What Country In The World Best Fits Your Personality?

It’s all settled: we’re moving to Wiltshire – about 3 hours west of London. We spent a long day yesterday traipsing around the area, looking for a house. We found one, and now have to organize the move. We’re hoping for October 17.

Tired, last night I happened to try this game. I thought I’d share the findings with you here:

What Country in the World Best Fits Your Personality? ch country in the world best fits your personality. From http://playbuzz.com. Via Facebook.

What Country in the World Best Fits Your Personality? From http://playbuzz.com. Via Facebook.

Oh, good grief. I’m not saying which country that is. Let’s just say, it doesn’t include Wiltshire.

That’s enough now. [Clap, clap] Back to work everyone. Stop messing around on the internet! ;-)

Always A Bit Of The Outsider

It’s a perennial issue. How does one best fit in when you are not from where you are? We all attack the matter in our own ways.

I try to go about my business without making a spectacle of myself. Still, one does have to open one’s mouth. The other day, when we were walking the hound, a woman fellow dog walker we’d bumped into and chatted briefly with several times recently, apparently felt confident enough to ask me where my accent was from.

On Facebook a few years ago, I posted a short video I had shot of my wife having a laugh chasing our dog around our house in Christchurch. Our hound loved to steal newly delivered mail off the floor after the letter carrier had been pushed it through the letterbox. My voice was naturally all over it.

Hearing me in the background, one of my cousins, who lived in New Jersey and whom I had not seen since I was a teenager (but with whom I had become Facebook friends), commented that I had sounded “so English.”

I commented back to her that that would have been news to my wife. “When I start speaking fast,” I joked, “she says I start to sound like Jerry Seinfeld.”

In turn my cousin came back roaring laughing – insofar as anyone can laugh loudly via Facebook, of course.

One thing I’ve learned is that most people speak “softer” here than in most of the U.S. – especially compared to New York – and I have always tried to “mimic” that. But don’t kid yourself. If you are not from somewhere originally, you will never 100 percent “fit in.”

My overall take is always to appreciate that as long as I accept I will never entirely “fit in,” that it doesn’t matter. I aim simply to try to be respectful of how others live, and not to try to impose my own standards on someone else. However they do “it” back “at home” is irrelevant: I’m not “back at home.”

Another thing to do is always to try to enjoy varied, local beverages :-)

Old Jamaica Ginger Beer. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Old Jamaica Ginger Beer. [Photo by me, 2014.]

So you know, there is NO alcohol in that, okay. It’s a pleasant soft drink that I haven’t found on a supermarket shelf in the U.S.; at least not in New York. Great to sip while writing. :-)

Have a good Tuesday, wherever you are….

Dad’s Home (And Quite Alive)

We’ve had a wonderful surprise: my Dad was released from the hospital last night. He’s home and looks remarkable following his ordeal. Fingers crossed it may continue….

En route to their house in Pennsylvania, I landed at Newark yesterday at just after 1 pm. It took me an hour to get thru the airport. First, it took an age for my lone bag to appear. It was followed by a huge queue at Customs caused by all those lining up to hand in that archaic customs form: Welcome to the Land of Paper Work the Free. (I would not want to be a non-English speaker having to complete that jargon-ridden form, next to be greeted by scowling customs officers scrutinizing it. It should be gotten rid of. The EU manages with customs exit channels in which you “declare” or “don’t,” simply by exiting through “red” or “green” doorways.)

Those formalities were followed by a wait to get the rental car. I got away finally at 2:30 after I’d called my Mom. I reached their house about 4pm. By 4:05 we were in my sister’s car headed for the hospital.

Free Stock Photo: This historic 1930s photograph depicted a nurse in a starched cap and uniform, washing her hands in an improved, bacteria-controled environment. The improvements included the tiled walls, and the towel machine above the sink.

Free Stock Photo: This historic 1930s photograph depicted a nurse in a starched cap and uniform, washing her hands in an improved, bacteria-controled environment. The improvements included the tiled walls, and the towel machine above the sink.

In transit, I was out of touch much of the day. I arrived to find Dad was to be discharged within hours! To do so, his doctor insisted he wear a Zoll Life Vest.

It is to be worn all the time except while showering. It monitors the heart’s actions. If anything “bad” happens, it shocks the heart. (At which time my mother calls the doctor, the company, and 911.) That is a rare happening; but if it does, it is far more timely than awaiting paramedics or driving him to the hospital. The woman who set it up explained it to him (to all of us) that usually it is worn for several months. Once a week, he has to upload the accumulated data on the device to the Zoll company just by plugging the device into the company’s modem, which my parents connect to their landline. The info goes to his doctor.

On the drive back to their house, while my Mom and sister stepped into a pharmacy to fill his prescriptions, waiting in my sister’s car my Dad told me he was happy I am here. He agreed my Mom needed a break and that she’d relax more now with me around. I will be here a week at minimum. Everyone has rallied around. Lots of people on two continents have been inquiring about him. Facebook’s Messenger has been abuzz for days.

When we were sitting in the lounge with Hot In Cleveland on the TV last night, Dad in his chair (LifeVest on of course), I said I couldn’t believe we were here. I added that when I had gotten on the plane this morning, I never would have even hoped this is where we would be. It is all a great relief. I had been thinking, quite seriously, the end was near.

Oh, do I feel jet-lagged today? Not at all (yet). On the contrary, I feel great! :-)

“Passports” At The Ready

Hello! Made it! Feeling really jet-lagged this morning UK time, we’re back in London.

Some posts just write themselves – and this is one.

If you enter the United Kingdom by air and hold a non-EU passport, you must complete a short landing card to give to passport control. Among the standard name, address in the UK, etc., info that it requires, it asks for your occupation.

The last few times I’ve filled one out, I’ve written “Author.” (The first time, it had been at my wife’s urging: “You are one now.”) None of the previous border officers had showed the slightest interest in asking me about it. They had also all been men.

Yesterday’s officer, a pleasant woman, did. Friendly and efficient (but you knew she was doing her job thoroughly), after the entrance formalities, including, “How do you two know each other?” (My wife: “We’re married.”) and comparing my old passport’s (which has my UK visa stamp) photo to my current one – “Look at you!” (I was a bit younger in the older passport photo, obviously) – the officer glanced down again at my form and asked me, “What do you write?”

I smiled and replied, “I’d guess you’d call them travel romances.” I added a moment later, “Would you like to buy one?”

final-cover-2-december-2013.jpg

She appeared genuinely interested. Taking hold of a piece of scrap paper, she noted with a grin, “I might. You write under this [your real] name or another?”

When I shared my “R. J. Nello” pen name, she laughed, checking the spelling as she scribbled, “Let me get that right.”

Finished, she wished us a “Welcome back.”

As we made our way around the corner towards baggage reclaim, I chuckled to my wife, “Us authors will talk about our books just about anywhere.”

At that, she joked, “Wait until Carol and Stu hear about this. You may soon have fans in the UK Border Agency.”

Happy Independence Day, 2014

A few thoughts on today’s U.S. Independence Day. It’s an extra-special one for us because it’s my wife’s first as a U.S. citizen. And she is – as you know if you visit regularly – British.

It’s also the first one for some time in which we are actually physically present in the U.S. We have often laughed on our trips around the U.S. over the years as to how the history of “1776 and all that” seems a bit awkward at times. Invariably, at some point, she’d hear some tour guide say something like this:

“Welcome. This is where George Washington lived. He was our first president. He led the American army in battle against the British.”

Or:

“This is the home of Thomas Jefferson. He is most famous for writing the Declaration of Independence during the war with Britain. He also once said he would have sunk that whole island into the sea.”

Or:

“Here, at Yorktown, this is where the Americans and the French cut off the British under Lord Cornwallis, and the British army eventually surrendered.”

She accepts all of that. That was then, she jokes; and things have changed rather a lot since. And, earlier this morning, she reminded me with a smile that this is “her country” too now.

However, one matter she is never too happy about is, uh, that “the French” were here! ;-)

Photo that is the source for the Passports novel cover. [Photo by me.]

Photo that is the source for the Passports novel cover. [Photo by me.]

The famous Tricolor we know so well is not the French flag under which France aided the U.S. in the war. The French flag then was that of the Ancien Régime. During the 1790s, Americans became split on whether they owed the new French revolutionary regime anything, given that regime was not the one that had helped America win independence.

And the U.S. Stars and Stripes was not the flag under which independence was declared either. But never mind. It all gets too complicated. :-)

Happy 4th of July!
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UPDATE: That said, one Lynn Cole, resident in Italy, shares this view in The Guardian:

I am not a god-fearing, gun-toting, flag-waving, red-blooded American but a world citizen, and always have been.

She would hardly be the first to fancy herself a “world citizen.” To confirm it, my suggestion for anyone who holds that opinion is the next time you approach a border officer in airport arrivals in New York, London, Paris, Rome, or wherever globally, that you inform the officer of that status. A U.S., or other country’s, passport will no doubt not then be required of you as you are warmly greeted, “Welcome, World Citizen.”

The Outsiders

The New York Times, being the New York Times:

Britain’s New Immigrants, From Romania and Bulgaria, Face Hostilities

I write “being the New York Times” because the piece chatters, but ultimately leads nowhere. It tells us nothing essentially new about the migration issue itself. Nor does it offer any suggestion of a way to diminish those “hostilities.”

In that article, Britain really could be any country; and Romanians and Bulgarians could be any newcomers arriving in any country. As Britain does (as every country does), Romania and Bulgaria have their borders…. and settlement laws and frontier guards empowered to decide who may enter. And most of those populaces would likely not be pleased about masses of British incomers deciding to cross “their line” and set up homes within their geographical area either.

Even though I have “permission,” I have always been self-conscious of the fact that in my working in Britain a native might not have a job. A Danish friend, married to an Englishman, and living in the U.K., has said similarly that she often reminds herself she is not British. Yet her brother-in-law is also British and married to her sister, and he is living and working now in Denmark.

Twenty-first century borders are far more formal than they have ever been, but human communities have always enforced boundaries. Whether it was an Ancient Greek “city-state” of a thousand souls setting itself apart from another similarly sized one just across a mountain, or today’s high-tech nation-state frontiers relying on biometric passports, we create them for a variety of reasons too complex and varied to begin to explore here. And, lest we forget, even within our modern countries there are uncountable gradations of “borders”: from province/ state, to county, to city, and so on, down through school catchment area all the way to, say, residents’-only street parking.

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We humans have always been an “excluding” species. Because they are not “from, or of, here,” outsiders have always faced “hostilities” simply because they are outsiders. There is no reason to believe that will ever change.

Spouse Or Country?

International marriages have become pretty ho-hum in the last two decades or so. My (English) wife and I have laughed with two sets of Danish/English married friends about how there also appears to be something between Danes and the English. ;-) In their cases, the women are sisters who both married English men. One couple lives in England, while the other couple did live in England and now lives in Denmark.

I bring that up for this reason. The BBC tells us:

Stephen Kinnock, son of the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, has been selected as the Labour candidate for Aberavon at the 2015 general election.

Mr Kinnock, 44, is married to Danish Prime Minister Helle Thoring-Schmidt.

He is based in London and works for the business advisory company Xynteo, and worked for the British Council and the World Economic Forum….

Unlike our friends, apparently Kinnock and Thorning-Schmidt (she perhaps best-known in the U.S. for that “selfie”) have long been accustomed to marital separation owing to geography. Wales Online explains:

….When interviewed by WalesOnline in December, Mr Kinnock said the couple – who have two daughters – had maintained their family life despite living apart for much of their marriage, with Mr Kinnock serving in positions in Russia, Sierra Leone and Switzerland, as well as London.

A couple’s private marital arrangement is entirely their own business. Yet although it might be considered, at minimum, interesting, neither report touches on this public policy question: Are there concerns worth addressing about a married couple of differing nationalities serving simultaneously in elective office in their different countries?

Imagine if a U.S. senator were married to a British MP, or to a member of the French National Assembly…. or to a Danish prime minister? How might such a pairing be received by many in both nations? One suspects eyebrows would be raised at the very least.

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It has been asserted that, back in the 1920s, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General John J. Pershing did not marry his French girlfriend because he believed Americans would not accept it if he, the country’s top soldier, had a foreign wife. True, attitudes have since softened considerably. Voters seem far less troubled now if a government official has a non-citizen spouse. (Or a soon to be foreign new spouse…. even after his wife had divorced him for cheating on her with that woman.)

For example, it is well-known that British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s wife is Spanish. However, Miriam Clegg is not a member of the Spanish government. And she resides in Britain with her British husband.

We know we are all “good friends” nowadays, yet issues may still arise that place countries on “collision” courses. It definitely remains an uncommon marital situation, but it nonetheless raises an intriguing hypothetical question: Which would come first for spouses serving in their different countries’ governments? Their spouse? Or their country?

Citizenship

We know we humans have created a category called “citizenship”. We may attain it by birth, blood, or grant it to carefully vetted “outsiders” whom we allow to settle within domains our ancestors have pre-staked out. Every “country” has done it since time immemorial. Pretty much, we assert this:

Okay, we declare formally, we permit you to live on this piece of earth which our power controls to the exclusivity of others. We hereby give you this certificate saying you are one of us now. Having asked us, and been accepted by us, you now owe us your allegiance and support, and may even be asked to fight with us, and in exchange you may dwell within our carefully delineated boundaries forever if you choose, and so may any offspring you produce.

We know holding and protecting habitable land stems from the needs of human survival. For instance, when ancient Greek city-states made war on each other it was usually to seize more land in order to better support a growing community and also improve that community’s ability to protect itself. To do so, one city’s army often moved to destroy a neighboring city’s crops in order to compel that city to bring out its citizen-soldiers to defend them – or that defending city would starve.

The stakes were life or death. If the defenders lost, little mercy might be shown: the men were often slaughtered, and the women and children carried off into slavery. (Persian conquerors of Greek cities often castrated the young boys.) Afterwards, the conqueror usually brought in some of his own city’s populace to supplant the former residents.

It is easy to feel detached from that hellish possibility in our “legalistic,” modern world.

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Last Friday, my United Kingdom-born wife became a U.S. citizen at a nicely done ceremony in a Federal courthouse in upstate New York. Fifty-two others from a veritable roll call of the U.N. also achieved it. It was truly inspiring to witness, and more moving than this American had anticipated it to be.

In relaxed comments, the presiding judge, interestingly, cited British former prime minister Tony Blair. He said that Blair has noted that any country which people wish to join, must be a good country. You had the distinct impression all of those present agreed: the genuine happiness on faces was clearly evident.

The judge remarked also that, of the 53 new U.S. citizens, just under a dozen had become citizens owing to “refugee” status. That is worth bearing in mind. They had fled some of the world’s horror spots for the safety and protection of what is today essentially the most powerful “city-state” of all: the U.S.A.

Such is a reminder that we are not necessarily as far removed from the brutality of the “conquer or be the conquered” existence of the ancients as we may complacently assume we are. Fortunately, most of us just never witness it. But it is still out there of course.

Quick Take 2: “Valérie”

Early in the novel, a “Valérie” is mentioned by Isabelle during a lunch conversation in New York….

__________

 Valérie and Isabelle have known each other for some years:

“My good friend Valérie was born in Beirut. Her mother is French. …. We met at university in Paris. She is beautiful and so smart.”

As the story unfolds, details about Valérie’s background are progressively revealed. Her Parisian future grandparents had relocated to Beirut for her grandfather’s job, and in doing so naturally took along their daughter. In what was then sometimes referred to as “the Paris of the Middle East,” that daughter would meet and eventually marry Valérie’s eventual father, a well-to-do Lebanese Christian.

However, during the summer of 1975, Valérie’s life would be changed forever:

Early in Lebanon’s devastating civil war, she had been hustled out of the country along with her younger sister.

France much resembles the United States in its assimilation of newcomers. It has long attracted immigrants. Their descendants help make up the France of the present day.

Being half-French, Valérie is technically not an immigrant. But she finds herself at age five transplanted abruptly and unexpectedly to her mother’s home country. France will become her new home, and where she grows up…. to have friends now such as Isabelle, and Paris-resident, French-English couple, Stéphane and Natalie:

Holding a bottle of wine, she remarked softly to Stéphane, “How are you? I hope you like this.”

Laughing, as he accepted the bottle he broke into off-key song. “Ah, when our lovely Valériiiieeeeeeeee…. brings a lovely wine for meeeeeeeee….”

“Oh, God, no,” Natalie cringed. “Here we go!”

Valérie exhaled and smiled resignedly. “Ah, Stéphane. Shall I sing to you next?”

“Val,” Natalie pleaded with her laughingly as she walked into the kitchen, “just make him stop!”

Well-mannered, soft-spoken, and alluring, on first meeting her men often go weak at the knees. Yet to new acquaintances she may also come across as distant, and even arrogant. But once she feels more intimacy, a genuine warmth shines through.

Woman Silhouette with flags

And opinions may even come quietly bubbling to the surface:

From across the room, Valérie gripped her glass and smiled shrewdly [at James]. “Yes, but then it was much too late,” she countered. “Had you helped in 1975, we might have won.”

Ultimately, she is “two cultures” blending into an intriguing “third”: herself.

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See related:
Previous: Quick Take: “Virginie”

Expat Or Immigrant?

NPR is wondering about the difference between “immigrants” and “expats”:

    Project Xpat: When Do You Become An ‘Immigrant’?

Indeed, what is the difference? Opening the piece, NPR asks a Mr. Horn for his definition; he is a 35 year old American in Kazakhstan “teaching a course called Global Perspectives.” Clearly he would have a view, and it includes, curiously, this observation:

“all immigrants are expatriates, and all expatriates are immigrants.”

Hmm. The first part of that statement is reasonable in this sense: immigration may have begun with expatriation. But I feel his second assertion is decidedly inaccurate. Why?

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Let’s start with a dictionary. First, “expatriate,” as defined by the Cambridge Online Dictionary:

    someone who does not live in their own country

Next, from the same source, “immigrant“:

    a person who has come to a different country in order to live there permanently

I have written about this previously elsewhere. That NPR piece having caught my eye, I figured it is worth re-offering my two cents/ pence/ centimes here.

“Expat” or “immigrant” is actually not as complicated, or blurry, an issue as it is often assumed to be. Based on my experience and observations, “permanence” in the mind, and actions, of the individual in terms of “settlement” is what most underscores the distinction between the two words.

The American who dwells in Britain or France “temporarily” is an “expat.” However, the moment he moves to take British or French citizenship and embraces life and roots himself there to the extent he entertains no serious notions of ever returning to the U.S. to reside, he has now become an “immigrant.” Likewise for British or French, or anyone else, in the U.S.

That is the fundamental difference. The “expat” may admire and even love the country where he is domiciled, but he recognizes, and accepts, it is not his country. On the other hand, you become an immigrant the second you decide (for whatever reason) that your life is and will be lived permanently in your new land. In fact, you may well have made that decision the moment you had stepped onto the ship or plane and departed. You could well be an immigrant from the outset, without first being an expat.

Essentially, when Mr. Horn in Kazakhstan chooses to seek Kazakh nationality, begins to “feel” himself Kazakh, and, above all, abandons serious plans to live permanently in the U.S. again, he has then crossed the line to an immigrant. Not before. Until then, he remains an American teaching in Kazakhstan: an expat.