How modern technology has changed expat life: part 1 – work

Over the last few years there has been a surge in the number of apps you can now download on to your ever-increasingly sophisticated smart phone. So many that I suspect most of us can’t keep up – I am sure there are now apps to help you with doing just about anything and everything short of putting the rubbish out (ok – have just Googled that and apparently Coventry City Council have an app called Your Rubbish….).

But for expats, many of these apps are improving our lives in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago. Not just phone apps, but modern technology generally – the whole idea for this post started after I called a last-minute Uber following a minor car emergency when my husband was out of town. A year or two ago I would have been stuck as normal taxis are just too risky to use for us here in Pretoria. By plugging straight in to the Uber app on my phone however I was able to rescue a tricky situation and get everyone to where they were meant to be on time.   Working, travelling, communicating, living – all things that we can now do easier, quicker, better thanks to technology. And as expats this can include the sort of improvements in our lives that means living overseas doesn’t have to be as isolating, as boring or as lonely as it used to be.

So I thought I would ask around and get some suggestions from fellow expats as to what apps, tools and other technology they love and would recommend to others. I had so many brilliant replies that I had to divide them up into several blog posts, and start today with WORK.  The list below isn’t exhaustive by any means so please feel free to add any that aren’t on it in the comments section.

Work and study

As someone who remote works, I know how important it is to be able to sit at your desk in one country and be able to easily and effectively communicate with someone in another. The improvement in WiFi and 4G in many countries has made remote working a real possibility for so many people. As it becomes more normal in our home countries so it will give us the opportunity to bring these jobs with us when we move. But apart from the ability to connect, what else has been happening to make remote working so much more realistic than it used to be? And how much easier is it is now to be able to study online?

File sharing

You remember how it used to be – someone would email you a file as an attachment, you would open it, change it and email it back. In the meantime the same document has been sent to someone else who has added their own changes. The document owner now has to take all the changes from all the different versions and merge them into one….well, no more. Now you can of course simple share a document with all in your team and everyone can see the same document and change it as required. Dropbox is probably the best known file sharing tool but there are plenty of other services out there.

Affordable webinar platforms

Webinar is basically a Web-based Seminar – so a way for lots of people to “attend” the same lecture, meeting or presentation using video conferencing software. Webinars are also interactive so not just receiving info but adding to it as well.  Video conferencing itself has of course been around for a long time – I used it when I was working in Jamaica back in the early noughties. But the key here is affordable – many small companies or businesses can’t afford the sort of full-on video conferencing facilities and technology needed for the old-fashioned way. A key to opening up remote working to expats like you or me is for companies and organisations of all different shapes and sizes to be able to take us on. This is one way to help that happen. Webinars are also an important and integral part of studying from a remote location. One webinar platform that was recommended to me was Zoom.

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Working in your pj’s: one of the advantages of remote work

Social media management tools

Many of us who work remotely also manage social media. Whether this be for a specific job or for our own blogs/websites, what we realise is important is being able to manage our posts across different time-zones. And unless you want to be getting up at 3am to make sure your tweet is sent at optimal time for the US West Coast, you need to reply on clever social management tools. I myself use Hootsuite to manage my Twitter feed (although in all honesty my management of Twitter is very patchy!). Someone else suggested Buffer and someone I know in the UK who I work with remotely on website design and admin recommends Sprout Social. The beauty of some of these platforms is that you can share your posts across multiple disciplines eg Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc – all at the same time, and all while you are peacefully sleeping.

Project management

When I was having the front cover of my book, the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, designed, I employed a company that used something called Basecamp. It meant that several of us all working on one project could see what everyone else was doing, could comment on progress, could discuss changes – all in one place. It meant things didn’t slip through or get lost – everything was always where it should be. This is of course a useful tool whether you work remotely or in the same room as each other. But for those of us who ARE working in a different time zone to our clients/bosses/contractors this is a great way to keep on top of a complicated project. Or even a simple one.

Online study

Of course studying remotely has been around for a long time but we are well past the days of having to stay up until 2am to watch the Open University lectures from men in questionable jumpers and bad facial hair. Nowadays you can study from the comfort of your home for courses ranging from just-for-fun short tutorials to full on degrees and post-graduate studies. Coursera is one such organisation bringing together online courses from a number of different providers – in fact, they even have a course called Communicate Effectively in a Globalised Workplace! Another company offering a huge variety of online courses is Udemy – anything from mastering meditation to learning software development. One particularly neat feature of Udemy is that they offer courses as gifts – so if you are still stuck for that last Christmas present for someone special…

Personal digital assistants

I will admit when I first heard about this, I thought we were talking about virtual assistants. By that, I mean people in other places who help you with things like typing up a document or doing your accounts. All useful but obviously becoming obselete now we are in the brave new digital world. So what is a Personal Digital Assistant as opposed to a person personal assistant? The ones we probably know best are those like Siri or Cortana attached to the devices we use everyday. These are still more useful for the kids to play games with, if you ask me. But I am told the future is coming and soon we will be asking these guys to do all sorts of things for us. If you don’t believe me read this. And although it looks like we will be using digital assistants to help us in many ways, from telling us what the weather will be like to re-stocking our fridge, I am sure there will be many ways they will also be able to help us work from home. I just don’t quite understand yet how….

Others

I was recommended a number of other apps and tools that I thought were worth a mention. These included Prezi – a cloud-based tool for creating and storing presentations; Figure It Out, which helps you keep track of time across different timezones; Wunderlist – which is a virtual, shareable to-do list (also great for when you move); and Join.me which I am told is a good way to share screens and team calls .

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So that’s some of the best tools around for remote work; in my next post on this subject I want to look at how technology has helped us communicate, keep in touch with home and make and keep friends in our new location.

Photo credit: Kevin Schraer

From dog grooming to making mosaics – finding ways to escape the expat bubble.

We’re all guilty of it. Meeting friends for a coffee. Chatting at school pick up. Organising weekends away. Who are the people we are most likely to do these things with? Other expats.

Now I’m not one of those people who condescendingly heap scorn upon anyone who has no locals amongst their group of friends. From personal experience I know how hard it can be to get close to the natives when you don’t work. Not necessarily because of your own attitudes but often because of theirs: why should they be your friend when you’ll probably be off in a couple of years? Even worse, why should they let their children get close to yours when those friendships will be broken just as they finally trust each other enough with the name of their latest crush? Additionally, you’ve probably got a lot more in common with other expats who, like you, have left behind their home country and culture to strike out on a grand adventure. Even if your expat friends aren’t the same nationality as you (and to me, meeting people from all over the world is one of the best things about this life), they are still likely to have more in common with you than someone who has never left home.

So no I am not against having expat friends. I say grab whichever friendships you can – especially at the start. Loneliness and isolation is a very real and not always acknowledged part of this life, so never feel guilty for making a friend with someone just because they are not a host-country native.

However.

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How do I get out of this bubble?

This does not mean you should never leave that safe, expat bubble. After all, isn’t one of the reasons you moved to another country the opportunity to explore a new culture? Won’t you feel slightly cheated if you go home having never stepped out of your comfortable little world? But I know that sometimes doing this can be harder than it sounds. As already mentioned, most locals are not going to be desperate to be your best friend. They will already have circles of friends and/or family and as you get older and more settled, reaching out to new people isn’t always that high up on peoples’ agenda. So don’t expect to immediately gain a whole new circle of best mates from the local populace. It may happen eventually (or it may not, depending on where you are) but you could find it hard to get close to people other than fellow expats in the first year or two.

So, how do you get out of that expat bubble? Well – this is where you need to get a bit creative. Literally, in some cases. What you need is to find something that brings you into contact with nationals from your host country where you will all be focused on doing the same thing and where chat will naturally flow. Something like….ok, this is going to sound weird, but dog grooming. Yes you read that right – and had someone told me even a few months ago that I would have been doing a dog grooming course during my time in South Africa, I would have thought they had been drinking too much of the Kool Aid. But hear me out.

When we first got our puppy Miniature Schnauzer Cooper, we knew that he was a dog that needed a lot of grooming. His hair doesn’t fall out but it grows – fast. He can turn from a perfectly turned out shorn boy to a yeti in what seems like a matter of a couple of weeks. So we got in touch with a local man who comes to the house and does a wonderful job making Cooper look like he’s just stepped out of the puppy parlour. But while we can afford to get this done on a regular basis here, I know that when we return to the UK this is going to eat deep into our pockets. So when the chance to learn how to do it myself came up I jumped at the chance.

And it was so much fun! Run by the professional breeder who sold us Cooper the course was basically a load of middle aged South African ladies (and me) laughing our way through the day. We were each presented with our own dog to practise on and there is nothing like chortling at your sheer ineptness to bond you with a bunch of strangers. Although I was the only “outsider” there, and there was the occasional break into Afrikaans for me to contest with, the fact that we were all there for the same thing meant I was just as included as everyone else. And even though none of those women were ever going to be my lifelong friend, for one afternoon I was emerged in the local culture completely and could almost forget I was even an expat.

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My very patient guinea pig….(yes I did that!)

Similarly aother friend (you know who you are) started mosaic classes with a local art teacher. Classes like these mean that with everyone focused on art and not on each other it doesn’t matter whether you were born and bred five miles or 5,000 miles away. Barriers break down and over time real friendships can be formed.

For my children too I have found a great way to get them away from their international school bubble – local swimming classes. Both of my children train at  the high performance centre at TUKS, which is the University of Pretoria’s top class sports facility. So top class that a 2016 Olympic gold medallist also trains there! But most importantly, the girls are surrounded by South Africans. With most of their friends being Americans, Scandanavians, Germans, other Brits etc it’s great to see them  both swimming alongside and chatting with South African children. And sitting as I was with them at 7.30am at the swimming gala on Saturday morning I really got to feel I was taking part in something very South African!

We’re only here for another 8 or 9 months and I still feel like I am just scraping the surface of this country. I know I am unlikely to ever really blend in. But while I am here I am trying to understand the local culture (or should I say cultures – this is a country made up of as many people as any I have ever lived in). I know I could be doing  a lot more – I could volunteer with a local charity or vow to seek out as many local friends as possible. Yet I have to be realistic. There are only so many hours in the day and most of those are taken up with work, looking after the children, shopping, cooking, dog walking – you know, day-to-day stuff. But whilst I realise I won’t ever be completely immersed in this country, I will always have my day of dog grooming!

So get out there, look for those opportunities. And if you find something or if you are already taking part in an activity that helps you to immerse in the local culture please let me know in the comments section below. I’d love to hear what you lot get up to 🙂

Should expat children have a voice?

So you’ve been offered a job overseas. Somewhere I don’t know, quite exciting. New York maybe, or Paris. Or perhaps somewhere tropical and exotic. Mauritius. Or the Caribbean. Anyway it matters not – you’re on your way home, full of excitement. Your partner already knows this offer was a possibility but up until now you’ve said nothing to your kids. You can’t wait to tell them about their new lives – new school – new friends – travel and adventure….

But guess what? When you finally sit them down round the dinner table and break the news, they don’t want to go. So what now?

A while back I wrote the story of how we told our own children (then aged just 6 and 8) that we would be moving here to Pretoria. I can’t pretend it was easy. They were both pretty upset, neither of them wanted to go. Whereas we were excited at the opportunity to live and travel in Southern Africa, all they could think about was what (and more importantly, who) they would be leaving behind. I could feel myself wavering as they sat there in tears in front of us but then I pulled myself together. No, we were going and that was that – as adults that was the decision that we had made for ALL the family and we had to stick with it. We told them we would get a dog and eventually they calmed down. It really was just the shock but once they were used to the idea, life got a lot easier.

Recently we have done all of this in reverse. For reasons mostly related to education we had to make a decision whether to stay another year or leave next summer (SA winter). Everyone in the family – apart from the dog – had an opinion. And, unsuprisingly, not all views were the same. I was caught between the two – knowing that I personally want to stay for the good life that I live here, but that it would be better for the children’s education if we left. I was torn between listening to my heart and listening to my head. And trying to drown out the constant pleas from both children (never mind my wonderful friends here trying to pursade me to stay!). In the end though it was me (with a little help from my husband) who made the final decision – we are leaving next summer – because as the adults only we have the ability to take all the information available to us and put it into the right context for our situation.

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No-one wants this reaction when they tell their kids they’re moving abroad…..

But should children have any input into these decisions at all? About whether to move abroad, where to move, which school to attend, which house, when to move home again? Are these decisions only adults can make or does everyone in the family deserve a say? And what do you do if your child eally puts their foot down and says they don’t want to go?

On a recent expat group Facebook discussion about this the view was pretty firmly that the adults needed to be the ones making the final decision. But even within this view there were varying degrees of how much the kids should get involved – as well as how important their needs were. Some people thought it was okay to involve the children in the discussion but not let them make the final call. Others believed it should be presented to them as a fait accompli. Some also thought the needs of the adults – in particular their careers – should overide everything else. I, on the other hand, feel that there comes a time when you need to put education before promotion. And all of this of course depends on the age of your kids – not just as to how much say they should have (it would be slightly weird to ask a toddler if they wanted to move to the other side of the world…) but their educational and social needs.

In the end though as adults we have to make a lot of decisions that won’t be popular – but that ultimately we know (we hope!) is the right one for the family. It’s tough and it’s called responsible parenting. But once the decision if made the most important thing you can do is own it – make it as positive as possible and ensure that you get everyone on board.

Even if that means promising them a puppy.

Photo credit: Marco Nedermeijer

Dealing with uncertainty

It feels like there is a lot of uncertainty in the world at the moment. For many of course – Syrian refugees for example – uncertainty has become a normal and ongoing part of life. But for most of us, this uncertainty on a macro scale  is something new and something very scary. With my own home country on the Brexit rollercoaster with no idea of whether we will be part of the EU for much longer, how long our current Government will last, what effect all of this will have on food prices, our jobs, the future of the NHS; and the US with elections looming that have the potential to change not just their own country but really the history of the world, it’s no wonder that we turn in these times of crisis’ to humour about Marmite shortages and the comforting words of First Lady Michelle Obama.

But as expats, uncertainty on a micro scale is something we are used to.

A few years ago we were evacuated from Pakistan following the Mariott bombing of 2008. We were lucky in that it wasn’t an immediate evacuation – they prevaricated for ages about whether we should be sent home or not and once they had finally made up their minds we had another two weeks to prepare, pack and go. We took a detour to Thailand for a week’s holiday on the way back so in all it was five weeks from when the bomb went off until we touched down in the UK.

So a very difficult five weeks – two weeks or completely not knowing what our future was followed by another few weeks of confusion about where we would live when we got home, whether we could find a preschool place for our elder daughter, what would happen to my husband’s job, when we would get our heavy baggage back again…..

But even those few weeks of uncertainty faded into the background compared to the next few months. We managed to get back into our own home after a few months renting a holiday place near my parents. Our stuff eventually arrived, we managed to buy cars, my husband was given a job of sorts. But although physically things started to fall into place mentally and emotionally we were all over the place. Because our posting was cut very short (we only managed three months in Islamabad) we were promised a replacement. But because we were out of the normal postings cycle and for various other office politics reasons, it took them quite a long time to come up with a viable alternative.

So for months we had no idea whether we would be moving again, where we would be moving to, when we would be moving, what sort of job my husband would be doing, whether we would need to apply for school places for our daughter, whether I should start looking for a job or not…Those months of uncertainty were probably the hardest thing about the entire episode. Although the bombing itself was obviously very traumatic, we had good support and were surrounded by others going through the same thing as us. This time we were on our own.

Eventually it did all get sorted out and we moved to St Lucia in the summer of 2009. But I am reminded of that time again as we are currently going through another time of extreme uncertainty. We are trying to decide whether to return to the UK next summer or the summer after (all too do with schooling and education – as it so often is) and I feel sick with the not-knowing. I don’t think I do this indecision thing very well. I fret and I worry, I discuss it over and over with people. It plays on my mind and takes over all my thoughts. Once the decision is made I will be fine. I only wish someone would make it for us – then I wouldn’t feel so nervous about making the wrong one.

But as expats it really is something we all have to deal with. From terrorism events to job cuts, whether it be our own decision (as it is at the moment) or one made for us, not knowing exactly what lies ahead is part and parcel of this life. It doesn’t make it any easier but it is something we all go through.

So my question to you oh wise expats is how DO you deal with it? Do you have any tips or advice on how to get through these difficult times? What do you do when you find yourself laying awake at 3am night after night wondering what lies ahead, what will you do, where you will be? How do you stop those midnight demons, or the feeling of a total lack of control or the anger over not being able to apply for that job or accept that school place or even plan for next Christmas because you just don’t damn well know where you will be?

It’s hard. It really is. But we all go through it. So please, share your stories. Help me, help others. And perhaps, just maybe, we can use these skills to help the uncertainty of the world at the same time.

 

A Day in My Expat Life: Nairobi

Welcome to the latest post in the Day in My Expat Life series. Today we are back in Africa – but this time up from me a bit, in Kenya. Although Kenya is a long way from South Africa, there are a few things which feel very familiar  – in particular the bars on the doors and the keep. Please welcome Mahua, who blogs at nyc2nairobi.

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I’m a New Yorker and a User Experience Strategist and Designer. My husband and I have moved to Nairobi for his job with the UN a little over a year ago. We plan to be in Nairobi for several more years. We are lucky in that his post is open ended to a degree because we really love it in Kenya.

On my blog, I post about the more interesting or exciting things in my life. Someone might read it and think that life in Nairobi is all about the excursions and travel and fun. There’s plenty of ordinary life as well. Dare I say it, a day in my life is actually a bit boring.

The day starts with security. We disarm the security system and unlock the safe haven gate every morning. This is a common thing in Nairobi. Houses have safe haven gates (a strong iron gate that prevents anyone from getting to the bedrooms upstairs) and most homes have a security system and/or askari (guard).

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We get dressed and eat breakfast. My husband goes to work at his office. Our house keeper arrives around 8 am and I’ll talk to her a bit about anything she needs to know for the day. And then I go into the usual routine.

My day to day actually varies. Some days I don’t leave the house. I try to plan something outside of the house for once a twice a week. This could be getting together with a friend, something work related, or even just an errand or mundane appointment. When I go out, I need to plan it.

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We have one car. Sometimes I’ll take it for the day. Other times I’ll use our regular guy who drives us – not a full time driver, just my usual go-to guy. I’ll need to make arrangement for anytime I want to leave the house. I’m not trapped, but I do have to plan.

Also, if I leave the house and no one is home, I will arm the security system. Most days, unless it’s a holiday, our housekeeper will be around so I won’t need to arm the system.

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Most days, my day involves working from home as an independent consultant. What does that mean? First of all, yes, I really am working. Secondly, it’s flexible in working hours. Kenya has very strict rules about work authorization. You can’t even volunteer without a permit. Much of the work I do is tied to U.S. companies and I work remotely. I also work with Kenyan companies, but they need to get me the authorization first.

Outside of assignments, I’ve also done some pro bono work (again for firms outside of Kenya). I’ve started writing some professional pieces. I’ve done one speaking engagement and I plan to do a few more. These are things I didn’t have time for when I worked as staff in any company (either in Kenya or in the U.S.). It’s nice to be able to do these things now.

I also work on my blog. It’s fun and I enjoy it. However, it’s something that is starting to shift more and more into the realm of work for me. It’s not just writing the posts. I plan out an editorial schedule so that there are always posts. I take and edit the photos that go up. I work on making sure to syndicate the content and drive traffic via Twitter, Flipboard, and Instagram.

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I also make sure I eat lunch. When it’s nice out, I’ll eat my lunch outside.] Actually, if it’s nice out, I’ll take my work outside unless I really need to use my large monitor. If it’s warm and sunny and I can get away with just the laptop, it’s the outdoor “office” for me!

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The other item that is part of my day to day is fitness. It’s really important to me. I look forward to my workouts. I enjoy doing them. I feel great afterward. Sometimes I can do this during the day to break things up. Sometimes it’s more in the late afternoon or at the end of my day.

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How all those things happen varies day to day. But, it’s fairly certain that on most days I am in front of a computer working away, with a break for lunch and a workout. It’s that routine in activity even though it changes in timing and occasional outing.

Most days, my husband gets home around 5:30 or 6 pm. At that point, my brain is fried so I’ll shift into some hobbies while my husband does his workout. (Yes, we are a fit and active couple.) I’ve got a little studio in a spare room downstairs where I’ll draw, paint, or knit. I’ll do that for a bit before I make dinner…by make, I should note that I rarely make dinner. Sometimes, yes. Many times it’s reheating food that our (once a week) cook makes for us.

After dinner we’ll relax and watch some tv. Then it’s time for bed.

The day ends as it began, with security. We lock up the front gate, arm the house alarm, and lock the safe haven before bed.

Thank you for this insight into expat life in Nairobi. It’s always good to remind the world that our lives can be quite ordinary too. Please remember to check out the other posts in this series, and let me know if you would like your expat life to be featured on this blog.

 

South Africa travels: The Wine Tram!

One of the best things about living in South Africa is being able to drink the country’s wine freely and cheaply (within reason – we try and limit our imbibement to weekends!). But of course, one problem is that children don’t tend to be very into wine – and when you have an 8yr old and a 10yr old like we do that does somewhat limit your ability to explore the wondeful wine regions.

However where there is a will there’s a way and last week I was able to get away with a girlfriend, my Swedish friend Karin (hi Karin!) to Cape Town and go a bit wild. Well, okay, slightly wild – we are two mothers with young children after all and one of the best things about the whole long weekend was lounging in bed reading books!

But we made sure to make the best of our time in one of the most well-known wine regions of the world, a spectacularly beautiful area with never-ending photo opportunities. Specifically as far as the wine was concerned, we spent a day visiting wineries by way of the Wine Tram tour – and what a wondeful experience it was!

We were first picked up from our hotel and shuttled the hour inland to the very attractive town of Franschhoek. Full of pavement cafes and boutique hotels, this town is a must-stop for any grown-ups visiting this part of South Africa. It is the sort of place you could just kick back and enjoy for days at a time, contemplating life through a fine wine haze.

However, we were only there for the day – a day which started on this bus:

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The idea is that you take one of the four pre-organised routes between eight different wineries, choosing the five or six you are most keen to visit and simply jump off, stay for an hour, drink some wine, and then hop back on again. Simple! We did worry that after a few tastings we would lose the plot track a bit but the staff both on the bus/trams and at the wineries were obviously well used to slightly inebriated guests and kept us in line. We actually only saw two women who looked like they had probably gone over their limit, as they ran screaming to catch the bus from one stop….

Anyway our first stop was Le Lude where we started the day with three tastings of bubbly – two local and one imported champagne:

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It was a wonderful way to begin the tour and we both agreed that in fact the local stuff (at about a third of the price) was every way as good as the imported French Champagne. Definitely on my list for future purchase!

After a pleasant hour at La Lude we made our way back onto the bus along with a large bunch of jolly South African women who we bumped into on and off throughout the day as they chose different wineries to us for their tastings.

Our next stop was Holden Manz, where we decided to have a bit of food as it was now midday and we didn’t want to keep drinking on empty(ish – breakfast had been big….) stomachs. So we sat with this fabulous view and tucked in to some nibbles while sampling some of the house specials:

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As well as the wine, the views are the star of the tour – although I can imagine it would be even more stunning during the wetter months (everything was a bit brown and bare at this time of year – but on the plus side, we had beautiful sun and clear blue skies and it wasn’t too stifingly hot).

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After a bit of food and three more tasters of wine, it was on to the next stop: La Bourgogne. Everything was getting slightly hazy now but this one was memorable for a sweet garden and a couple of friendly dogs who joined us as we took some coffee and cake along with – yes – more wine. Well, it was part of the deal, why wouldn’t you (the tour included two free tastings, plus some at half price and another tasting was free because we bought wine).

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By this time the weather had started to really heat up so it was quite a relief that the next stop was inside the relative cool interior of the La Couronne winery where we partook of our second free tasting. My main memory here is that our host was a man called Budha – and yes, apparently that was his birth name and not a nickname!

At this point we were finally able to get on the actual tram! In the end we weren’t on it for very long and I seem to recall there was a tractor involved at some point as well but it was a fun experience so sit in this vehicle for the short trip to our next destination: Rickety Bridge.

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This being our fifth and final tasting of the day we decided we needed a bit more food and ordered a platter of cheese and meat to go with the wine. It might have been the paring (or the fact that we had been drinking all day!), but I think this was one of the best wines of the day and we ended up ordering several bottles to take home with us. Incidentally for any South Africans reading this, or anyone travelling internally in the country, you are allowed to take wine as hand luggage on the flights. Not sure how that squares with security procedure but we were happy 🙂

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And so the say ended and it was back to base at Franshoek where we ended up having rather a long wait for our taxi home due to hold ups on the road from Cape Town – which at least gave us a chance to have a look round:

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All in all it was a great day out and a really wonderful way to try several different types of wine without having to worry about driving. We also really liked the fact that we were basically independent and didn’t feel too herded around as you are on some tours – and could chose which wineries we wanted to get off at.

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A Day in My Expat Life: Sweden#2

I’ve already featured Sweden in my Day in My Expat Life series but as someone who has lots of Swedish friends and has Sweden high on my list of places to visit soon I say we can never have too much Sweden! So here we go – please welcome Sara!

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I’m Sara. I was born in Portugal but I left ten years ago. In the meantime I have lived 3 years in Poland, 3 in Brazil and 2 in the Czech Republic. Now I live in Sweden. I live with my boyfriend. He is Swedish. He has also lived in different countries, including Brazil and the Czech Republic with me.

You can find my blog at http://asvoltasnomundo.blogspot.se/

1- window

1. My window 7.30 I get up and usually I stare out of the window for a couple of minutes. I check how the weather is, go through my to do list mentally and judge how awake I am. I’m a morning person, so I am usually fully awake after a few minutes. This is one of the good things of being unemployed… I have time to stare out the window.

2- breakfast

2. Breakfast 8.00 I have breakfast in the kitchen. Most mornings I eat porridge with cinnamon. Occasionally, I add a spoon of jam or apple puree. And black tea in my favourite cup. I love black tea in the morning! I read or check social networks in my phone while a eat.

3- my corner

3. My corner 8.30 After doing this and that (make the bed, clean here and there, you know what I mean) I sit in my favourite corner. It almost looks like a small office but it’s a corner of my living room. It is from here that I blog. The colourful post its have notes about what I want to blog about. From here I write, edit photographs, I read other blogs, I search and apply for jobs, etc. Note my favourite cup again with my second cup of tea. Usually, I turn on the radio for company. Portuguese radio. I can hear the news from my country and most importantly, I can hear my own language!

4- run

4. Run 10.00 I love running and I do it almost everyday. If I want a fast run I just go on the streets and in the pedestrian path along the road, because it’s flat. If I’m looking for a challenge I go up to the forest near my flat, where I find many hills. Of course the surroundings are nicer in the forest and the sound of the birds encourages me to keep going. Afterwards, I stretch for a few minutes at the entrance of my building and I go home and have shower.

5- cookbooks

5. Cookbooks 11.30 Since I had a few minutes to spare I went through some of my cookbooks to get ideas for dinner. I started collecting cookbooks when I started travelling more. I have always been interested in food and I really enjoy trying different dishes and new ingredients. I started buying a cookbook in every new country I visited and now I have a nice collection. I have more than one cookbook from certain countries. From Italy, for instance, I have 5! You guessed right… I love Italian food.

6- lunch

6. Lunch 11.45 After running I’m hungry so I need to eat some lunch. I either heat up some leftovers from the day before or eat a sandwich with salad. One of my favourite combinations is sill in lemon sauce with boiled egg. Sill is herring (a fish) and in Sweden you can buy it marinated in different sauces. Sill is always present in different Swedish festivities celebrated all over the year. I actually enjoy it quite a lot and as it makes an easy and fast meal I eat it for lunch sometimes

7- school

7. School 12.30 I moved to Sweden in the beginning of the year and I spend roughly 3h a day learning Swedish in school. It is called SFI (Swedish for immigrants) and it is a free course for foreigners. Foreigners who do have a job can also take the course, but it is usually only once a week. Our teacher is great and full of energy, which is very motivating. It’s fun and I really enjoy sharing that part of my day with people from all over the world.

8- library

8. Library 15.45 After dropping the school books at home, I take my bicycle and cycle to the library to return a book. I love the library! It’s huge and has a large selection of books in english, and a lot in many different languages! I finished Be careful what you wish for, from the Clifton series of Jeffrey Archer and I took Sushi for beginners, from Marian Keyes. I have 3 weeks to read each book, but the time can be extended through my online account. Usually I don’t have to extend it.

9- supermarket

9. Supermarket 16.10 Afterwards, I also went to the supermarket. I always have a list because my memory is not the best. The supermarket is huge and it only takes me 5 minutes to get there from home by bicycle. I am a member of their club and I can use the self-scanning machines. I scan my own groceries and I pay on my own at the end. It makes it so much faster! One can get a random check and be penalised if not all products are scanned. I have never failed… yet. Today is a bit later than normal, so my boyfriend Johan meets me at the supermarket and we go home together.

10- sofa

10. Sofa 17.00 Johan is usually tired after a long day at work and he enjoys laying down a bit in the sofa, reading or surfing the web in his tablet. Usually, I’m back in my corner to do my homework and study Swedish on the internet. Once he suggested me to read children’s books in Swedish to practise my reading. We brought his collection of books from his parents house and now and then I read for him. The interesting fact is that he often does fall asleep! The brain reaction is still there… 30 years later.

11- dinner

11. Dinner 18.00 – 20.00 We usually have a lot of fun cooking together and one of the things we make often is fresh pasta. Today, I found a pasta recipe that uses one of my favourite combinations: gorgonzola and walnuts. We have tried it in pizza, together with pear, but never in pasta. Since we really liked the recipe, we will repeat it and I will take better photographs of the dish, so I can post it on my recipe’s blog, the Swedish and the Chef (link: http://the-swedishchef.blogspot.se/)

12- bedtime

12. Reading 20.00 – 00.00 After dinner, I go back to studying Swedish because I have a test in two days. Sometimes I blog instead, or chat on the internet with family or friends. When I get tired I join Johan in the sofa and watch a bit of TV or read. Around 23.00 we go to bed and I keep reading as much as my eyes allow me. It varies from a couple of pages to an hour straight.

Thanks Sara, I really enjoyed reading about your life and seeing your photos. That pasta looks great! Remember to check out my other posts in this series – and please let me know if you would like your expat life featured on this blog.

A Day in My Expat Life: Abu Dhabi

Welcome to another Day in My Expat Life and again this is a special one because Keri, of the website Baby Globetrotters, is a blogger I have been communicating, coordinating and collaborating since we both started out about the same time a couple of years ago. I have never actually met Keri – even though she came on holiday to South Africa at one point since we have been living here – so was curious to find about a bit more about her life. I also love the fact that even though she has three children, she still manages to have time to do her own thing: so important for us expat parents.

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6.19am(1)

6.19am Our day normally starts when the first child wakes up; this can be anywhere between 5.30am and 7am on really lucky days! On a standard school day though we need to be up and at it by 6.30am Not a bad view to wake up to though, we live in a fairly new beach front development “off island” in Abu Dhabi, Al Raha Beach. This is the view from the top floor of our townhouse (4 floors high!)

7.25am

7.25am We have 3 kids to try and usher out the door for school by 7.25am if we can. The International school the oldest two attend is only a few kilometers away but traffic lights are rubbish and we spend 15-20 mins every morning sat in the school run queue. We have rather a large car to fit our collection of kiddy seats – and kids (they are sadly not compulsory in the UAE but no way we’d go anywhere without them). Our littlest one is only 1, he attends the British nursery near the school.

8.35am

8.35am My favourite part of the day once the kids are dropped off! I start my working day by heading down to the beach front for a coffee. Here I catch up my overnight emails and social media. It’s too hot now for sitting on the beach itself but it’s a great, friendly little place – and makes me love my work from home jobs!

9.25am

9.25am Walking back to my house – it’s a mixed development along the man-made Al Raha Beach (slightly inland from the Persian gulf coast) with apartments, townhouses, villas and some commercial buildings – Etihad Centre is right behind our house. It comes with the convenience of a little supermarket and a few shops. The only real hassle here is parking.

10am

10am Where the work gets done! Back to my desk for the next few hours until kiddy pick up times. Once or twice a week I might be at client meetings but mostly working at home in front of the PC, three mornings a week while my youngest is at nursery.

12.30pm

12.30pm Lunch is just something quick and simple like toast or sandwich. NB note the kitchen only looks immaculate as we have a full time helper. She cleans the house while the kids are at school which is *amazing*

2.45pm(1)

2.45pm School pick up run starts again around 1.45pm when I leave our house, then with staggered finish times over two locations – at least if I am not picking up extra kids, dropping off for play dates etc – it takes about 1.5hrs to get home again. As you can see our cars are big (to fit all those car seats!) but having a 4wd or “Mummy Tank” is fairly standard issue here.

3.15pm(1)

3.15pm Today is slightly special and different as it’s my middle boy’s 4th birthday. We always get a special cake and treat on our actual birthday, he will have a pool party on the weekend with his friends. Afternoons while it’s hot they will generally stay in the playroom or play in the pool until dinner time.

5.45pm(1)

5.45pm As a special treat we let the kids pick birthday dinner and we all go out, including some of my husband’s relatives who live in Abu Dhabi too. We are very lucky to have this connection here and make things like birthday celebrations special – they love their Uncle Sean! My Master L will basically only eat pasta so he picked Carluccio’s at Eastern Mangroves, another fairly new waterfront development.

6.30pm(1)

6.30pm The high life when you have kids! All done by about 6.30pm to be home in bed around 7pm. This is the view from the gorgeous Eastern Mangroves marina back to some of the high rises on Reem Island. There really is no ‘centre’ of Abu Dhabi, just lots of awesome little spots to explore.

 

Thank you Keri for that look at your expat life. Please check out our other posts in this series if you haven’t already done so and let me know if you would like your expat life to be featured in a future post!

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

 

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.

 

Lou Messugo