Friday, 25 November 2011

Lessons in Language

Our English language is funny - a fat chance and slim chance are the same thing. ~J. Gustav White.

The English language is even funnier when you've forgotten how to speak it.

I was in a meeting at work this week (not a very interesting one at that). At this meeting, we were talking 'data'. Now I'm no technical genius and at school I was admittedly bad at maths, but somehow I've been roped into a fairly significant data-based project. So I'm in a meeting listening to non-stop talk about data and not understanding very much in the process.

I opened my mouth to contribute to the discussion and remembered I'd forgotten how to say the word 'data'. It may sound stupid but it's been a recurring issue for me lately. Is it day-ta or is it dar-ta? Somehow, somewhere, I've lost the ability to pronounce this ridiculously simple word.

I found myself having numerous conversations in my head over the past few weeks, questioning whether day-ta is the Australian English pronunciation and dar-ta the British English. I thought I'd worked it out.  

Day-ta is so obviously Australian. It sounds kind of American (think the 1983 movie, War Games) and my Aussie compatriots do like to embrace the American language. It follows that dar-ta is the true-blue British way of pronouncing the word. So when my Australian colleague then asked me how my dar-ta project was coming along, my theory was blown right out of the water.

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks

This expat's use of the English language is proving more challenging and confused the longer I live abroad.

Aside from the ominous changes to my accent (an Aussie lilt is starting to become a regular feature), I'm acquiring a strange new vocabulary containing a selection of words from the Canadian and Australian dictionaries sprinkled in amongst my own British lexicon. It's almost as if I'm creating a distinct pidgin English language over here - and one that only I seem able to understand.

I can only assume that this sort of thing happens to anyone who spends long periods of time away from the homeland. A strange pronunciation here, a uniquely foreign word there. A mongrel of a language as a result.

I now think and speak with an unusual mix of words and phrases. Alien terminology invades my repertoire and I'll sit up wondering where exactly that phrase or saying came from. Aussie friends at a bar might wonder why I've told them I'm heading off to the 'washroom' and it's not unusual to see an English relative wondering what on earth a 'boofhead' is.

There's probably only one cure for this language inadequacy mine. I'll need to book in a quick trip to the Motherland to sort things out and fix things up.  Five minutes with a couple of pals in the Old Dart will have me back to my former ways speaking the language of my forefathers with relative ease and in that most beautiful of dialects, the Basingstoke drawl.

Until I return, you'll find me in a corner, perplexed as always, asking that most important question of questions: is it pah-sta or par-sta? I honestly no longer know.

Do tell me about your own language inadequacies. Any unusual foreign words creeping into daily conversations with the 'locals'?

Sign up for regular email updates. It's easy and free.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Have Passport, Will Travel

NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches

It's the middle of November so you know what that means: it's time for our monthly virtual four-way blogfest. We are:

North: Linda in The Netherlands (
South: Russell in Australia (
East: Erica in Japan (
West: Maria in Canada (

This month's theme? What is the one item each of us can't imagine living expat life without.

So have a seat, get comfortable and come around the world with us as we explore four different items from four different perspectives:

Here at In Search of a Life Less Ordinary, Maria shares what matters most to her;

At Adventures in Expat Land, Erica demonstrates why paper beats rock and scissors every time;

At I Was an Expat Wife, I ponder whether it's possible to be too attached to my chosen item;

And at Expatria, Baby, Linda's all for throwing off the bowlines.

Without further ado, here's Maria's post, Have Passport, Will Travel...

I’m madly in love with my passport. It’s a very attractive navy blue, with a very unattractive photo of me on the first page. But what a treasure trove of memories lies within its covers: stamps and visas to wonderful places that I never thought I’d be lucky enough to visit. The few remaining blank pages — which seem so naked and vulnerable next to their more robust neighbours — are calling out to me, each one bursting with possibility.

Photo credit:

Becoming an expatriate means figuring out how to turn a foreign country into a home. Of course we spend a great deal of time in our host country, deciphering the unspoken rules of behaviour, struggling to master the language, and generally going about the business of building a life. But one of the biggest perks of expat life is discovering a hitherto unknown corner of the world — just begging to be explored — right outside your new front door.

When I lived in Singapore, I couldn’t wait to dive into Asia. In the beginning, we didn’t stray too far from home: a weekend in Bintan, a drive across the Causeway to Malaysia. It only whetted our appetite. We started to venture further afield: Bangkok, Phuket, and the beautiful holiday destination of Bali. Then Hanoi, Saigon, Sydney, Beijing.We became travel junkies, constantly searching for our next fix.

Moving to France put the glories of Budapest, London, Istanbul and Barcelona right at my fingertips. With each stamp I collected in my passport, I also collected experiences that would thrill, awe, and change me forever.

The stamps themselves are utilitarian in appearance, clearly designed to expedite, not delight the senses. Yet somehow my pages became the canvas for a dizzying collage of colour and shape. Each stamp is just different enough to let a little sliver of personality shine through. The hues vary from sombre black to delicate lavender. A bright green Indonesian stamp shares space with a cobalt blue beauty from Chiang Mai. The Chinese stamp is so aggressive in its red fluorescence that it makes my eyes hurt.

Shapes, too, differ. The Australian entry stamp is elegantly rectangular in shape, while the exit stamp is round with curved text. The triangular exit stamp from Thailand sits atop its squarish counterpart, forming a tidy little house. The stamps from the EU are disappointingly similar: minimalistic boxes featuring a line drawing of an airplane (First the Euro took away the fun of shopping with exotic currencies such as the lira and franc; now half the pages in my passport exhibit a mind-numbing sameness). And here’s a delicious taste of irony for you: the American stamp has no borders.

The humble stamp pales in comparison to its flashier cousin: the visa. Visas are passport rocks stars. The English and Chinese characters of the staid Chinese visa are printed in a muted green ink. There is a faint watermark of the Great Wall in the middle, which elevates it from merely an official document to a cultural work of art. The Vietnamese visa is vaguely intimidating, the Indonesian one is disappointing in its absence of Bahasa, and the Turkish one looks like a groovy watercolour painting.

Mingling with the joy in these pages is regret for the stamps that aren’t there: the family vacation in India and the house-building trip to Cambodia that never materialized because our time in Asia ran out before we could make them happen. A weekend jaunt to Venice was likewise abandoned when we left France to return to our home in Canada.

There is sadness here, too: my Singaporean Dependant’s Pass has been cruelly defaced by the single word — CANCELLED — stamped across it.

Last weekend, my daughters and I drove to Niagara Falls and across the border into the United States. Our old passports expired a couple of years ago, and we had our new passports with us, pristine and unsullied by the familiar tangle of stamps we’d grown to love. These passports aren’t dog-eared and worn around the edges from years of handling; their pages aren’t smudged and scribbled on by immigration officers in dozens of countries. It pains me to say that they have no visas between their shiny new covers.

The photo, however, is still unattractive.

I couldn’t imagine living expat life without my beloved passport. But I’m not an expat anymore. My scuffed and tattered former passport sits like a relic in a drawer, its corners roughly clipped (If you’d like to draw an analogy involving birds’ wings at this point, knock yourself out. I don’t have the heart to do it myself).

This new passport is like a stranger to me, but there’s one thing that hasn’t changed from my old expat life: the empty pages are calling to me with their siren song. I think it’s high time I did something about it.

Is there anything you can't imagine living expat life without? Like Maria, is your passport more than just a document to get you from A to B? Share your comments below.

Sign up for regular email updates. It's easy and free.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Life's a Beach

I had a 'need to pinch myself' moment this week.

I'd finished a training session on one of the local beaches, Bilgola, and sat recovering on the sand. Gazing out at the ocean, taking in the views, I spied a pod of humpback whales playing in the water not 500 metres from where I sat.

At first I could only see the tell-tale plumes of spray blowing skywards from the top of the humpbacks. Then, as the pod swam closer, the distinctive tail flukes appeared as these majestic creatures flipped entirely out of the water, twisted in midair, and landed loudly on their sides. It was breathtaking to witness.

Watching those gentle giants roll around in their ocean playground, less than a kilometre from my spot on the sand, I was reminded that very few people in the world get to appreciate anything close to this natural beauty on any given day. It was a revelatory moment that reinforced my reasons for living here.

Whether it be admiring the humpback whales, watching lightening storms roll in from the east or sharing great food and drink at a beach BBQ, the variety and quality of life by the ocean is something I would struggle to ever give up. On paper, my daily routine is quite ordinary. I walk my dog, go to work, train with friends in the early evening, watch a little TV. Yet when you peel back the surface layers, my life has fundamentally changed underneath.

Photo credit: Nina Matthews Photography

I no longer try to avoid the daily walks with my dog, previously reduced to dragging him around the block, hurrying home before it got dark, with cold hands buried deep in coat pockets.

Spending time with my Milo has become one of life's great pleasures and our trips to the dog-friendly lagoons and strolls together through the undulating sand dunes have become the highlights of my week. At the weekend, we swim together in the mild inlets near Bayview, him chasing the tennis ball I'm pulling along beside me as I strike out into deeper water. Milo was born to this life of ocean adventure and I indulge him whenever I can.

A few months ago, I quit the gym. I literally said "no more". I didn't move to the other side of the world, and to a home by the ocean, to spend weekends locked away in a sweaty, claustrophobic box with large numbers of other tortured souls. I've lived my free time in the gym since I was 18 so my decision to quit was both bold and a touch unnerving.

Upon leaving, I felt a huge sense of relief at turning my back on what had been such a large part of my life, but which could be no more. I turned to the beach for my salvation and began to train in the soft sand, on the stairs, through the surrounding parkland, and practice drills in the beach pools (a personal favourite of mine).

I've never felt more invigorated with my training and in tune with the environment. Feeling the sand between my toes and the sea breeze in my hair, I feel in my element. Working-out has become fun again and I count down the days until my training buddies and I next meet.

During the day, I work in an office like any other, but increasingly I work from home allowing me time for a relaxing walk at lunch and the ability to work on my deck with the laptop, whilst others stress out in the close confines of a shared office.
Photo credit: StephEvaPhoto

In this life, work has suddenly become the smaller part of a bigger picture. Where my career was once my everything, home life and my family have become my passion. The well-known saying that you should 'work to live rather than live to work' has never been truer and more meaningful than at this stage of my life.

And when I drive home from work at the end of my day, I glimpse the ocean on the horizon and feel all my worries and stresses drift away. The sight of that wide, blue expanse of water never fails to excite and inspire. The possibilities always seem endless.

I'm lucky and I know it.

My life isn't perfect but I'm fortunate to have what I have and be where I choose to be.

When I think about the point of this post, the reason for sharing this aspect of my life, I realise it's simple. I want to show you what's possible if you change things up, if you follow a dream. I want to show you a different side of life, a life unexpected, a life less ordinary. So if you're considering a move like mine or you fancy a change, do me one small favour.

Follow your dream. Follow it now. Get out there. Enjoy it. Like it. But, most importantly, live it.

So how have you followed your dreams?

Do share below.

Sign up for regular email updates. It's easy and free.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Celebrating Different Styles

Something a bit different today on ISOALLO.

The lovely Linda Janssen of Adventures in Expatland, who you will know and enjoy from our monthly NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches posts, joins us as part of her virtual blog tour. A blog tour for what, I hear you ask? Well, Linda has contributed to a wonderful new book called Turning Points: 25 Inspiring Stories From Women Entrepreneurs Who Have Turned Their Lives Around and she's here to let you know more about it.

I won't steal her thunder by revealing any more of the book other than to say that Linda's own personal story is quite special for many reasons. She is a talented writer and supportive friend in expat land - and her place in this book is well deserved. Here's Linda with more on Turning Points...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A few days ago our new book, Turning Points: 25 Inspiring Stories From Women Entrepreneurs Who Have Turned Their Careers and Their Lives Around (business and executive coach Kate Cobb, editor and Jo Parfitt, Summertime Publishing, publisher was launched and it's been crazy ever since! The response and outpouring of support have been so wonderful, you can't help but be both grateful and humbled.

The book's concept is straightforward and simple: a group of entrepreneurial women from around the world each share the pivotal moment or series of events that made them realize the immediate and absolute need to implement radical change in their personal and professional lives.
Each woman shares her own background, the situation she was in by the time she recognized her turning point, what she decided to do and how she it, and the resources she took strength from along the way. One of my favorite parts in each chapter is reading the lessons learned that each person came away with.

When I planned my virtual book tour, I knew that I wanted to stop by here at In Search of a Life Less Ordinary, and I knew what I wanted to write. I've been following Russell's great storytelling here for quite some time. I love that he is a young married guy writing about life as he has experienced it in his native England, Canada and now Australia. I'm a (slightly) older married American gal writing about the twists and turns of living in The Netherlands with a husband and two teens in tow.

That is what is so wonderful about blogs and bloggers: you can find talented writers sharing anecdotes, opinions and life's snippets on just about any topic you can imagine. Like you, I've got a lot of things going on in daily life so I struggle to keep blog-surfing to a minimum. Yet I have found many amazing blogs from all around the world, and follow many of them. Every one is different, and I've laughed with and learned from each of them. In fact, it was the joy of checking in with different people around the globe that led me to ask Russell to help create our four-way monthly virtual blog NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches with Maria and Erica.

What I have enjoyed most about participating in the Turning Points book project is that the contributors are a lot like bloggers. Each comes to the table with a different set of experiences and a different perspective. While each story is interesting and unique, the strength of their impact is that the whole is even greater than the sum of the individual parts. Andre Maurois expressed it in this manner:

'Style is the hallmark of a temperament stamped upon the material at hand'

As authors, writers and bloggers, we may all have different styles and temperaments, and work with different genres, but at the core we are telling our stories. And that is the beauty of storytelling.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If you'd like to find out more about our book, please take a look at the website or follow along on Facebook's The Turning Points Book page or on Twitter @Turning_Points. A portion of all sales will benefit the inspirational charity

Sign up for regular email updates. It's easy and free.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

What Happened to Halloween?

Can someone please tell me what happened to Halloween?

You see I don't think I saw one bedsheet-wearing ghost glide down my street, no mischievous trick or treater on the hunt for a bag of sweets or two, not even a carefully carved pumpkin or tacky witch's wand in sight. Did Halloween bewitch itself into non-existence or did it eerily pass me by in the dead of night?

I'm a big fan of Halloween. I love the idea of it. Ghosts and ghouls, witches and warlocks, banshees and beelzebubs. It's a night when the imagination is free to run wild, when adults and children alike dress up and run ragged around the streets (or, in my case, on the dance floor at the Halloween party). Maybe it's the part of me that refuses to grow up but, with the cold and dark nights setting in, Halloween can be a devilishly eery time of year and one in which our deep and dark pagan sides reveal themselves (I think).

Photo credit: Arvind Balaraman /
When we lived in Canada, Halloween was a major event. Children spent days on end waiting in eager anticipation of 'fright night' and folks would go all-out in decorating their ginormous homes, covering them in every bit of creepy paraphernalia under the sun (or full moon). Pumpkin patches were a favourite of mine where you'd pick your pumpkin of choice ready for the messy carving session to come. Halloween was activity-laden during the day culminating in the costume wearing and trick-or-treating later that night.

I spent one such Halloween walking the Canadian streets arm-in-arm with my girlfriend (an intelligent woman, she is now my wife) as we considered each house in our neighbourhood and acknowledged the hours of effort and detail that had gone into the decorations. At one such house, a small rancher-style shack, I stopped and admired the owner's handiwork.

"Just look at the effort this guy has gone to. It must have taken hours to do all this."

The front of the bungalow had been made to look run-down, old car parts and bits of white goods dumped in the yard, broken lights dangling from the porch roof, and dirty windows criss-crossed with pieces of broken timber. There were garish splashes of paint daubed up and down the front walls and across the garage door. 

"This house is truly creepy," I said, as I started taking photos of the house for my growing Canadian Halloween collection. "What have they painted over there on the garage?"

From her spot at the end of the driveway, my other half peered closer at the garage door.

"I think it says '**** off, we won't be evicted' and 'stay off our property or we'll shoot", she replied, grabbing me by the arm and hurrying me away.

No Halloween prop after all.

Mistaken observations aside, Halloween in Canada was like it always appeared in the movies - cute kids dressed up to look like scary little monsters, invites-a-plenty to fancy dress parties, and a time of year that felt wholesome and generally good fun.

Which makes it all the more confusing as to what happened to Halloween in Australia this week. Where did the good times and festive frolics go?

In pursuit of the truth, a conversation in my office yesterday went something like this:

Me: "Do Australians not celebrate Halloween then?"

Colleague: "No, it's a Yank tradition. We don't like Halloween".

Me: "I think it's actually an English tradition. All Hallow's Eve or something. Burning witches at the stake. That sort of thing".

Colleague:  "Yeah, well we've taken the American version where kids get fat from eating too many sweets and I get my house egged if I don't give them anything".

Me: "Are you sure you don't just need to lighten up and get into the spirit of it? Halloween is a lot of fun. It's all about the kids dressing up and scaring each other".

Colleague: "I hate Halloween and I hate greedy kids. It's not Australian and I don't want my house getting egged".

Me: "I'd egg your house".

Colleague: "What?"

Me: "Nothing".

And that was the end of that.

Photo credit: digitalart /

So did my co-worker accurately capture the entire mood of a nation? Have the Halloween fun police taken over the asylum?

Maybe Halloween is something Australians just aren't sure how to come to terms with. Whilst the Americans and Brits are out carving pumpkins, dressing up, and lighting bonfires as winter beckons, Aussies seem happier to whinge and whine. Sure it doesn't seem right to be starting fires at a time when bushfire season is upon us and Halloween is a tradition with its roots overseas, but I get the feeling that beating up on Halloween is just a small part of a bigger favourite Australian pastime.

Sooner or later the folks here must decide whether they're in or out. Do they celebrate Halloween or don't they? Do they open the door to the trick or treaters... or pretend that no-one's home? 

'Witch'-ever way they do decide to go, I know I'll be waiting with my stash of eggs ready to pelt the first non-believing bah humbug I find.

So how did you spend Halloween night? And do you know what happened to it in the land down under?

Sign up for regular email updates. It's easy and free.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More
To contact me about writing or advertising opportunities, email