Re-acclimatisation milestones for Expats

>> Tuesday, 12 January 2016

I think that this 'saying goodbye to our life in Russia' thing is getting a little bit out of hand.

When we left, I knew that we would miss friends, homes, and the weather.  Yes, the Russian weather.  What?  Never has a British winter seemed more gloomy, damp and grey than when compared to a bright, frosty, minus 15degreeC snow-bound Moscow January.  And don't get me started on missing the relentless social calendar of an expat living in Moscow.

I knew too that we would feel the difference on significant dates.  Boy #2, for example, recently had his first non-Russia based birthday celebration in 6 years.  He noticed that.  Quietly, and without any fuss, but he noticed all the same.  When the yearly photo album contains of images of parties with snow-man building competitions in the back garden and snow fort fights outside friends' houses, +8 in the UK and -8 in Moscow are not at all the same.

But what I didn't know was that I would notice the running down of our Russian supplies, or that this - insignificant as it is -  would give me pause.  It's not that we can't buy photo copy paper here, or baking parchment, or Ikea gift wrap, or any of those things that Husband still hasn't quite forgiven me for including in our shipment back to the UK.

I never meant to include them, by the way, but to simply toss them into the bin seemed too wasteful.  And then I never found time to pass them on - and frankly, fellow ex-expats, how tired did you get of giving a home to other people's unused kitchen supplies when they left the country and in their turn, couldn't bring themselves to throw it away?  I just couldn't bring myself to do the same thing.  Apart from the spices, obviously.  And the vanilla essence.  And the cocoa powder.  All that good stuff was 'gifted' to friends, I have to admit.  (But it was in-date, your honour.  Honest!)

So now I stand in the kitchen, in our new home BackHome, realising that we are about to run out of clingfilm, and that the next time I buy some it won't be the crappy budget version in the grimy and cavernous Auchan hypermarket out at Stroghino, or in the neat, tidy, beautifully presented but hideously overpriced Stockmann's at Metropolis, or even at the mid-range handily local Aliyya Parussa in Shuka, but at Sainsburys down the road.

And that still takes a bit of getting used to.


More Christmas fun and games...

>> Wednesday, 9 December 2015

'I can't go to my activity tonight, Mum.  My tummy hurts...'  This from Boy #2 who, bless him, was exhausted after an afternoon of PE and who understandably didn't relish the prospect of spending an hour racing around the gym doing a martial art.

I was tempted to let him stay home, but then remembered that we are paying for this activity via direct debit (so, the money leaves our account whether he attends the classes or not) and decided that with just one week left to go before the school holidays start, now was not the time to give up.  He's going to get 3 weeks off shortly anyway.  And we want him to learn about the importance of follow-through.  And commitment.  And all that good stuff.

So off we went. Walking through the dimly-lit car park outside the activity centre, he told me again that his tummy hurt.  Once we had ruled out this being a result of his drawstring trousers being tied too tightly (they were, but that was another drama), I asked him when the pain had started.  Before, or after dinner?

'After dinner', he answered firmly, wrongly scenting an opt out.

'Oh, don't worry then.  That's just the sprouts.  You'll be fine when you've had a bit of a run around...' Quietly, I resolved to make sure to sit as as far from the class as possible, for safety's sake.

'Sprouts?' His voice rose in consternation.  'We didn't have sprouts for dinner.  Did we?'

'Yes, we did, actually.'

'But I don't like sprouts!'

'Well, you ate them.'  He looked at me disbelievingly.  'What do you think the green stuff in the chicken stir-fry was?'

'Cabbage?'  I shook my head.  'Spinach?'  Again, no.  'Broccoli?'

'No.  Sprouts.  And you liked them, didn't you?'

He looked at me and turned away in disgust.  'I can't believe you got me to eat sprouts and didn't even tell me.'

I called after him as he entered the gym.  'It's nearly Christmas, Boy #2.  Of COURSE there are sprouts!  You might want to check your cereal bowl tomorrow morning, too.  Who knows where they'll pop up next...'



And you also know it's Christmas when...

>> Thursday, 3 December 2015

... you find yourself eating a Bendicks chocolate mint at 10am because the friends who visited you at the weekend and brought it with them did not do their duty and finish off the box before they left.  Honestly.  Call yourself some of my best mates?

...after your previous post about having run out cinnamon, various friends and relations leave smug comments on your fb feed - or worse, leave links to recipes for cinnamon biscuits.  Oh yes, sis, I'm looking at you... (not a sponsored post, by the way).

Ha ha ha ha ha ha

(Gosh yes my sides are splitting...)


You know it's Christmas when...

>> Tuesday, 1 December 2015

... you find yourself in front of the herbs and spices at the supermarket and realise that the gaping hole under the letter 'C' is where the cinnamon used to live.  It's moved out now, gone into hiding, probably until February.  If you haven't bought your cinnamon by now, you're toast.  Although not the cinnamon-flavoured version, obviously.

...  the £5 pack of smoked salmon in the chiller cabinet seems like a good idea to add to your trolley.  Not that it features on any list, or in any meal you've planned in the next week or so, of course.  It's just that, well, smoked salmon.  Christmas.  Can't have one without the other, surely?

... whilst you're at the till on the same supermarket visit you accidentally knock a packet of gift tags shaped like stars off a display fixture onto the floor.  You pick it up - and buy 3 sets.  Now THAT's what I call product placement.

... on the way home from school, your older son makes a passing remark about needing £2 tomorrow for 'Christmas Mufty Day'.  With a sinking heart, you ask for more details.  "You know, Mum.  When you get to wear your own clothes instead of uniform.  Except that they need to be Christmas clothes."  Which Christmas clothes exactly is he thinking of, you ask.  "Ummm...  the ones you're going to sort out for me?"  By tomorrow, obviously.

...  on your subsequent dash to the shops you not only find the perfect Christmas jumper for your older son at an affordable price, but you see one that takes your younger son's fancy, too.  Closing your mind to the certain fact that by 11am on Christmas morning the jingle bells on the latter will be driving you insane, you buy both.  Because, well, it's Christmas, innit?




>> Thursday, 5 November 2015

I miss Moscow, no doubt about it, but there are so many things to love about living back in the UK and not least of them is how much more engaged my sons are with the world around them.

School helps with this and every week Boy #2's headmaster gives the children a summary during assembly of some of key events events happening worldwide.  Recent highlights include the Syrian refugee situation, and the scandal surrounding exhaust emissions from diesel cars,

Yesterday morning on the school run Boy #2 surprised me by mentioning the fact that one of this week's topics was the fact that the sea ice around Antarctica reached record levels during the last Antarctic winter.  He made no suggestion that this might mean global warming is less serious than many people previously thought, and we discussed the question of whether the gains in the amount of sea ice in the southern hemisphere would cancel out the losses in the Arctic.

On balance, we agreed, that was unlikely.

I did some research when I got home, and unsurprisingly it turns out my 9 year old son was more clued up on this than many of the people a good deal older than him who are spreading misinformation on this topic.

Not only does the increased level of southern sea ice in winter in no way equal the contraction of the Arctic ice cap, it is in fact a tangible sign of climate change.

Why am I posting on this?  Well, in my fb feed today there was a video from the United Nations Foundation (thanks Michelle Garret for the share) promoting #EarthToParis, a call for all of us to get involved in highlighting to our leaders that the time for action on global warming and climate change is not in 100 years time, or in 25 years time, or when a new government takes power after the next elections, but now.

Watch the video - and then, if you're not convinced, watch the one below that succinctly explains in only seven minutes why a few gains in sea ice on the southern ocean in no way counteract the damage that is being done elsewhere.

#EarthToParis; please pay attention and have the courage to make some hard choices.  If not for your own sake, then for your children's.


The Six Stages of an Expat Move...

>> Wednesday, 14 October 2015

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)


Lost in Translation

>> Sunday, 11 October 2015

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


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