Wednesday 14 October 2015

The Six Stages of an Expat Move...

Our shipment arrived from Moscow just over a week ago.  We are slowly - oh-so-slowly - working our way through unpacking it, and it suddenly struck me yesterday that there is a definite process involved here; one which others who have moved home (and not just internationally) might recognise...

It's the morning that the movers are due to arrive. You have breakfast and look around your mostly empty house, contentedly imagining the warm and welcoming impression it will give once all your belongings have arrived and been unpacked.  Right on time the truck pulls up outside your house, and you watch with eager anticipation as the team throw open the doors.  'This shouldn't take too long to unload' you think to yourself.  'There aren't that many boxes...'

The move-in begins.  The team begin to shift box, after box, after box.  After box.  After box.  After box.

Stage 1: Shock

'Jesus.  How much stuff did we bring?  I thought we did a pretty good job of reducing it before we even packed it all up, but this?  This is going on for EVER.  And how on earth are they going to get that sofa up the stairs?'

Stage 2: Denial

'It's going to be fine.  Look, they got the sofa around the corner in the stairwell and yes, I know it's upended in the lounge at the moment but once we get all those boxes unpacked there'll be loads of room, and who needs to swing a cat, anyway?

Stage 3: Anger

'I mean, for chrissake, what was I THINKING?  This box, this one here, we didn't unpack the last time we moved.  Who takes a travel cot to a different country just in case someone with a baby comes to visit, and then brings it back still in same the wrapping it arrived in the first time around?  Who does that?   And what about the empty picture frames?  Who moves EMPTY PICTURE FRAMES?  Why didn't somebody stop me? And that sofa will fit in the corner, between the fire-place and the cupboard.  I took measurements, dammit.  It WILL.  It must.  Or so help me...'

Stage 4: Bargaining

'OK.  Now.  If I put that in there, and this in here, then maybe, just maybe, we can fit the extra china set at the bottom of...  No, that's not going to work.  So, if we move that cupboard over here, and then balance that chest on top of it, perhaps the sofa can go against that wall, and then we can block the wall cabinet with that chair... No, that's not going to work because then how will we get out of the room?'

Stage 5: Grieving

'I can't believe it.  I worked so hard to get all that stuff ready to be moved, made so many trips to the recycling bank, delivered so many toys and so many of the kids clothes to the charity shop and for what?  That sofa - my favourite sofa, that I love so much - still won't fit in the sitting room...'

Stage 6: Acceptance

'There's nothing else for it.  The sofa is going to have to go.  Where's that number for the British Heart Foundation?

'Hello, is that the British Heart Foundation?  Do you still recycle sofas?  Great, I have one that I bought all the way back from XXX with me, it was especially made for us and we love it.... Wait.  What do you mean, you won't take it because it doesn't have a kitemark?'

(With apologies to Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who formulated the original theory of The Six Stages of Grief, an invaluable aid to those who are going through the grieving process)

Sunday 11 October 2015

Lost in Translation

Spending a few years abroad as a family when your children are young can have many benefits, not least the fact that it opens their eyes on interacting with people from different cultures.  Children are chameleons, let's face it, and if exposed young enough can slip easily from one set of social norms to another without blinking an eye.

This is mostly a good thing, and even when it might not be, you often you don't even notice they are doing it until it's pointed out by helpful family and friends when you return home for visits.  Examples of this might be American accents (the result of attending a school with a high proportion of American students or teachers), or taking their shoes off the moment they walk into someone's home (it's the height of rudeness in Russia to leave your shoes on in a house).

Some of the habits they adapt might rankle a little.  The accent, I have to admit, is one of those.  My kids are British, not American - I would probably prefer them to sound more like me although as long as they're polite, courteous, confident and well-informed I'll go with whatever is on offer.  Another one I wasn't keen on - and I know this is going to sound ridiculous - is the Russian way of singing 'Happy Birthday', which is as follows:

Happy Birthday to you...
Cha - cha - cha
Happy Birthday to you...
Cha - cha - cha
Happy Birthday dear whomever...
Cha - cha - cha
Happy Birthday to you!
(Cha - cha - cha)

The 'cha - cha - cha' is spoken, in case you hadn't picked up on that.  And I'm sorry, but for the love of god, why?  Every time, it drove me crazy...  But I digress; I was talking about some of the ways your kids are affected by living away from their home country.  Which not so neatly leads me into this conversation I had with my older son this morning, when it became clear that some things I had taken for granted about the English language were not, actually, immediately clear to my kids...

Me:  "They had snow in Moscow this morning, apparently."  (True fact, btw)

Boy #1: "Really?  I hope we get lots of snow here this winter - enough to go all the way over the door."

Me:  "I think that's unlikely, I'm afraid.  England doesn't get much snow, especially not where we live.  And to be honest, I sort of hope we don't, they're not really equipped for it here."

Boy #1:  "But they must be!  What about in the hills?"

Me:  "Well - they're not that high.  And it's very damp and not that cold, so there isn't a lot of snow."

Boy #1:  "What about the panninis, though?  They must have snow."

Me:  "The what?"

Boy #1:  "The panninis.  You know.  And scaffolding pike.  There must be snow up there..."


Me: "Do you mean The Pennines, Boy #1?  And Scafell Pike?"

Boy #1:  "Yes!  The Panninis!  That's what I meant!"

So now, the Pennines are the Panninis*.  Just in case you didn't know.

*with apologies to any readers based in the North of England

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Maturing with Age

So here's a thing; I was reading the comments on a post written by a bloggy mate (one of those who I count as a real friend, even though we never got it together to meet up in Real Life), and she and some other longstanding bloggers (who fall into the same category) were discussing whether or not to have a fortieth birthday party.

I remember that discussion, in our house.  It was getting on for 9 years ago, mind you, but feels as if it were yesterday.  Now, Husband and I love to entertain.  We have form in this area and have thrown some epic parties, if I do say so myself.  But this time, I wasn't sure; to party for my 40th, or not?

So I considered it.  I agonised over it.  Then I fretted some more and finally I decided; no, I was definitely not going to throw a party to celebrate my fortieth birthday.  I mean, forty is - well, FORTY, right?  Nothing to see here, look away from the forty year old woman.  Move along, please.  She's just going to retire into a corner, bemoan her loss of youth, and quietly sink a bottle of her favourite red and hope nobody notices...

But then, I met up with one my best friends.  She asked me about the forthcoming Big Birthday, and how I was going to mark it.  On hearing that I thought I might just let it pass, she said something that stuck with me.

"But you have so much to celebrate!"


She was right, of course, and suddenly I could see that.  What the hell was I thinking?  Forty was - well, just forty.  Was I never going to celebrate my birthday again?  Because every number after that was going to have a 4 in front of it - until it had a 5, then a 6 and - oh, you get the picture.  Was I not allowed to go for it simply because I wasn't in my thirties any more?


Fuck that.

So I bounced home and informed Husband that my plans had changed and we ended up having a party which I have to say was one of our best ever.  (Until our next best ever, but that's a different blog post).

So what I would say to my blog buddies unsure about whether or not to mark their fortieth birthday with some kind of a celebration, be it tea and cake with your family, a drunken evening with your bezzies down the pub, or something grander, is this: screw any codswallop about getting older being something you should sweep under the carpet.

We should forget any of the restrictions we might feel are being imposed on us by Society simply because we aren't in our twenties or thirties any more; if we want to we should party, ladies, whilst we still can.  Mark this birthday, celebrate it - and then do the same with the next milestone.  And the one after that, and the one after that.  I'm certainly going to...

(This is where my Husband shakes his head sadly and starts worrying about my plans for my fiftieth sometime in the next couple of years.  Don't worry darling.  It will only be a little celebration.  Just like the last one...)