December 2010 The Expat Telegraph published an article I had written called Thoroughly Modern Expats.
For a number of years following I was a regular monthly columist for them.
Reading through the original articles that I submitted recently, I was taken by a) how relevant many of them still are today, and b) I had no online record of them of my own.
So I have added the original submissions to this blog, so if you want to read more of them just search for telegrapharticles, and while you are at it you may want to search for expatarticles as well to see other columns I wrote in the past for various newspapers in Spain.
I got an email recently from my mate that has a job where he works away from home: month on, two weeks off type of pattern. Nothing strange in this as I have found a lot of expats have a similar set up, the husband works ‘away’ while the wife and children live in the sunshine. They get a ‘better quality’ of life, and a ready made social life which is the one thing being an expat will guarantee you, while hubby gets to spend his time off in the sunshine, and the children benefit from the stability of not moving around all the time.
Nor was it strange to receive an email as like a lot of expats in a similar position he is a big user of today’s technology: VOiP to video chat with his children every night, Facebook to keep in touch with his friends and colleagues around the world from previous posting and contracts, blogs to keep in touch with life ‘back home’, and I heard that he even sends the odd text or two to his wife from time to time.
There was something different about the email though. For once it wasn’t the usual question about golf, dirty joke, banter about the football, or request for a lift from the airport. No, this time he wanted to know which restaurants were offering romantic meals this Valentines Day.
I must confess that I was more than a little surprised. He isn’t what you would call a ‘sensitive’ man, and he like me is no ‘spring chicken’, but as he explained to me working away really does make you appreciate the time spent together more, and given that his wife and children are living the expatriate lifestyle as well, so removed from their home, family and friends, he feels a greater sense of desire, and in a way duty, to spend time with them when he is back. By his own admission he would be a ‘cards and flowers’ man on Valentines Day if he was living back home, but as an expatriate living away for long periods of time he wants to do more.
This got me thinking and what he said made a lot of sense. In my own case both Sands and I live the expatriate life here in Spain, and if you read the article Modern Expats (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/expatlife/8227961/Expat-technology-thoroughly-modern-expats.html) you will know that we also work together, rescue stray cats together, and, when we can, head off on the Harley together. To be honest I don’t know how she puts up with so much of me, and I know far too many expats that have struggled to adapt to spending so much time together. Many years ago in Florida I laughed when an elderly neighbour told me about the classes he and his wife had been to before he retired to teach them how to get on together once he wasn’t at work every day. I wouldn’t do that now! If they have classes near you on how to live the expat lifestyle and you have plans or aspirations to become an expatriate I would suggest you seriously consider signing up. If nothing else type “expat blogs” into Google and take your pick from the 330,000 sites that pop up.
The reality is that for many an expat couple an event like Valentines Day can be the break from the norm that is required, an opportunity to escape from the expat lifestyle for a while and do something ‘normal’ for a change, something that reminds you of home, something that focuses on just the two of you.
And that is why for many an expatriate February will mean one thing: Valentines Day. I would like to say that I am one such person, but my wife reads the column and would be the first to comment that was not the case!
Never say never though as I have found that the longer I live this expatriate lifestyle the more I appreciate the customs and traditions that we so easily take for granted when we live at ‘home’. In a sort of ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ way over the years I have become far more interested in observing the cultures and traditions of ‘home’ than I ever was, and while age no doubt plays its part in this I am convinced it is more a combination of reaching out to familiar territory and a desire to help the Spanish to understand these ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ that live amongst them.
I am not alone. Last month it was the turn of the Scots to baffle the locals with their Burns Night celebrations. Up and down the Costa Almería you couldn’t move for tartan, whisky, haggis and men in kilts, although to be honest I am not sure what my Spanish friends made of it.
This month it is the turn of those that celebrate Valentines Day, which of course is very much an ‘online’ activity these days, as are most things. For example of the 1 billion cards that will be sent this year around 20% will be ecards, and there are sites for gifts, messages, inspiration and even to record your disasters.
On the Singapore Expats Forum they have a thread (http://forum.singaporeexpats.com/sutra502177.html&sid=aa9bda47bd9c90b04bf10171c09b2b76) for expats celebrating Valentines day, although it does appear to be more of a singles dating thread, the clue being in one suggestion left by someone to call it ‘Singles’s Awareness Day’. Actually looking into the site in more detail they focus very much on clubs: The Newcomer’s Lounge being a great idea, the Language Exchange a sensible idea, and the Friday Night Drinking Club along with the Wednesday Night Drinking Club typifying what many no doubt perceive the expat lifestyle to be about.
@llo’ Expat the expatriates forum in Nigeria, which offers a range of Expat Tips, Leisure Tips and a useful Info Centre, has a thread (http://www.alloexpat.com/nigeria_expat_forum/valentine-s-day-in-nigeria-t8931.html), which was rather surprising, the British Expats one on the other hand wasn’t (http://britishexpats.com/forum/showthread.php?t=702205), although it did have a pretty cool Photo Gallery, which when I looked was dominated by photographs of the snow.
TheRomatic.com, not a site I frequent to be honest but with a interesting Love Song Lyrics section that you may find absorbing, have an area dedicated to Valentines Day Disasters (http://www.theromantic.com/valentinesday/disasters/main.htm) which for those that like to laugh at others expense is a ‘must bookmark’ site this Valentines Day.
If you do check it it read the My Not So Funny Valentine (http://www.theromantic.com/valentinesday/disasters/valentines5.htm), not because it is particularly funny, but because it carries an interesting ‘educational’ message – the danger an expatriate faces when they ‘assume’ that customs are the same the world over.
Living an expatriate lifestyle is a glorious opportunity to sample different ways of life, to experience new cultures and traditions, and to make new friends. It is also a great way to help your new friends from your adopted country understand, or at the very least experience, the customs and traditions of your home country. An opportunity to ‘Fly the Flag’ and have a bit of fun, without feeling guilty that you are not embracing the cultures of the expatriate lifestyle.
Importantly though living the expatriate lifestyle is no reason to discard all the traditions and cultures of home, or to forget about you and your loved ones. There is nothing wrong with putting yourselves first ever now and again, turning your back on your fellow expats, and dare I say it, turning back the clock to the earlier days of your relationship.
For those of you wanting to take learn more about Valentines Day you could do worse than read this excellent History of Valentine’s Day published here on the Telegraph Online last year which covered the history of St Valentine’s Day, from its pre-Christian origins, involving nudity and whipping, to its present incarnation as a commercial free-for-all driving huge sales of chocolate, flowers and jewellery. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/relationships/valentines-day/7187784/History-of-Valentines-Day.html
By way of a flavour, and in my view a far more interesting way of celebrating the occasion, in the Pre-Christian era the men apparently striped naked and spanked their woman to improve their fertility:
“In ancient Rome, 13, 14 and 15 February were celebrated as Lupercalia, a pagan fertility festival. This seems to be the basis for a celebration of love on this date. It was marked in a subtly different way in those days, however. According to Noel Lenski, classics professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, speaking in the National Geographic, young men would strip naked and use goat- or dog-skin whips to spank the backsides of young women in order to improve their fertility.”
Please feel free to search on Google for the published versions of these columns.