“Tongue tied”: When you think you’re fluent in a foreign language and 7 setbacks that show you’re not quite there yet…

As a Flemish-speaking Belgian; who lived half her life speaking English in Australia; and subsequently married a Frenchman and moved to Paris; it’s safe to say that my linguistic skills range from being a fluent smooth talker to stumbling around like a 4 year old (sometimes even changing levels within the same conversation).

When I first met my husband, my high-school French had to suffice, while I took on extra language courses in my quest to become a bona fide ‘française’ (or at the least, sound like one….) Being a native Flemish speaker as well (which is essentially just Dutch, but with a cooler accent, teehee 😉  I honestly thought I was doing a good job.  However, often I’m met with a few setbacks which take me down a peg and remind me that, no matter how fluent I might become, there will always be these hick-ups. This, in turn, damages my confidence at times and makes me feel like I’ll always be the eternal ‘outsider’.

The following setbacks do not necessarily block the communication, but tend to derail the messages I’m trying to get across. These obstacles are not only limited to my time in France but are based on various experiences my family and I have had over the years, all over the world.

1. Vocal cultural contrast 

I don’t know if this is specific to English-speakers, or if I’m just a talker, but I always tend to add a little backstory or example to ‘further explain’ my messages. Even writing this now, I know I’m not making a lot of sense.. so let me add a backstory to clear it up 🙂  For example, when needing to change an appointment; the French simply call… change the date….say goodbye (they are direct, but still have manners).. and hang up. Me, on the other hand, I feel the need to explain why I am changing the appointment. Doing this in my native language, takes a matter of two seconds: “Hi, I need to change the appointment, I have to pick up my child from school earlier than I thought“. However, throw in a second or third language, and that simple explanation turns into a mumble of excuses! “Hi… I need to change my appointment.. the family… my kid is at school… but they can’t be for long.. I have to pick them up..*fumbles with phone’s translation app* ..*groan*”.  Frankly, no one has time for that; and some lose patience;  which gets you even more tongue tied when you hear someone’s annoyed sighing on the other end. Keep it simple… if you stay simple, chances are you’ll be understood better.

2. The ‘direct translation’ catch 

This one has gotten me on numerous occasions… I know that the basic message is usually received when we translate directly from our native language.. however certain misuses of words can often lead to either comical or awkward situations. I once told my mother-in-law I was excited to see my husband again after 3 months… sounds innocent enough right.. but the word ‘excité‘ in French is more commonly used when someone is excited in the .. let’s say.. more ‘romantic’ sense (yes, I mean horny).  I also once told them I lost my mind which, using direct translation, lead them to believe that I had misplaced my brains. My Belgian friends have had a chuckle or two where I’ve thrown in some expressions directly translated from English. My girlfriend was very confused when I randomly started blabbing about pastries when her partner ‘wanted to have it all‘.. in Belgium, it seems, people don’t “have their cake and eat it too“.

3. You’re not funny in another language

There’s nothing worse than trying to fit in with a joke and being the only one left laughing to an awkward silence or the sound of crickets chirping. Unless the joke is a primary school leveled wisecrack, I’d stay away from using witty humor in another language until you’ve mastered it. Like the above two points, a lot of the underlying wit is often misinterpreted or the message is lost in translation. A direct translation can lead to an entirely different joke and don’t forget the cultural differences in what we perceive as ‘funny’. What may be seen as dirty in one language, can be construed as completely vulgar in another. Also, some things are just funnier in one language and not the other (looking at a play of words, colloquial meanings etc) …. well at least you cracked yourself up right?

4. Some people just switch off as soon as they hear an accent

It’s unfortunately true that some people switch off and stop listening as soon as they hear an accent. This does not mean they are completely ignoring you, nor that they are discriminating (calm down), but they only end up hearing what they want to hear and they no longer put in the effort. For me, this happens most frequently when on the phone. At least in person you could charm them with a smile or sad ‘please-I’m-not-fluent-but-I’m-trying’ puppy eyes. In certain cultures, it is also common that someone refuses to tell you they don’t understand you…. a Chinese person will rather send you clear across town before admitting he did not understand your request for directions (then again, by being sent all over the city is how I got to explore the majority of Hong Kong.. brownie points).

5. An attempt to master the accent ends up in a drunken slur

Sometimes we try to master an accent in order to sound more fluent, however we focus less on the grammar and start making mistakes. We often pick up on these mistakes straight away, but instead of changing our accents mid sentence (because we don’t want to sound like an idiot), we end up slurring or mumbling our way out of it. I think it’s better to speak the language correctly, even if our accents are lousy, rather than sound like a fluent, but moronic, native.

As a side note, I would like to include the actual slurring incidents (usually  as a result of one too many beers) where we think we’re a lot more fluent than what we are (we also think we’re better dancers, philosophers and peacekeepers).

6. The nonexistence of certain words

Anyone who speaks more than one language is familiar with the scenario where you know the perfect word or expression to describe your situation, just not in the language you need at the time. A direct translation of such a saying only results in confusing the person even more. Just like having ‘chickenskin’ (‘kippenvel’ in Dutch) is not the right way to describe goosebumps, neither is ‘becoming a goat’ (devenir chêvre’ in French ) to tell people you’re being driven mad by all the language jumbles. We,multilingual speakers, would kick ass at scrabble if we could just mix and match the languages we know.

7. Language fusion 

Any multilingual family can relate with the vast mixing pot of languages we deal with on a daily basis. Because we all speak the different languages together, often our sentences can start in one language and finish in the other (heck, let’s add a third one in the middle, just for shits and giggles – another expression badly translated by the way). We do it with such speed and accuracy that we don’t even notice the difference.

Fast forward to when you’re speaking with someone who is not part of that same family and you’ve got yourself a very confused listener. Just like our 3 year old, who is currently speaking in three languages… often in the same sentence (seriously, the teachers at her kindergarten have no idea what she’s talking about), I’m often throwing in a word in English hoping no one will notice and think I’m super fluent and oh so funny hahahaaa.. Nevertheless, unlike my 3 year old who will grow out of it soon and master her linguistics, I’ll need some more practice…..

The idea that the world of each language is divided into two groups: “fluent” and “non-fluent” is not realistic . Language is a living thing; it always happens within a certain context and every scenario is different for everyone. Fluency is not purely linguistic but involves non-verbal communication as well . Written fluency won’t help you to understand the meaning of a nod or a gesture. I think that’s why children (well.. children and drunk people) can communicate so well… they focus on what the person is trying to relay rather than how they are saying it.

I know, with time, I’ll hopefully master the French language and walk around like I own the place, but in the meantime I’ll just row my boat on the ‘fluent enough’ plateau and go from there..

I hope some of you could relate, and you’re welcome to share your funny ‘lost in translation’ moments in the comments below for us to have a shared chuckle..

In the meantime I bid you ‘adieu’ with ‘nog een prettige dag verder’ or ‘une bonne journée’

sans-titre

“Workin’ hard for the mommy”: I chose to bench my career for family

Just like wanting the ability to eat what I want and not gain weight.. (which sadly was no longer an option once I hit 25.. *pff*)  my need to ‘have it all’ did not stay limited to my love for peanut butter M&M’s and party snacks…

When I first started my career, fresh out of university, I was a doe-eyed optimist with a Psychology degree under her belt, ready to dive into the workforce….and boy, did I dive in! I launched my career working for children services, which opened my eyes rather quickly to all the darkness that’s out there. That being said, it became clear that I had a knack for working in the field of psychological trauma, where I could not always prevent the trauma, but made darn well sure that I was there to help survive it! It was not long before I started to live and breathe the job, just like my colleagues in the field did. After a few years of working close to 12 hour days in high risk situations and court deadlines, I decided to take it down a notch and move into private practice where I could focus more on the psychological process rather than the initial intervention. I loved my job and everything it stood for .. the only people I had to look out for was me and my dog (yes, he counts as a person). And then, another many years later… I met a boy.. (*blush*)

Being a French expat in Australia, I knew my partner would not be around forever, but that didn’t stop us from falling in love (*nawww*) and a year and a half later I followed him back to Europe. As my parents were expats (we’re originally Belgian), I had lived in various countries before, so the idea of moving away did not scare me as such. I had finally found someone I wanted to actually commit to and although some interpreted my move as ‘throwing away my career’, I saw it as a great opportunity to learn more (and be with the one I loved.. you know…. ‘having it all)…and of course the dog came along as well…

Fast forward another 3 years, when we welcomed our eldest baby girl, and life truly changed for both of us. We were living in Hong Kong and, given the situation, I was able to stay home for a year and raise our daughter. Now, I had worked in trauma, interviewed sex offenders and dealt with pedophiles… and yet that year, being a stay-at-home-mom, was one of the more challenging years I had had in a long time (not that there’s really a comparison..but you see what I’m trying to relay here..) I had never experienced this feeling of being so busy; you didn’t have time for anything, yet feeling so bored at the same time; before. I felt like I couldn’t identify as anything else but ‘a mom’ and although I poured my heart and soul into this gorgeous little monkey, I didn’t feel like I was making a difference in the world anymore. Please don’t get me wrong, being a stay-at-home-parent is a full time and admirable job and for those doing it every day, you’re bloody amazing and my hat goes off to you ! This is merely a depiction of what I was feeling at the time and the internal struggle I myself felt, missing my career and trying to find my place again. I like working, having a routine and feeling like I’m going to be a productive member of society for the day.

I expected life to change when I chose to follow my husband overseas, and I felt nothing but excitement. I expected life to change when we started having kids, and I felt nothing but love… some fatigue… a bi-it of nausea… but mostly, love.

But what I didn’t expect was the feeling of guilt when I decided to give up some of that precious time with my child and go back to work, paired with the resentment I felt every time I lugged a big laundry basket down the stairs. I wanted the best of both worlds, but that was just no longer an option. I made the choice to shelf my career for the time being,  working in a less stressful job with fewer hours. Coming to terms with these new priorities in our lives still created the occasional internal battle but as I would’t give up one for the other, I had to find a middle ground.

The reason for this post, is because we just welcomed our second little monkey into the world.  I spent the last 3 months living in a blissful cocoon, sniffing my baby’s hair and what not, but the reality of postponing my career for that while longer, has come and hit me all over again…

I’m not the only parent going through this and after speaking with a number of people in similar situations, I decided to share a summary of useful tidbits that are helping me along the way and that may be useful to others as well.

1. Drop the guilt-trip

There is absolutely nobody, other than yourself, judging you for giving up on the work you were doing in order to put your family’s priorities first. You didn’t fail because you’re holding a degree you’re not using nor did you waste the last 10 years to just be a house wife/husband (what we do before molds us in who we become today, that doesn’t change no matter where our paths take us). We are our own harshest critics. Those who do judge, don’t know your story and therefore don’t deserve your guilt either.

2. You can’t have your cake and eat it too… *mmm cake*

I know many couples where both the parents have a successful and driven career whilst raising beautiful and happy children… it is possible yes! Having a career does not mean you make unhappy babies…..far from it… but it’s only realistic to say that one does impact on the other (and like a scale, the balance changes from day to day).  That doesn’t mean it can’t be great.. we just can’t have it all. The sooner we drop that expectation, the sooner we can jump on the seesaw and just go where gravity takes us and balance as best as we can.

3. It’s okay to feel resentful once in a while, just don’t drown in it

There’s nothing wrong in feeling that bit of bitterness from time to time.. I sporadically have pangs of jealousy when seeing my single friends and reminiscing of the times where we went to dinner any night we wanted and going for an after-work beer was a spontaneous choice rather than a well-planned-out operation. But then I come home to my kid picking her nose and licking the window while the other one is laughing hysterically at her feet .. and as much as I loved that family-free, social time in the past.. I wouldn’t want it any other way now. I think we all look back at certain moments in our past with much fondness, but that doesn’t mean we want to be right back there either.. And of course, having kids does not mean you become a total shut-in.. that too, is a choice..(one, I know, I personally need to put more effort in).

4. Sacrifice is a team effort

My husband and I chose to rank our jobs and made the conscious decision which one to prioritize (future opportunities, financial input, location etc). Safe to say it was a no-brainer that we would follow his career and I would put mine on hold for the time being. But a decision like that is made together, and there is not one party sacrificing more than the other. As a couple,the most important aspect for us is to remain part of a team and where I have given up certain things for him, he has most certainly given up things for me as well. I know, at times, because I was no longer the main breadwinner, I felt like I didn’t contribute as much as my husband did,  which clouded my view and often would be the basis for arguments. Not once has my adorable Frenchman made me feel like I’m not contributing, and it was, yet again, my own inside voice that put me down more than anything. I know my partner fully supports me when I decide to jump back in the saddle… no one needs to be the martyr.

To be honest, once the kids are at a school age, I don’t know if I’ll fully get back to the career I had before. But what I do know is that I wouldn’t trade my life nor my little family for anything, not even a job. (Unless I become ‘George Clooney’s personal body lotion application executive’.. then they’re on their own)

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy these little rugrats and the bearded lover who is the absolute cheese to my macaroni, and be grateful for all that I have.. I might not have it all.. but it’s more than I need and for that I feel like the luckiest one.

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“Please”, “Merci” en “Dank u wel”: Raising our Child in Three Languages- our seven cents worth..

There once was a Belgian/Australian lady with an Aussie dog who met a French/handsome man in the land Down Under. After travelling some time across the world for work, they settled back in Paris and now have two perfect little, curly-haired blends of all of the above. Safe to say we have our own little mixing pot of various cultural habits, culinary discoveries, and most importantly all the languages that come with being a multi-national family.

Before our girls were even conceived, we had made the conscious decision that we would be raising our future children in the three languages we ourselves grew up with: French, English and Flemish (which essentially is Dutch but with a way cooler accent 😉 hihi – says the person from Belgium.

Raised as a multi-lingual child myself, and living among expats for most of our lives, we knew that such a task would come with its own challenges (besides the techniques taught to us by the literature surrounding this topic). We’ve got a long road ahead of us still, but thought to share with you seven truths we have learnt so far:

1. Raising a multi-lingual child will not confuse them.

Despite what some people believe, having a child learn multiple languages from day 1 is not as difficult as it would be for an older child or adult. Their little brains are sponges who will soak up any information they can and will put it into place later. Keep filling that sponge – but be as consistent as possible.

2. Consistency is key

It’s important to remain consistent. No language is ever learnt by throwing around random words without a clear context or setting. As we are raising our little poop machines in the three languages, we have mom who speaks to her in Flemish, dad in French and English is spoken when we’re all together as well as in the cartoons they see on Netflix (yes, we’re those kind of parents who let their children watch TV…. a lot… for shame!)

3. People will have an opinion about your parenting, regardless of what you say or do

I must admit, a cocky part of myself thought people would react quite well to the fact we are raising our child in a multilingual setting. So it came to a bit of a surprise that quite a lot of reactions leaned towards the negative or even critical side… Comments such as ‘it will only confuse them’..’they will loose their French (*we live in Paris)’.. ‘I would not put that pressure on my child’ .. and ‘who needs Flemish anyway’ are among my top favorite ones. At the end of the day, people are crappy and will have something to say about your parenting no matter what you do or don’t do.. so let them criticize away as your child learns how to say ‘mind your own business’ in three different languages.

4. Lost in translation

As most multilingual families/couples know, a lot of arguments can blow up with a simple mistranslated sentence or saying… some can turn out quite comical where others have you turning on each other like a couple of stray cats. Always communicate with each other and your children, and identify where the confusion lies so we learn from our mistakes. For example, ‘What ya doin’? in English does not correspond well with its direct translation of ‘Tu fais quoi?’ in French. On the contrary…. saying it like that sounds more like ‘what the bloody hell do you think you’re doing there mate!’ (we learnt that one in the car!)

5. Don’t underestimate the power of cartoons!

As I mentioned before, our children do watch TV daily, and before you put on your ‘judge-y’ pants, all their programs include age appropriate and educational cartoons. They do not watch Game of Thrones with us nor do they become violent as a result of over stimulation to movement and colors. In fact, our eldest learnt (when she was 2) to count to 10 with ‘Curious George’, the names of all the playground equipment with ‘Peppa Pig’ and experienced the joys of completing a task with ‘Dora the Explorer’. I most certainly am not promoting our children sit in front of the tube all the livelong day without any other activities, but don’t worry too much if some days that TV has been on longer than others.. they’ll be fine.

6. Some delay in speaking can be expected

A lot of children speaking more than one language, may mix up some of the words a little as they start forming full sentences.  Yes, compared to little Johnny from next door, they may not be reciting their favorite poem just yet or they tend to sound like a UN translator after a few drinks as they mix up their languages… but give them a few extra months to get the hang of it and they’ll be able to tell you all about their day in more language than one. If anything, the initial mixing of languages can be quite adorable at times!

7. Your child is not better than any other

There are of course some parents who act as if their multilingual child is far more advanced than any other child who can’t ask for their blanky in Latin or what have you… Every single child has its own strengths and weaknesses and where your child might excel in one area, another trumps them in another field. It’s not a competition (contrary to what most of us experience) and our little monsters are all geniuses in their own way!

None of this information is new and I’m sure most of you have far more experience to back up the above points.. I wanted to share what we’ve known so far and encourage those multilingual parents who may have had doubts before to keep on going !!

In my opinion, if you can raise your child with more than one language,  it’s nothing but a gift you can give them ……

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“Being a citizen of the world in your own home”: Settling back in

There is a certain upside to being an expat, a ‘citizen of the world’ if you will, with a vast exposure to different cultures, customs, people and (my favorite) food. Whilst you’re away, there is nothing more adventurous than feeling like a bit of an outsider, sent to discover and throw yourself into something new. And frankly, all the other expats are outsiders as well, so you form a silent connection, knowing there are many more like you, figuring out the subway system, looking for English book stores and seeing what their ‘Coke’ tastes like.

Having relocated back to our beloved Europe and currently settling back into our ‘real lives’, that sense of being a bit of an outsider is still there, however this time, not always in such a good way. We have been living abroad for so long; that many every day customs, random paperwork and even the way certain things are cooked, again, seem foreign. Naturally you try and tackle these changes like you’ve tackled all the other changes in your life, but what’s different this time around is that you’re at ‘home’ and the expectation you’ve put on yourself to just ‘slide back into’ the lifestyle you once knew went far more smoothly in your head than it seems to in real life.

I might be alone in this, but per chance if there are any other expats out there, trying to settle back into their old lives.. I thought to share a few points I’m trying to follow myself:

1. Don’t be paranoid

Overseas, you accept the fact that the locals see you as an expat (having lived in Asia for the last 2 years, it was kind of hard hiding being a 172cm tall, pasty blonde and all). But here, in Paris, they see me as ‘one of their own’… and every time someone even slightly glances my way on the metro as I look lost or listen to music, I panic and think “Oh, No!They know!!!” as I quickly, and casually, try to act as French as possible (don’t even ask me what I look like… probably very stupid.)

2. Embrace your accent

Having learnt English in the US, raised in Europe, moved to Australia as a late adolescent and spent the last 4 years moving around and married to a Frenchman.. my accent seems to have taken on a life of its own, rendering no clue as to where I might actually come from. It also appears to have chameleon-like tendencies where it changes and adapts to whomever I am talking to (seriously, you should hear me around the Irish). Living in a city now with a melting pot of different, and strong accents (even amongst people who were born and raised here) I realized it is better to embrace the accent and just speak the language rather than spending a 3 hour afternoon focusing on rolling the ‘rrrr’ properly.

3. When life throws you lemons…

I have not lived or visited a country where the process of paperwork involved in what is called ‘life’ has run smoothly, efficient, and without delay. At times it almost feels like all government/state documentation will take ‘about a month’, no matter how small the step or how easy the process. When will I have my picture ready? ‘about a month’…. when will the person, I need to speak with, be back from their lunch? ‘oh, about a month’. We’re left with grabbing these lemons (all 30 thousand copies of them) and working through them step by step as we slowly make our sweet, sweet lemonade.

4. Connect with ‘your peeps’

The upside of expatting is meeting amazing people all over the world and enjoying the excitement of seeing friends again after long absences. The down side (on some days) is that you don’t really have one set ‘crew’ in one set place. It can sometimes feel very lonely to be surrounded by lovely people, but not by the people you miss the most that day (hormones and paperwork often don’t help the situation 😉  Of course enjoy the company and time of those around you to the fullest, but there is nothing wrong with occasionally missing others and using one of the million ways to connect with people, no matter how far away they are.

5. Don’t try too hard

A lesson I am trying to teach myself every day. Be aware that change takes time… settling back in takes time. I can’t be away from a place for such a long time and expect everything to be the way it was (well, in my case that means people would still be wearing jeans ensembles, listening to walk-mans and using a paper map to get around …. and now I feel old). I need to remind myself to go with the punches, tackle every issue at a time (or 6 at a time, depending on the situation).

Having a thousand things to do at the moment, whilst still living out of a suitcase, can pose its problems and prompted this little, winy blog post…. but I continue to be incredibly grateful for the life I have today and the things I have experienced and wouldn’t want to change it for anything!

I know, very soon, I’ll be laughing about all this as I drink my small black coffee, eat a baguette as a ‘roadie’ and make witty jokes in French… weird accent and everything…

Welcome Back! Doormat

“Soccer-moms; Hookers and Wall-Flowers, Oh My!!”: Expat Wife Stereotypes

I’ve been an expat most of my life: as the child, as the working partner, as the spouse and now as the new house mommy. One thing that seemed consistent, no matter where we lived, was the dishing out and immediate labeling of various stereotypes. A trade, so ingrained, we are all guilty of doing it more often than we’d like to admit!

Some people do fit the profile dead on, stereotypes after all are based on some truths, but unfortunately many people tend to be ‘mislabeled’ and pushed aside because of someone else’ perceived idea of their story.

I’m blessed to have a bit of a mixing-pot of friends which has led to some fun conversations about what people have said behind our backs (or in some cases straight to our faces). I’d like to share some of the stereotypes that get slapped on some of us ‘expat wives’ here in Hong Kong because of our appearance/situation and perhaps a different truth behind each one.

1.Expat Soccer Mom

The stereotype: People see her pushing her stroller, having a coffee with friends, and browsing the book store. The stereotype pretty much labels her as someone who stays at home, has a frequent flyer card at Starbucks, bosses around local wait staff and has nothing better to do but meet up with friends to complain about her life to kill time until the husbands come home.

A different truth perhaps: This ‘soccer mom’ works from home, wears sneakers because her kid is just too darn fast these days, doesn’t own a single high end piece of clothing, is one big doormat who wouldn’t dream to yell at a server for fear they’ll spit in her food and spends time having a coffee with friends because it’s the only social interaction she’ll get that day because she can’t currently work outside due to a lack of available daycare. She loves her life and knows darn well how blessed she is, but doesn’t mind the occasional vent on a bad day.

2. Exotic Hooker/Cleaner-Turned-Expat-Wife

The stereotype: People see her with her expat husband and immediately think she must have met him out in the bars where she worked as an exotic dancer/cleaner and has now married him for his money just to escape the poverty hit life she probably had before. She speaks in her own language to friends and will hit on your husband the first chance she gets.

A different truth perhaps: They met whilst he was working overseas as they were colleagues at the same firm. She admired his passion for life and decided to follow his career which resulted in her staying at home to raise their children. She speaks her own language with her friends, just like the rest of the expats do when feeling a bit homesick, and although she is darn exotic and sexy, she has better things to do than to spend her time hitting on your fat, balding husband.

3. The Mousy Wall Flower

The stereotype: When she is in a larger group she won’t say much as she prepares the snacks she made for the social gathering and takes care of everyone around her. People might view her as a simple wall flower with not much to say and will avoid striking up a conversation for fear they’ll be stuck talking about pottery classes or having to explain to her where any countries are.

A different truth perhaps: This little ‘wall flower’ will kick your ass if you cross her or anyone she loves. She doesn’t talk much in a big group as she quite enjoys watching people and being in the moment rather than taking to the stage. She loves talking about politics, religion and has never taken a pottery class in her life. She probably knows more about certain topics than you do but doesn’t feel the need to prove that to anyone.

3. The Angry Asian Mom

The stereotype: She lets her children run around and bug people as she quietly sips a cup of green tea without a care in the world. She has her two-year old signed up for calculus, piano lessons, advanced French and floor gymnastics. She is ruthless, pushy and competitive and will see all non-Asian moms as hippies who let their kids run wild.

A different truth perhaps: This ‘Asian mom’ studied in London, and although she has taken up some of the traditional ways of raising her child, she enjoys putting her own spin on things. She sips that cup of tea to give herself five minutes alone to relax and forces herself not intervene when the man who slammed the door in her face a mere five minutes ago gets annoyed that her child is running past his table because she is being ‘inconsiderate’. She would like her child to have the best opportunities in life and may have signed him up for a swimming class, but rest assured he is in bed on time and doesn’t get forced to play the piano as she slaps his hands with a ruler. She needs to be pushy sometimes as she lives in a culture where competition is high in the educational system, but she has a heart of gold.

4. The Faux-local

The stereotype: She has the know on all local restaurants, shops and customs and speaks the language even when it’s not needed. She has completely immersed herself into this new culture and is condescending towards anyone who doesn’t know what the term ‘pu tong hua’ means. She is a know-it-all who will give you her two cents whether you have asked for it or not

A different truth perhaps: This expat enjoys the adventures of a new culture and gets a kick out of learning a new local phrase for the week. Her intentions of sharing her local knowledge merely come from a place to give some of the lovely experiences she has had to others. She doesn’t care less if someone doesn’t have the same enthusiasm over a game of Mahjong and just wants to soak up every second of her life overseas before returning back home.

5. The Trophy-Wife

The stereotype: She always looks well-groomed, carries around her Gucci purse as she spends her time at the salon and spa. She is often seen on the arm of her rich husband and is gawked at my all men who picture her in her Guess bikini as she stupidly sips cocktails with them on the beach.

A different truth perhaps: She likes to take pride in how she looks as it boosts her confidence; and she doesn’t mind getting up 40 minutes earlier to make the effort to do so. Her fancy bag is probably a knock off she found at the markets, but she likes the style and look of it. There are only so many manicures a person can have before your nails get filed off, so you probably just happened to have catch her on her monthly spa visit. She feels immensely proud to be at the arm of her successful husband as he worked his way up from the ground whilst she supported him fully from the sidelines. She can’t help it that other men gawk at her, but that won’t stop her from looking good as she does this for herself. She is beautiful from the inside as well as out and makes a great friend to anyone who can get passed their own low self esteem to talk to her.

The idea of this post is to exaggerate some of the common stereotypes I have witnessed for the sake of taking it all with a grain of salt and humor, but mainly for the rest of us to take a second a look at someone before we pass judgement (or at least to have the decency to keep some of our opinions to ourselves).

Now if you’ll excuse me I have a group of friends and Venti-Chai-Latte-on-Skim waiting for me 😉

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“Sh*t Your Pants Airlines” : The illogical logic around my fear of flying

Ever since my early teens, I’ve had a strong fear of flying. It could have been caused by the very bad storm we flew through when I was 14 or perhaps it was that impending realisation that we’re being thrown from one place to another in a giant, metal box full of farts. Regardless, it has been there as long as I remember and it seems to be getting worse over the years.

As someone who has family living in both Australia and Europe and a husband who loves to travel, taking an airplane on a regular basis is just part of life, and despite the constant urge to research valid train connections, I need to take that spoon of cement and toughen right up!

I have been given the statistics by many people (even experienced flight staff) and am very well aware that I am more likely to be killed by a cow (random) than when flying.. .but the forte about my fear is… there is absolutely no logic behind it. The flying itself is not what really scares me, but more the whole falling and plunging to your whole death part..

Some of the basic (illogical) rules I live by when flying:

Rule # 1: Concentrate

Takeoff is the worst part and I need to concentrate deeply, as I am convinced that my intense focus is what is keeping the plane up in the air. I will relax a bit more when the seat belt sign is turned off, but not a second before that. Same rule applies when we experience turbulence.

Recently, I tend to also cry silently when taking off (a new development there, I’m yet to figure out where that one came from)

Rule # 2: “You’ll be fine”

The phrase “you’ll be fine” is somewhat of a mantra I chant pretty much during the entire flight, and the more people who say that to me before take-off, the more secure I feel about the flight. I may have bothered a few fellow passengers along the way when they saw me clutching my lucky necklace and mumbling ‘you’ll be fine; you’ll be fine; you’ll be fine” like a lunatic in a trance.

Rule # 3: Read the chart, fool!

When traveling with me, you absolutely must read the safety chart (even a quick glance will suffice). If you don’t do so (even when teasing), I will freak the f*k out until you do. Much to the delight of my husband I can tell you.. .he has memorized that thing by now PS: I will also squeeze your hand to within an inch of its life during takeoff and heavy turbulence.

Rule # 4: Baby on Board

I wouldn’t call myself a super religious person, but the more infants on the flight, the better (cause surely, what kind of Higher Being would harm all these babies, right?)

Rule # 5: Be careful with alcohol and pill mixers

Before flying with my daughter, I used to self medicate with wine and a sleeping pill. Of course, one must be very careful not to mix these guys up. A lesson I learned when I was 19 and had myself a little wine/Valium cocktail… We experienced a ‘touch and go’ in London and after 5 minutes in the air again the Captain assured us we’d just circle around a bit and land shortly…. to which a very intoxicated me slurred (loud enough) “That’s what they said in ‘Die Hard’ and they crashed” (much to the amusement of fellow passengers, I apologized to the friendly flight steward and explained I was a nervous flyer, to which he said ‘I can see that darling’.. *how embarrassed*

Rule # 6: Flight Information

I appreciate the Captain wants to say hello and introduce himself,  but is it absolutely vital he  reminds us mid-flight exactly how high up we are and how fast we are going? Because all I hear is “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We are now traveling at kilometers so high that you will not survive should the doors fall off, and at a speed so fast where surely an emergency landing would not slow us down enough. Thanks for flying with us and I will touch base again soon, granted we’re still in the air”

Rule # 7: Wing please

If I can sit on the left hand side of the plane, on the wing or in front of it, I will be a much more pleasant passenger. I solidly believe that turbulence is felt stronger at the back of the plane. A little rule that was developed when I experienced heavy turbulence in a toilet once, where I had to hold on to the basin.. I was terrified… luckily I was already seated on a toilet because .. well… you know.

There’s a chance there are more illogical logics to my fear of flying, but I’m pretty sure I’ve already promoted myself as a complete crazy person enough today. So to my fellow ‘aerophobics’ ; “You’ll be fine” and to the ones sitting next to them holding their hand: “Please be kind .. we will be a much more pleasant person again as soon as this giant death tube is back on the ground”.

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Adjustment to a New City: The Hong Kong Files

One of the best things about our little Earth is its wide variety of different landscapes, people, multiple cultures, big and small cities…. you name it. As we live in an age where travel is more common, it’s also fantastic that we get to immerse ourselves into and experience some of these different places . Some days it can be a true adventure, and eye-opener; although other times it can prove to be somewhat of challenge as well.

I’ve had to adjust to a few new cities over the years, and thought I’d share some of the snippets I have faced along the way. Below are some of the gems I have witnessed whilst living in Hong Kong so far.

(Please note that these examples are just a slideshow of my own warped mind and that it doesn’t necessarily mean that all Hong Kong residents fall under this interpretation. I certainly don’t mean to offend anyone or be disrespectful in any way… but life makes me giggle sometimes, no matter where I am or who I’m with, and today I have a goofy grin smeared on my face, in Hong Kong):

 1)  There will be a huge cue for the lift, when there are perfectly good escalators right next to it, and no one seems to mind it takes them twice as long to get upstairs. Surely, they can’t all suffer from escalaphobia (the fear of escalators… yep. I Googled it)

 2) Staying on the theme of lifts, I have found myself partaking in a game I call ‘sardines in a can’ where we will squeeze into a lift to the point where I could literally butterfly kiss the person next to me on the cheek with my eye lashes. As the majority are quite slim here (not a very good confidence booster when you’re having a ‘fat day’… but that’s another story..)I don’t think going over the assigned weight limit is a concern either).

3) I appreciate the general curiosity some people might have when seeing a blonde woman with her child, and for that reason I have no issue with people wanting to take pictures of us (heck, it kind of makes me feel like a celebrity some days)… but I don’t support strangers touching my child or even her stroller to have a closer look.  When this happens, I calmly channel my MC Hammer and advise them to ‘not touch this’ as I walk away … sideways. This has not happened often at all, but irked me so much I felt it was note worthy.

4) Speaking of photography; the first week into living in Hong Kong I was standing at the crosswalk when I noticed a young man pointing his phone towards me. As phones seem to be permanently attached to people’s hands these days, I didn’t think anything of it. That was until the light went green, and in the middle of crossing the road he abruptly stopped in front of me and pointed his phone smack at my face as I heard the camera shutter ‘cha-chak’; before then casually continuing on his way, leaving me standing there wondering what the hell just happened.

5) There is a vast abundance of phones around here and absolutely everyone has one in their hands (or so it feels like) to the point where the recorded voice at the subway stairs not only asks you to ‘please hold the hand rail’, but also warns you to ‘not only keep your eyes on your mobile phone’. Maybe something she could have also said to the bus driver as he played Candy Crush whilst driving.

6) I’ve come across bad drivers all over the globe (Cambodia, Poland and The Emirates being in my personal top 3) but I am sad to admit that I feel the stereotype of Asian drivers is not too far fetched. The biggest cause of any road rage swearing from my part has been due to the lack of people using their indicators around here. Swerving between lanes is one thing, but cutting me off on a busy roundabout whilst I have my daughter in the car will cause me to flip you off and curse you to step on a piece of Lego when you get home you crazy, indifferent bastard!!

7) Getting a foot massage is absolute heaven (granted you resist the urge to kick them in the face because it tickles too much or you accidentally walk into one of the ‘special’ massage parlors. But if you don’t end up with an awkward happy ending situation somewhere, it is definitely worth it!

8) For those who like their Internet Memes…. (as I need to go along with the times here)

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9) Nicely waiting in line and allowing passengers to exit the train first is good and present in theory, but sadly, more often than not, you end up battling the wave of people trying to get onto the train before you’ve had a chance to get out. God forbid they miss the next one that will be there in less than 3 minutes..

10) It seems to me that people here are afraid of the rain, and whenever they see me walk around in it, I am stared at as if I am a complete and utter lunatic for getting wet (unless they have a good reason to be and I’m the idiot strolling through acid rain without her umbrella)

11) Whatever you do, don’t reach out to a brochure being handed to you on the street (unless you want to be followed by a pushy (but still friendly) Indian guy trying to sell you hand bags and wallets. It’s like the Wizard of Oz of knock-off brands (Oh gee whiz Toto..Gucci, Versace, Chanel ..Oh My!)

12) I grew up with the notion that Asian people walk fast. Don’t ask me where I got that idea from, but I can assure you it is not a valid one. I have often had to hold back the urge to moan ‘braaains’ when walking around the city or subway and am convinced that if a Zombie apocalypse were to actually happen around here … we’d be majorly screwed.

In the end though, no matter where we end up, there will always  be differences from what we grew up with.. Aside from the examples above, Hong Kong does have some amazing things to offer (food & culture only being the tip) and I will always recommend it to any travelers. I guess it’s just a matter of making the adjustment, learning how to cope with the issues you struggle with and enjoying and taking in everything else the experience can give you!

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‘The Real Expat Wives’: When dealing with hurdles that come along with it

In my small 3.5 years of being an expat wife, I can’t say I have a wealth of knowledge on the topic just yet, but seeing my mother do it her entire adult life and making some friends who have been in the same boat for a lot longer, I became aware of some of the lesser loved hurdles that come along with the excitement of living abroad.

1) Missing your loved ones:

Although distance does make the heart grow fonder, it does not necessarily make the heart any stronger. By all means, give yourself permission to bask in the (what sometimes feels like) endless loneliness for a little bit. There’s nothing wrong with allowing for some sad times as well.  Having a good old cry (I’m talking the unattractive, slobbery, teary, wet ones) will let a lot of the sadness out already and you’ll feel better afterwards!  (Heck, I just threw myself a small pity party in the shower, some 15 minutes ago, whilst working out ideas for this post)

2) Stupid reactions to the: “I am currently not working” statement

A phenomenon I only recently became acquainted with as I stopped working to stay at home with our newborn (and after speaking with fellow expat wives, one that seems to occur quite often)…  Some people (not everyone, but a few) seem to think that because one doesn’t work (for whichever reason) they have nothing else to talk about but housework, beauty treatments, babies and the latest shows on the TLC Home Network. I have introduced myself at parties and when explaining I am currently a stay-at-home-mom, have literally seen the other person’s eyes glaze over with disinterest whilst they scan the room for someone more interesting to talk to.  After having a successful career as a psychologist for the last 10 years, that was quite a downer to experience, and I was bombarded with visions of me slapping my Degree in their stuck up face screaming: “acknowledge my intelligence, damn you!”.

There is no need to get validation from others. They don’t know your history, your interests and input; and if they judge you by a stereotype they have in their mind, well that makes them just as narrow-minded as they think you are.

3) Apparently not being part of the ‘real world’ according to some

This little gem happened to a friend of mine when she started work again and a colleague stated it would be good for her to see the ‘real world’ … Correct me if I’m wrong here, but making arrangements that go with moving house, finding schools, taking a bus to God-knows-where in a new city, making friends with total strangers, finding food in a store where it all looks like Chinese script (in our case, it really all is Chinese writing), arranging Visas and relevant documentation and trying to learn your address in the local language in case you get lost (which you will…and often.) … seems pretty ‘real worldly’ to me.

4) Making ‘the sacrifice’

I don’t see my situation as a ‘sacrifice’, but rather a choice my husband and I both made together. Sure, there are some things in life that change and those we go without, as a result of moving abroad, but the grass is not always greener on the other side, and every lifestyle has its ups and downs regardless of where you end up and with whom.

These are only a few negative examples that needed to be vented today, but of course being an expat has its many upsides and advantages as well!! Exposure to new cultures tends to build your patience and tolerance towards others as you explore new things and meet new people. Tasting different cuisines from around the world can be an eye-opening experience and who knows what you’ll discover! There is a challenge in meeting strangers and turning them into friends, but if we’re lucky, some can become life-long friends. Being away from family is hard, but it also means that the little time we do see them, we tend to focus more on spending quality time together and enjoying each others’ company. So to close off with something uber-corny (but true in my experience): An ocean can keep us apart, but it will never separate us ..

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“Lost in Translation”: Being in a multilingual environment

You don’t have to be an expat these days to be surrounded by languages other than your own. With the world as our oyster today, people are traveling and relocating abroad, making for a beautiful, multicultural mixing pot.

Along with that, comes the vast array of different languages spoken, which can sometimes bring some challenges. Married to a Frenchman, I was raised in Belgium and spent the last 13 years in Australia before ‘expating’ around.  As a result, our daughter (and dog) are being raised with 3 languages as well as hearing the local Chinese dialect on a daily basis. It’s going quite well, although on some days, swapping between languages can often result in them forming into one weird combo-language, which makes me sound as if I’m speaking in tongues..

I most certainly am not an expert in linguistics, but I thought to share a few things I picked up along the way:

1) Never get too cocky too soon… take your time learning a new language (or you’ll end up in a Polish bar ordering two ‘prostitutes’ rather than the two ‘Piwo’ (beers) you really wanted… very awkward moment.)

2) I find when someone is speaking to you in a language that is not their native tongue, it’s important to be appreciative that they are making this effort, regardless of the mistakes they make or the thick accent they may have.

3) Although they say that human communication consists of 93 percent body language (while only 7% of consists of words themselves), body language isn’t everything and culture can still play a big part in how we perceive what someone else is saying. This was apparent when our neighbors used to think we were fighting whenever mom called us down for dinner (apparently the Flemish language is not kind on strangers’ ears) or when and old Chinese lady started frantically waving her arms at my friend and yelling in Cantonese (which afterwards, a friendly passer-by informed us, she was merely telling us how excited she was to meet Westerners). 

4) I don’t believe that the rule should be ‘whichever country you are in, theirs is the only language you must speak’ (That would have put me in quite a pickle on many holidays, if that were the case..). I appreciate that when one relocates to another country, it is beneficial to learn (or at least try and learn) the local language, but if someone wants to speak their native tongue at home or with their fellow countrymen, I don’t see the big deal and if anything, trying to learn some new words (especially the naughty ones) is always fun.

5) Going on from point (4), I do feel it is important however, that when you are in a group with a mix of people from different countries (and thus, different languages) you make sure people don’t feel too excluded and offer to translate if the situation calls for it.

6) Always be weary that when you are abroad speaking your own language, that does not mean people won’t understand what you are saying. A lesson learned by the Dutch family complaining about the wait staff at the Australian restaurant I worked in, spending the entire evening poking fun at us (including my shoes… a weird focus point but ok)… it felt good, at the end of the evening, to thank them and welcome them back anytime (in perfect Dutch of course).

7) If someone is telling you off in a language you don’t understand and any efforts made to try and find a mutual understanding are futile, by all means you let them have it in your own words as well . (Not something that has actually happened to me, but a scenario I have imagined when having made-up arguments in the shower).

8) When drinking alcohol, it is miraculous how, after a few pints, you can often understand someone when you don’t even speak the same language… because ‘drunk’ seems to be a universal language spoken by many.  This can also apply to various accents (when I share a beer with an Irishmen or a Scot, I genuinely come to find things ‘grand’ and ‘to be sure t’be good to have another pint’). Same goes for my husband who, after watching two back-to-back episodes of ‘The Wire’, will walk around the house calling everything a ‘motherf*ker’ for the better part of an hour.

I can go on for days with examples, but with this I bid you adieu, farewell, auf wiedersehen, ciao, au revoir, tot ziens, ma’a as-salāmah (and I can seriously just keep on Google-ing here….

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Introduction

Hi there,

Having been an expat for a large part of my childhood, it was only natural I fell in love with a foreigner and continued to live and work abroad. Originally from Belgium, I’ve lived in the US, Saudi-Arabia, Belgium, Australia, France, Poland and now we’re based in Hong Kong.
A psychologist by trade, having our first child made me shelve the practice for a while and I’m now doing some basic wellness coaching.

The aim of my “Life’s a Recipe Book” Blog is to take a different look at certain everyday situations (whether this is through humor, sarcasm or mindfulness). And as I enjoy cooking and writing I figured I’d mix both in a bowl (cheesy pun intended) and turn such situations into recipes.

I’ll do my very best to provide you with witty stories and useful life tips, but as there are so many amazing writers out there, it’s just about having a go right now… so here goes…

bon appetit!