many reasons that I couldn't live there now; it's not the country that I left, it's changed so dramatically in 50 years that it's almost unrecognizable but the core culture is the same and that's what attracts me.
The following questions, I hope, will be a basis for some interesting discussion on the topic, I'll kick it off by answering them and then hopefully some of you will chime in, I realise that this topic by it's nature excludes some of us but that shouldn't prevent general comments and maybe ideas of places you might have thought that you'd like to live and reasons why you chose not to.

1. Why and when did you choose to leave your home country? Would you return to live there?
2. How long have you lived abroad?
3. Was it a good decision, if so why? Would you recommend it?
4. What do you miss/what are the advantages? Any regrets?
5. Which culture do you feel that you belong to? Are there aspects of your new culture that you don't share?
6. Is language an issue, even if you speak it, do you feel totally comfortable and understood with it, the way you are in your native tongue?
7. If married, is your spouse/partner of your native country or your adopted one? Does this affect your expat life?
8. Music: What effect, if any, has your expat status had on your musical taste?

1. England was in a very depressed state for at least a decade following WW2, food rationing lasted well into the 50's, the country was economically bust! The US emerged from the war very wealthy and had acquired huge technological assets, ie jet aircraft, radar, rockets, magnetic tape plus thousands of German scientists who came to work in US industries.
I had only the most basic education and no real skills, I didn't see much of a future for me in mid 50's East Anglia. A friend who'd emigrated to California persuaded me to join her there, initially for a visit but it almost immediately became permanent, we later married.

2. 51 years: since Aug. 8th, 1958 and the entire time with the exception of 1 year I've lived in California, about 35 years in LA and 15 in northern California. I think of California as my adopted 'country' rather than the USA.

It was an amazing decision, you wouldn't believe the changes I went through in a very short period. Financially: my paycheck for doing a similar job to the one I had in England increased about tenfold within a couple of years, we were earning so much money compared to the cost of living that there was a bowl on the dining table where we put uncashed pay checks, we'd let them accrue 'til there was enough to make a trip to the bank worthwhile. in England I drove a 1937 Austin 7, in that same two years I'd bought a XK 150 Jag and a new Citroen, it was a land of literally 'eternal sunshine', we travelled extensively all over the western states and visited England on holiday. I had a very good job as the Southern California Technical representative of a major paint company, based in large part on my being English, I learned as I went along. Compared to England there was enormous freedom in terms of lifestyle, work, leisure, travel and simple things like having a swimming pool and a large apartment. It was obviously a very good decision, it was one of those 'forks in the road' that we spoke about here recently, my life changed. I tried to influence friends back in England to come and check it out but there were no takers. England was black & white, California was Technicolor.

4. Throughout that period, the decade of the 1960's, I evolved through many changes, I quit that job, left the USA at the time of the Cuban missile crisis and returned a year later to enter a university. I don't think that I would have had that opportunity in England, I was 31 by then. It was the time of the cold war and we were subjected to constant anti Soviet propaganda and US jingoism, I tried to close my ears to it all but it was always there, as was the eternal advertising whether on radio, TV or print, it demeaned everything. I missed the 'culture' of England, specifically the history, the literature and the arts, I think I saw every English film produced during that period and not many American ones.

5. I'm not sure that I identify with either totally, it's bits and pieces of each with a few international spoonsfull tossed in. Black music and reggae both were influences as were the early US trade union movement and the civil rights movement and the songs that evolved from them.

6. Language is obviously not an issue except that my accent always opened doors, England and all things English were always very popular.

7. My first wife was English and we shared many of the foregoing ideas and attitudes, we divorced after about 12 years. My current wife is American and it's always intriguing to see how she's interested in all thing English, she probably knows as much or more than the average Brit about English culture and society, I enjoy the 'international' aspect of our marriage.

8. My love of jazz started long before I left but my being here allowed it to develop by having constant access to live jazz in LA, the 'English Invasion' of the '60s was significant in that it was a connection to the homeland in addition to being a new music. I was able to buy records and attend concerts in a manner that I might not have done in England, so I'd say there was a positive effect in that way. Similarly, later when reggae struck and then 'world music' I was able to travel and become fairly involved.

So overall it's been a definite positive experience for me, I don't know who I'd have become had I stayed in Bury St Edmunds and continued working at ICI but it would have been light years away from what California created.


magicman said...

I lived in the US for a while, a few times but have always relocated after two or three years. I'm still theoretically a green card holder but with no plans to move back. Makes holidays a bit tricky as ou're supposed to show the GC every time you go in, and I reckon they'd take mine away. Then I'd have to get a lawyer and it would all get very messy.
I always used to miss the football and the cynicism. I listened to Morning Becomes Eclectic most days and NPR was valuable for it's intelligence and world-view, both absent on most of the US media outlets.
The friends I made in LA I made for life though, and I love the place, and the southern california vibe very much. I'm now in Brighton, which aspires to that new-age laid-back intelligence but with the big city 50 miles to the north - handy half-hourly trains to Victoria.
I'm happy here, I give myself the (theoretical) option of living anywhere in the world (however impractical that would actually be) and I choose to be in Sussex. I feel embedded in the community too in various ways, politically, musically, football, friends.

As far as musical taste goes, I don't think being in America affected it much. I used to visit Amoeba regularly, and all the great live venues in Hollywood from the House Of Blues to the Roxy and the Troubadour. I used to regret the perceived zoning somewhat, the fact that one feels that it is tricky to visit Compton for a hip-hop show for example. I wouldn't hesitate indeed haven't on numerous occasions to visit the Academy in Brixton to see Missy Elliott, Public Enemy or Burning Spear.

I miss the incredible freeway driving, the desert, LA Weekly (available online now of course), the cafe culture - breakfast lunch and dinner. I don't miss the LA Times !

ejaydee said...

1. Studies. I knew I didn't want to study in France, so it was either UK or US, I felt the latter was too far, I was in a relationship, so it was London, moreover my brother was already there.
2. Overall, about 12-13 years.
3. I think so, maybe too soon to tell. I would definitely recommend spending some time away from your homeland.
4. A certain je ne sais quoi... No seriously, there is a certain refinement in France, an appareciation of the finer things in life, to caricature. On the other hand, London is much more open-minded, more cosmopolitan, more exciting, less moany.
5. After living in the States, I realised I was European, even though I'm comfortable with US culture for the most part. There was a lot of Brazilian (or more precisely Sao Paulo) culture that I didn't share, I don't think I stayed long enough to find my footing.
6. Not a problem in English I think, but there are times when it's not as natural as my French, but then a couple of weeks ago I found it very difficult to speak French to a cousin of mine about blogging, maybe because I do all my blogging in English. In Sao Paulo however, where very few people speak English, French or even Spanish, I was thrown at the deep end. Slang and colloquialisms are rife there, so there was always something new to learn, but I often got headaches after a full day of trying to follow conversations in Portuguese, as well as people teasing me about my pronunciations or mistakes.
7. n/a
8. Moving to the UK did have a huge effect on my music, but it also had to do with growing up. I drastically expanded my horizons, (that was the "catching up on musical education" period) tried to listen to the most "difficult" music, in a pretentious pursuit. I listened to Brazilian music before moving there, it actually contributed in my attraction for the country.

ennika said...

Well, I guess I'll finally come out of my hiding place...

1. Mine were always decisions to leave for a limited time (although if I'd had the chance to I probably would have left permanently at some point of time). I guess the first decision was made when I was about 13 and my sister started to apply to head to the states for a year. And then it was the good old high school year - european voluntary service - erasmus triplet that's hard to get out of once you tip your toe in ("again! again!" she screamed). I'd planned to move to Denmark to study (and stay), but that one didn't work out.

2. 3x10 months (USA, Slovakia, UK). Have been back from the UK for two weeks and miss it dearly.

3/4. The first one was definitely a good decision, if -in retrospect- a risky one (I have some social anxiety issues, and while I'm a decent judge of what I can handle now, it wasn't necessarily that way when I was fifteen). It helped with a lot of personal difficulties I had, and most importantly made a rather stupid sixteen year old girl finally realize that it was ok to be a teenager and ok to be a wee bit odd.
I learned a lot all three years, met a lot of great people and don't feel like I lost an awful lot back home. I tend to miss real bread when I'm abroad. I miss Mexican food, Slovak music, British TV, the odd candy bar and lots of other small things when I'm back home. Missing friends is worst.

5. I've never identified with my home country considering that in the area I lived I spoke the wrong language, had the wrong religion and had a "very strange" family (my mother had the audacity to have a job and so on). I'm bits and pieces from all over the place, there's always something that fits, always something I just can't get on board with. Nonetheless I've come to realize that I feel most at home in predominately protestant European countries, for whatever reason...

6. I was surprised how much of an issue it was when I moved to the states, considering I'd studied it for several years, read almost exclusively in English and felt I had a decent command of the language when I left. But by the end of the year people could no longer tell I was foreign.
I still make mistakes (bloody prepositions...), but speak & write almost as fluently as in my native language.
I arrived in Slovakia knowing about 40 words and a few phrases. None of my colleagues - let alone the kids I worked with - spoke German or English, so the beginning was fairly tough. My boss was supposed to arrange language lessons for me, but I spend the first six months or so without any instructions. I learned phrases I needed fairly quickly (by the third month I was a pro at yelling at kids but barely capable of having a normal conversation), but in everyday life things often got difficult. I couldn't get a hold of the fairly complex grammar, which made speaking awkward... and four years on I've forgotten nearly all of it. Skoda.

ennika said...

8. Slovakia influenced me a lot, in several respects. Being stuck in a tiny place with nothing to do after work I learned to really listen to music, and started to analyze songs as far as that's possibly with very limited theoretical knowledge (or practical knowledge of instruments). It was mostly limited to "hey, I totally expected them to play a different chord there!", but it was a start.
The other point was that there were quite a few pop/rock bands that were still influenced by traditional Slovak music without sounding oldfashioned or cheesy. It was a nice change to everyone trying to sound American or English, and opened my ears to a lot of contemporary foreign music that works along the same line.
Lastly, having gotten to work with Romani families a bit I'd gotten to know their music, which I might not have instantly fallen for at that moment, but prepared my way back to it a few years later.

I guess I started to listen to more grunge in the US (teenagers in Washington State...), but since my taste had started to go that way anyway I'm not entirely sure how much of an influence the country really was. England didn't affect me at all, went to a few concerts of that famed Indie scene and when the fifth band sounded the same as the first four decided it wasn't worth my time or money.

Shoey said...

Hope there are no hard feelings over my recent Bob Marley comments - musical taste is a very subjective thing.


1. Why and when did you choose to leave your home country? Would you return to live there?

1990 for work. Once the kids are settled, it's a possibility.

2. How long have you lived abroad?

Nearly 20 years.

3. Was it a good decision, if so why? Would you recommend it?

Yes, you do gain perspective if not closeted by a single culture, so yes.

4. What do you miss/what are the advantages? Any regrets?

Family, friends, countryside, pubs, little cultural things that you never new you would miss.

5. Which culture do you feel that you belong to? Are there aspects of your new culture that you don't share?

Neither or both - that's the risk/reward of leaving. Religion is a much larger part of life here, although it's more "social", don't share that. Don't share the live to work ethic either & Americans tend to be more conformist. Apart from that, for better or worse, it's not much different. I don't miss the undercurrent of violence in the UK that JP Touched on in a previous thread. Some Americans may be overloud in public but are a pretty passive bunch as a rule.

6. Is language an issue, even if you speak it, do you feel totally comfortable and understood with it, the way you are in your native tongue?

Not language, but general ignorance of anything outside the US, or even the home State or city,is disappointing.

7. If married, is your spouse/partner of your native country or your adopted one? Does this affect your expat life?

Home. Yes, the girls, both born here, have had a very English upbringing as a result, even though they have only visited the homeland when they were little kids.

8. Music: What effect, if any, has your expat status had on your musical taste?

Missed a lot of what was going on in the UK & am playing catch-up thanks to you 'Spillers, Shane in particular. The 1990's were an interesting time for US music, almost like the late 70's & early 80's in the UK, so it has been a fair trade.

Not sure that there are the same standard of living disparities as GF's era. There is still more space for larger homes, but personal tax rates are similar & will get closer with the debt mountain the previous & current administrations are piling up. Business taxes here are already higher & that's all without much of the social safety net that exists in Europe.

TonNL said...

1. Work: as a software developer who can also manage a project, working for a small, but specialised software company gets you around....
2. Germany: 2 years, Frankfurt
USA: 1 year, Seattle
Sweden: 1 year in total (3 * 4 months): Göteborg
3. It was not really a conscious decision, it just happened (for example: the German period just started as a small programming job for only 2 months, but somehow they liked what I was doing, and the Seattle job was a direct result of that Frankfurt project as well...)
4. Advantages: getting to know the ways of living & working in other countries, only missing the conversations (and a couple of beers) with my old friends in the pre-internet, pre-mobile-phone age
5. Born in the southern part of Holland, three miles from the German border, now living three miles from the Belgian and German borders, I love this part of the world, with its relaxed atmosphere and traditions, completely different to the rest of Holland
6. Completely fluent in German, French & English, when speaking or reading one of those languages, I am thinking in that language as well, I notice that colleagues of mine, when speaking English still think Dutch, looking up words in their mental dictionary, and struggling sometimes, how do you people cope?
7. n/a
8. Well, being in Seattle in the early 90's of the last century I developed a strange love for flannel shirts....

Japanther said...

Interesting questions GF and my story is not dissimilar to others in that things just seemed to happen...

1. Left the UK in July 2002 originally only intending to spend a year in Japan. The lead up to why is a very long story that all started with a Finnish ex-girlfriend that I still have a great deal of affection for, but I suppose was one of those things that wasn't meant to be, anyway, she got a job in Italy, so I took a course in teaching English to foreign people hoping to either join her in Italy or go to Finland or whatever... to cut a long story short, we broke up (long distance relationships!!) and I was left in a dead end job with this new qualification. I've already related the story of the argument with my boss that got me to buy the paper and apply to loads of jobs. I had absolutely no interest at all in Japan, I hadn't even thought it about before and I applied for jobs in Germany, China and Russia too. The Japan one was the only one who offered me an interview I could take in London, so I went with that.

I probably will go back to the UK someday, but Mrs J may need some convincing...

2. 7 years nearly to the day.

3. It was a great decision, so far. I wouldn't have met Mrs J of course and I would probably still be stuck in a call centre. Japan is a country I would recommend to every single person, although young single men that have no personality and deservedly no friends at home usually do extremely well here!!(TracyK knows what i'm talking about when I talk about the "Charisma Man" phenomenon!)

4. I miss the small things; pubs, Frazzles, intelligent political debate..
And I definitely have a better life than I would in the UK. I don't have a great job (actually, the economic downturn has forced me to take a second job starting tomorrow..aghh...!!) but we have a nice flat in the centre of Tokyo that would cost 3 times as much in London, we live a simple life but we don't want for anything (well, I would like to afford a few more records of course..). When I lived in England, just going to Pizza Express was a real extravagance and treat, but maybe that's to do with being young then too...

5. Whenever Mrs J accuses me of being "Japanese", I puff up, kiss each bicep in turn and proclaim to be a British Bulldog for life, but in truth I feel much more at home in Japan. As I mentioned before, the complete lack of a violent undercurrent, mutual respect and not screwing each other over are all in line with my worldview. When I lived in the UK, I couldn't understand why people think it's acceptable to talk loudly into a mobile on a train or generally treat others like shit, but over here, those things are just completely unacceptable.
Saying that, there are a lot of things that are frustrating about living here. The deeply ingrained institutional racism, complete indifference to any kind of political or human cause, the rampant consumerism...

6. The language is a BIG problem. I don't feel anywhere near comfortable and probably never will. I can speak it, and can hold a decent conversation on a range of topics, but it's usually a simplified version. And when it comes to reading and writing, then things get REALLY difficult. But I suppose, I only have myself to blame, I need to knuckle down and study it more!

7. Mrs J is Japanese and was born and bred in Tokyo. It affects every single aspect of our relationship, from what she expects from a husband to how to do the bloody washing up or when to take a shower. But it only makes it all the more interesting for me. Also, I should add that she has very little interest in British culture and actively dislikes the sarcasm and banter which also puts a lot of Americans off too.

8. It has led me to discover a whole plethora of excellent bands, although they are mostly western influenced ones, I haven't got into the traditional Asian vibe yet.

would be interested in hearing TracyK's reasons and observations....

nilpferd said...

There's sort of a census feel to your questions, GF- no offence intended- which I don't really feel captures the ambiguity of, at least, my experience. My parents were emigrants themselves, and I never really felt liked I belonged in a particular country, culture-wise- I've more been drawn to people whose outlook I admired. Similarly, Sandra grew up in Romania in a German-Romanian household, so was also always something of an outsider.
Home for us is Stuttgart, Heusteigviertel. Anyway, Sandra's Romanian family has a lot in common with my Scottish relatives, from the use of ovine offal in food through to the tendency to drink too much and get embroiled in senseless arguments.. I think Mara considers herself German, but she loves her gran's Romanian cooking and proudly claims to be a kiwi, too..

DarceysDad said...

I like Mara's multi-nationalism, nilpferd. Reminds me of a friend of ours (Brit father, Yankee mother, lives on the moors above Howarth) whose daughter claims to be (and goneforeign'll like this):
"half English, half American, and ALL Yorkshire!"

Abahachi said...

Never done it. Deeply wish that I had, when younger, before acquiring too many responsibilities (what with the cats, dog, garden and bees, any move would have to be a long-term venture, rather than a year or so to see how we found it) and getting too entrenched in work. Actually applied for a couple of jobs in Germany last year, but pulled out at interview stage; it was awful timing and they weren't prepared to be flexible, but suspect that the magnitude of what I was contemplating would have come crashing in at some point, esp. if they'd actually offered me the job... So, I have a deep admiration and envy of all of you who've actually done this.

nilpferd said...

Thanks, DD!
Hmm, reading back I think I sound quite pompous about GF's questions, didn't mean to be.. what I really meant was, I don't really see it as having left my home country to live abroad, and I couldn't really articulate the aspects of either culture which caused me to move. Broadly speaking, it was perhaps just a desire for more variety.

treefrogdemon said...

Wasn't sure whether you guys consider Scotland is a separate country from England...however, as it has been in the past and will be again if the SNP get their wish:

1 I left England in October 2000: just after my mother died, my job got reorganised and I found myself with the boss-from-hell. Looked round for another job, couldn't find one, and meanwhile it was becoming obvious that my father couldn't cope on his own. So, since my sister already lived in Scotland, my father and I each sold our house and we moved to Kirkcudbright, where he could sit and look at the sea/boats/birds all day if he wanted to. I got a job doing something very similar to my old one, with NHS Dumfries and Galloway. Yes, I would and will return when I retire, so that I can be a proper Grandma.

2 It'll be nine years come October.

3&4 If I'd known I was going to get grandchildren, I might not have been as keen. But as I didn't, yes, I think it was a good decision in that I achieved what I meant to. I bitterly regret leaving my beautiful little house, though, which I'd had renovated so that it was exactly as I wanted it. I'd like to be able to see my children and grandchildren, and my friends down south, more often; though now there are more ways of keeping in touch of course.
I'd moved around a lot all my life, so this didn't feel very much different. I'm always amazed when I meet people who've always lived in the same place - and a bit envious, too. But I do think it's a good idea to experience different countries, cultures, ways of living in a deeper way than you can when you're just on holiday.
Advantages: professionally there are many, as the Scottish Government gives much more support to my line of work than the Westminster one does. Personally, I find the scenery is beautiful and the wildlife more exciting. I could do without the longer winter nights though.

5 Because my father was Scottish and we visited his parents every summer when I was a child, I didn't feel too out of place. I already knew about tablet, for instance. I was a bit worried about anti-English prejudice from the natives but haven't really experienced any, certainly not in Kirkcudbright where I live. No doubt the fact that it's a popular English holiday destination has something to do with it. I don't blame the Scots for being prejudiced - I knew about the history part beforehand, but the part I hadn't realised is how English-centric the 'national' media is. It's as if they either a) don't know that Scotland is different in many ways or b) don't care.
A small example: several English chocolate sellers have my email address (I'm sure I needn't explain why) and in the last week have emailed me with their 'end-of-year-prezzies-for-teachers' promotions. Of course it's not relevant to me, but it still niggles that they don't know that Scottish schools broke up at the end of June. These things must annoy the actual Scots much more.

6 I was used to Scottish accents and words before I came, so that's not a problem. Scots can understand me as well. I haven't changed my accent and I only use a few Scottish expressions: 'high heid yins' I like, and I'm occasionally heard to say 'nae bother'.
On my corridor at work there are a couple of people who have real local accents. I love to hear them talk.

7 n/a

8 I've always liked Scottish traditional music, so the fact that I now hear more of it is fine by me. Living here hasn't changed my tastes at all. Again, that's partly due to more/different ways of communicating - such as RR and the 'Spill of course!

goneforeign said...

Nilp: No offense whatever, I understand what you're saying, it was difficult to pose questions that got to the heart of the topic, ie, there's something about living in a foreign country that probably only comes out in long chats over pints with similar expats, I recall such conversations long ago where there were very mixed feelings regardless of the weather, money, lifestyle etc.
DsD: I'll definitely drink to that one, it's me to a T.
Shoey: My BMW outrage was supposed to be humorous, we share many of the thoughts that you express and I'm sure that financially things have changed dramatically since I started this adventure.
A whole separate topic would be the ways that UK society has changed in half a century, it's unrecognizable to an outsider!

ejaydee said...

Something else that bothered me about the culture in Sao Paulo, was the separation between the sexes. Someone had organised some drinks for my birthday, and when time came to sit, there was the girls side and the boys side, and that was it for the rest of the evening. I'm used to female friendships so I definitely missed non sexual interaction with other women. It's a very macho country.

steenbeck said...

When GF posted this I thought "Oh goody!" I love these stories. Fascinating responses so far. I don't have anything to add, it's sort of embarrassing--I tried to be an expat and failed. I went to university in England, and was supposed to stay 3 years and left after only one. I think the problem was the actual university (Oxford). There were (obviously) a lot of good things about it, but I was completely unprepared for certain other things--a narrowness of attitude towards the actual course of studies, which was constricting, if that's the right word--and the class thing, which bewildered and depressed me. I had lived in London, and always loved it. Also, this might sound strange, but it's stressful being American abroad. I don't always have a high opinion of Americans or America, but I found myself defending both, and it felt strange. Plus I was twenty, and didn't have a very rational perspective on the whole thing, in retrospect. I sometimes wonder how my life would be different if I'd stayed, but as I've said before, you can't really question decisions you've made once you have children, because they wouldn't be around if you'd made different ones.

Ejaydee--it's funny because I feel the same way about being a mother sometimes. Where I live there are a few stay-at-home dads and 2 dad families, so there are fellows around quite a bit, but mostly it's moms all the time. And then on the weekends the moms like to go out together, and although I see the motivation for such an outing, it's nice having different perspectives.

Chris said...

I agree with steen, this is fascinating. There seem to be two camps: either looking for a place that feels more like home or taking an opportunity that opens up (a gf 'fork in the road').
In retrospect, I would have loved to be in the Bay Area when the music scene took off but I was only in my mid-teens and Britain had become more exciting by then. By the time I could have managed starting over in another country, there were relationships and commitments to deal with.
I suppose I could have taken the opportunity to relocate when I worked in IT, as ToNL did, but by then I didn't have the impetus, I suppose.
I've travelled to many different countries and like to keep up to date with World news, but I'm one of those odd people who has lived in the same place all their life. I like it here. Or, at least, I'm not convinced I'd like it better anywhere else.

ejaydee said...

Japanther, some Japanese music that might be of interest, as GF would say:

ejaydee said...

I should precise it's Okinawan music.
Steenbeck, what's the female version of "sausage fest"? Actually don't answer that.
Did you see this though:
THey also have ATLiens and SOutherplayalistic....

Shoey said...

ennika, the usual welcoming committee are either off somewhere spending our 'Spillharmonic money &/or sleeping. Glad you came out of hiding & welcome to t'Spill.

Abahachi said...

I'm suffering from the assumption that any new name that appears on here is probably Cauliflower's new alias...

TracyK said...

As Japanther asked so nicely...

When I met Jon he was intending to go abroad to teach for a couple of years, which was one of the reasons he gave for not wanting to get involved with me (another being sheer terror), so when he finally gave in, we decided to go together as an adventure. We looked at placed like the UAE and Dubai but realised quickly it wouldn't suit me. A friend mentioned maybe going to teach in Japan, we impulsively applied for jobs with, I suspect, the same chancers that JP went with, got jobs and suddenly we were on our way to the outskirts of Tokyo. I hadn't the slightest interest before we went, hadn't even had a passport for about 12 years but unexpectedly fell in love with it.

We were there for a year and a half (said company gave holidays after 6 month blocks of employment, so we waited till we'd managed to fit in our tour of NZ), absolutely loved it. It was a risk, moving into a 6 mat tatami room, living in one another's pockets, when we'd only been going out for 8 months, but it proved we were really compatible. Japan is an incredible place, all the cliched views of it being modern/ancient, repressed/wild, etc etc are fairly accurate. I met some really interesting people: the pensioner who explained the intricacies of haiku and pickle-making to me, the widow with 6 boys who took me under her wing and used to bring me home-made food, the student who confided in our first lesson "I'm not satisfied with my marriage", the Taiwanese girl who took me to see the Scissor Sisters...As I've mentioned before, I do think there are similarities between the Japanese and British: often I would say something slightly barbed about my co-workers (oh yes, JP, I worked with many a Charisma Man! The Japanese girls could do soooooooo much better than the boorish idiots they end up with) and my students would completely understand me.

Language was a huge stumbling block and though I have a vocabulary of about 100 Japanese words, beyond the most basic phrases, nothing. Fortuntely the Japanese are so helpful, kind and approachable we never found any real problems. Well, apart from me getting stomach flu and thinking I was dying with a doctor who was terrified of me and had no English. He settled for jabbing me in the stomach with his fingers and asking "Itai?" "ITAIIII!"

We didn't feel at all homesick until 14 months in and our trip to NZ, where I broke down when confronted with Bovril in a Wanaka supermarket. Luckily we only had two months left, so we managed okay but I was happy to come back when we did. I remember staring out of the car window at Hertfordshire, my eyes drinking in the greenery of an English spring.

I still miss Japan, I get waves of homesickness when I think about hanami, or the crickets at the end of summer, seeing Fujisan from my train. I'd go back for an extended stay in a heartbeat.

I never really got on with Japanese music, though Japanese concert behaviour I could get used to. No talking, listening avidly to onstage banter, rapturous applause, consideration for others. Shame the ticket prices were so steep.

goneforeign said...

What an interesting bunch you all are, I've enjoyed reading these comments as others have also, even though you've all done 'the same thing' it's always been different and you've all had such varied experiences. Magic, you brought back long forgotten memories of the bloody green card, I had the same feelings about it. Plus you bring back KCRW, the station I used to hang out at, I also listened regularly to Morning Becomes Eclectic, Tom Schnabel was the host way back and was later replaced by Chris Doritas; I have a couple of CD's put out by that program, check Nobody misses the LA Times.
ennika: Yours is an interesting tale but you seem to have lived in so many places I can't figure out where home is; where did you start out? You say ' I miss Mexican food, Slovak music, British TV,' and 'I spoke the wrong language, had the wrong religion - I'm bits and pieces from all over the place,' So where did you start and where are you now? And welcome to the Spill, there's usually something interesting going on here, scroll through that 'blog archive' at the top left and you'll get some idea who we are and what we do.
Japanther; you in some ways sound like a Japanese version of me, I can relate to much of what you say but what is "The deeply ingrained institutional racism" in Japan? Who's it directed against?
TFD: Ok we'll let you in, actually we must since when I lived there there was a common feeling that Scots were foreigners! Your comment 'I could do without the longer winter nights though' rang a bell, you're about 400 miles north of London, I'm about 400 miles north of LA and when we moved here the climate change came as a bit of a shock, I just didn't expect the colder winters and the frigid nights. LA has an almost tropical climate. And re. your accent, I'd always assumed you to have a Scottish accent [just like Blimpy]
Steen; Glad you chimed in, a special case and like you the class thing bothered me also, when reflecting back on my move I realise that it was a significant issue. TracyK, glad you responded also, I'd thought that you'd lived in the Orient so was very interesting to hear of your experiences. There's a few more who I was hoping to hear from, maybe they're shy or busy. Thank you all.

treefrogdemon said...

@gf: no, I'm a bit RP ectually.

TracyK said...

GF, Japan is very racist towards pretty much all non-Japanese. They have 'no foreigner' policies in lots of bars, my Tainwanese friend, who was actually brough up in Japan, has always been a victim of racism there. Several friends had very bad experiences as 'gaijin'. For instance, my married, born-again Christian friend Paul was on his way home to his wife after a couple of post-work beers and he was suddenly surrouned on the train by 8 armed policemen. There'd been a robbery on a Japanese girl on a train from that station, by a black man in a long brown leather coat. So they arrested (an hour later, same station: like the guy hadn't gone by then) our white friend, wearing a short black leather jacket. They held him for 7 hours, wouldn't let him phone his wife, wouldn't let him go even when the girl said it wasn't him, photocopied his passport, refused him access to a translator. When they finally let him go the police-chief told him: "You are foreign. Forgeigners get drunk. then foreigners commit all the crime in Japan. Don't commit crime" and that was it. The Australian embassy eventually retrieved his papers and an apology, but that's the kind of thing you hear about quite often. That friend's wife was knocked off her bike by a carelss lorry driver but once he realised she was foreign, he started screaming at her and just drove off without checking she was okay. Another friend (probably the most gorgeous-looking girl I will ever meet) got tons of groping and leers because she was platinum blonde. Sexist and racist...

debbym said...

gf, I'm sorry I'm so late to this, but I've had Other Things to do. I hope you'll scroll down far enough to find this!

I haven't lived in Britain since 1983, but I still consider it 'home'. I was set to read modern languages at university, did the obligatory au-pair/working on a campsite thing before I started, hated my course and decided to return to the friends I'd made and practice 'learning-by-doing'. I never intended to stay this long in Germany, I thought it was going to be the first stop on my way round the world (ha)!
I lived here a long time before the advent of amazon & co, and really missed daily papers and lending libraries - of course they have them here, but buying an English paper meant missing out on a meal (I was poor, they were EXPENSIVE) and obviously German libraries tend to stock German books.
I've mentioned before that Hamburg is a really nice city to live in - lots of water, lots of green spaces - and I never seriously thought about leaving until I had my children. I wanted my mother and my sister around, I wanted them growing up knowing their grandparents and their cousins, and it took me several years to accept I was just going to have to stay here (the law no longer allows one parent to leave with the children). The birth of my daughter made things more difficult for me: she is mentally handicapped, and Germany is aeons behind the likes of Britain or the Netherlands when it comes to providing for handicapped people.
This is the kind of thing you tend not to reckon with when you're a teenager grabbing your passport and heading for the door!
I don't think what's happened in my life is typical for most people. It's impossible to allow for things like changes in legislation (I'd always assumed I'd take my kids back to England with me if my marriage didn't work out), but I would urge people to make sure they've immediate access to the fare home in case any dark clouds appear on the horizon - and then go for it, I think everyone should experience living somewhere new for a while.

When I first came to Germany it was like entering a musical timewarp - everyone was REALLY impressed at my 'knowledge' of popular music, which was no different to anyone else who'd grown up with Radio One, Capital Radio and Caroline, but a great help when it came to getting a well-paid job in a record shop! German radio was unbelievable back then - no commercial radio at all, and on public holidays (all based on religious festivals) they'd just play really dirgey, funereal classical music all day. That's all changed now.
Most people were still listening to 70s music, including my flatmates, and the 80s more-or-less passed me by. I liked that most of the student types I knew were really into jazz, but it was a different kind of jazz to what I knew from home (my father played in a trad band, trying to recreate the sound of King Oliver), Jan Garbarek, Mahavishnu, very 'soft', often with eastern influences.
One of the things I really like over here is that all summer long there are street parties and little festivals going on all over the place (we even do a little festival at the place I live, that's what's been keeping me busy)! You can hear a wide range of music, much of it bordering on the mediocre, but still, for the price of a beer - and going to a 'proper' gig is a rare treat for me theses days, where you first have to be able to find and afford a babysitter and ticket prices seem unreasonable (Billy Bragg played - solo - here last year for 50 EUR: how can a socialist demand that kind of money? I went to see Chumbawamba for 10 EUR instead). There are also a couple of 'community centres' offering reasonably-priced concerts (that's where I saw the Chumbas) as well as dance courses, photography workshops etc.

debbym said...

I speak German quite well - these days people don't hear straight off that I'm British and I'm always being asked where I'm from. My best friend over here comes from Somerset, and when we get chatting it just takes on a different dimension - also because of 'cultural' connotations, things like knowing Opal Fruits were made to make your mouth water!
My ex-husband grew up in Germany, but his parents were Polish and Ukrainien. He liked to think he was absolutely cosmopolitan, but actually he was just an absolute egomaniac. He did, however, have the most impressive music collection I had ever encountered (this was, of course, long before RR)!
Being away from England for so long has probably made me more of a folkie than I'd have been at home. I've always liked my music 'handmade', but listening to the likes of Kate Rusby or June Tabor can really pull on my heartstrings these days.
I often feel I'm between two cultures. I'll never 'be' German however long I live here, but in England I stick out like a sore thumb, having missed out on so much popular culture - it's amazing how much that binds.