Posts Tagged ‘Expat’

Excess Luggage

I feel quite bad that I’ve neglected my poor Budgie lately. Things have been rather busy since our return to the green pastures of La Perfide Albion.
Let me recap a bit as some of you might have missed an installment in our adventures, and this might be because I haven’t written about it yet in these pages. I started my teacher training at the end of January, two weeks after Ed lost his first job in Canada. Things were difficult and tense, not exactly the way we envisaged them. Our undying enthusiasm started wavering at this point of the journey, but we were determined to make it work, maybe so not to see all of our precious efforts there go to waste.

Sabrina (foreground) and Carla

On the 20th of February, I was sitting in the most entertaining anatomy workshop. In between the ankle joint and the metatarsals, I turned to my friend Sabrina and whispered ; ‘I think I’m pregnant’. Sabrina’s face was suddenly illuminated by her unique smile. Sabrina is Swiss German and aside from being a dedicated yogi, she’s a caterer, a surfer, a snowboarder but above all she’s the mother of two beautiful children. She was really excited by the idea and motherhood and pregnancy are among her favourite subjects.

That evening I took the test which immediately confirmed my suspicions. The following week, Ed and I had a lot of thinking to do: fast. His new job situation was precarious, I had no status in Canada, and hence no health insurance. After a couple of days of deliberation, we came to the wise conclusion that we had to head back to England. At the beginning we felt that we had been forced to give up ‘the dream’. Gradually though, as we were planning our return back to the UK, we started realising that the excitement was building: we were going to see our friends and family again, get married, eat good and affordable food, have more sunshine, but most importantly we’d have our first child, and that beat ‘the dream’ everytime.

I finished my teacher training with heavy pregnancy symptoms, helped by the reassuring words of Sabrina. A week after graduating from yoga school, we said goodbye to our friends and the wonderful yogi bunch, and took a plane back to England.

My story and I stand with it, is that Ed paid excess luggage fees because of that can opener that he refused to leave behind. I sneaked in a third passenger in the tiny pouch that had just starting showing. Women just know how to pack and that’s all I’m going to say about this!

England felt incredibly sweet and warm after months in rainy, cold, expensive Vancouver. My first trip to Waitrose could have been produced by Disney, as I walked along the aisles, eyes wide open like Alice in Carroll’s classic. When you’re a foodie in North America, all the bravery in the world won’t make up for all the pleasures lost.

Soon enough, we were able to meet and speak with our friends and this made home feel like home again. Three weeks have passed since we left the shores of British Columbia and we’ve had action packed days. We’ve moved temporarily into Ed’s parents second house in Essex, and we’re planning our wedding, going to doctor’s appointments, and looking for jobs.

Last week I saw the third passenger for the first time, in black and white swimming around his tiny pool. It was possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. He gave us a thumb up, signalling that everything was fine in his little galaxy.

Life otherwise has been weirdly bucolic in this corner of the English countryside. Each night we’re going to sleep to the sound of an owl and each morning Jumbo, the nasty and neurotic cockerel, sings his almost mechanical tune incessantly. The never- ending bird saga in front of our kitchen doors is comical and has replaced TV. We’ve seen new-born chicks, but also Bumble the dog running away with a chicken in her mouth and being chased by Jumbo, we shower the white ducks from time to time with the hose. We go for walks with Bumble to see the foal and his friendly mum in the adjacent field, and we feed them carrots and parsnips.

Also I’m cooking again after weeks of morning sickness and this is probably the most amazing kitchen I’ve cooked in. Next week I’ll spend a week in Normandy by the seaside at a friend’s place and when I return. we’ll finish the wedding preparations and if Jumbo keeps on harassing our duck friends, it will be coq-au-vin on the menu.

Friends here often ask us how it feels to be back. Even if everything is still temporary and we don’t know where we will live next, things seem easier. Our Canadian escape made us appreciate all the good things here, and we’ve come back calmer and more grateful, and for that it was worth going, that and the excess luggage.


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After months of roaming and pondering in this adventure, we have finally decided to go back home, for good – well, for a while at least – to be reunited with Budgie, but more importantly with family, friends, Bumble the dog, and good old Blighty.

We’ve taken this decision for various reasons and we’re really happy about it now. It’s funny how you try really hard to make something work and when you stop struggling and you finally surrender, liberation follows. Up to one week ago, we were still quite sad to see the Canadian experience end, but now we are really excited to leave. Our life is no longer here.

We came to admit also that we might not have been able to enjoy it eternally. Something is missing: another dimension. I felt the same in California. A sense of emptiness. It took me a lot of time to realise what was bothering me. It’s so much easier to react against things that are ever too present, jarring or downright irritating, but this particular vacuity is trickier to capture with thoughts. It’s a vague, lingering sensation. California felt like living on a movie set, and it’s not that much different here.


Our friend Graham who is also going back to England soon, discussed it with Ed the other day, and it was the little epiphany I needed about this place. It is so beautiful that you would feel really ungrateful to resent its flaws. Beauty in that respect can be incredibly intimidating. Doesn’t one feel a bit more shy when they meet a really good looking person? You almost hope you belong to their club somehow. It’s absurd but it’s a common impulse.

The same happened for us in Vancouver, it’s so beautiful that you want to be a part of it. However this has a price, the real estate is unaffordable, the general cost of life is prohibitive, and the job situation is scarily unstable. Testament to its charms, people are still ready to make the sacrifice, for the sake of enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and the ever-changing unbeatable scenery.

Well, we sure will miss a lot of things here, but there are so many people and things that we’re happy to find again in Europe two weeks from now. Among other things, and in no particular order: cheese, bread, being able to afford most things and food, pubs, the English countryside, the Atlantic coast, picnics in the park, sunshine, charity shops and boot sales, Habitat, having a vehicle, the museums, the fashion, Waitrose, the wittiness, English gardens, Neil’s Yard Remedies, Hampstead, Portugal, our tagine dish, jam, ham, etc.

View from Royal Crescent by Rachel Milne

It’s all been a great adventure and we’ve learnt so much from it, and we will come back to Europe with a fresh perspective, and then lose it again, and then find other ways to entertain our restlessness. Abraham Lincoln said “and in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

We’re full of life and as Frank Costanza says in Seinfeld: ‘I’m Back, Baby!’

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Well, everyone likes a tale with a twist, commercial fiction lives on this formula: disenchantment, epiphany, transformation, major setbacks, and happy resolution. Characters have got to earn their happy endind by flirting a bit too closely with disaster.

Yesterday, I was thinking of Humphrey Bogart in The Barefoot Contessa. His character, a disgruntled screenwriter, says : ‘Life, every now and then, behaves as though it had seen too many bad movies, when everything fits too well – the beginning, the middle, the end – from fade-in to fade-out.’

So here we are in our real life facing a twist that we didn’t see coming at all. Life after all seems to be the most cunning storyteller.

It was Friday and I was rather chirpy in the kitchen, making mango chutney. I knew that Ed was coming back a little later than usual, as he planned on buying a few bits for the weekend. So I didn’t expect him too early. The fragrance of the onions, tomatoes, mango and spices was filling the flat and I stirred the golden mix from time to time, pretty pleased with myself.

I heard Ed’s steps in the garden. I went to open the door anticipating that he would struggle with shopping bags. When I saw that he was carrying his tool bag and my eyes crossed his, I knew instantly that things were not right.

‘I got the sack’, he said, with a sad smile on the corner of his mouth.

Just like that.

The emotions flowed in their course: first shock, then indignation, disbelief, stupor, guilt, anxiety and so on, until we reached the final stage early on Saturday morning; resignation.

‘It’s not the end of the world.’ he bravely added later.

It did feel like it in the moment. The end of the little world we had crafted for the next few weeks and months. Back to uncertainty, our aspirations were blown away like cherry blossom petals on the pavement in spring.

It’s always amused me that our English-French cultural difference is the most striking in times of crisis. Ed stays cool and it’s his main task when the shit hits the fan: keeping his composure. Not showing weakness in the face of adversity. For me, it’s a blend of French existentialism, pessimism, socialist outrage and overreacting. In others words I’m a nervous mess. On Friday, the Titanic had sunk into our kitchen sink.

We irritate each other in our radical attitudes. He prompts me to stay cool and my jaw clenches. I’m fuelled on drama and he wants me to sober up! Sacre bleu!

We ate our butternut squash bhajis with the chutney in silence, our heads buzzing. I stayed up late reading the horror stories in the British Expats forum, about the sometimes harsh reality of the job market here.

Ed had posted about his premature redundancy and 19 people replied. A lot of them explained how this happened to them a few times. One was quite enlightening:

“Wow. You have described my past experiences exactly. I knew it had to be a North American thing. I am a plumber who is returning to Calgary in a couple of weeks. I have been let go from a few jobs like that. Mostly always on a Friday. Always the same reason. “We have no work.” After 2008 everything slowed down a bit and that is the year I also became a journeyman and I guess too expensive to hire.  I always found another job easily afterwards, but it seems like they would hire me telling me how busy they will be for 5 years blah blah blah. Get me to help finish a project, then out I go. No warning. So three months here, four there. ”

I read a whole thread about ‘disposable employees’, painting a grim picture of employers’ behaviour in Canada. Tales of disappointment, contained rage and bitterness. Conspiracy theories about why the Canadian government lets in so many immigrants. Some posts actually recommended people against coming here at all.

I read them avidly trying to find one with which I would relate most and that would sooth the anguish. I started realising that one word was creeping up in the comments of the people who had a good experience here: luck. A lot of senior members of the forum simply stated that sometimes, it just boils down to being lucky or not.

You can hardly construct any kind of scientific theory on this observation, maybe statisticians, some chaos physicists or even the psychologists of risk  would be willing to give it a shot.  Astrologists might have their ideas about the ‘being at the right place at the right time’ phenomena. I could also draft a catalogue of luck cliches – you make your own luck, etc. – and it wouldn’t make it a bit more convincing. But at this stage, in this gamble we have taken, it’s all about keeping those fingers crossed.

We will see what the next chapter has to reveal. Diderot’s Jacques The Fatalist would say that it’s all written, Sartre would argue that our fate is the sum of our decisions, but I’ll stick once again with Sinatra who sings Luck Be A Lady Tonight.

So hang in there, dearest readers, it’s not the end of this story yet. We’re not close to a moving denouement and whatever happens, you can rest assured that there will be a sequel, a spin-off or a French adaptation.

Just wish us luck!

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