expat life

Silly things expats do

21 Comments 10 October 2012

allium bulb

I know, it’s a rubbish photo. This is what happens when you try to be clever with Instagram then try to undo it. Anyway. This is the last of the 50 allium bulbs I planted this past weekend. And yes, that is indeed an earthworm feeling the relief of a close call with the spade.

Sometimes I do this thing, I guess it could be called a game, where I pretend I’m a stranger here in the UK. Or maybe I’m reminding myself I’m not from here. Less of a game and more of a reality check? I step back, I put myself in that awkward foreign position, behind the net curtain, looking in but not really being there. Very present, but not very rooted. I wrote about it a couple of years ago in my dreamtime post.

I don’t know why I do it. Maybe because it’s fun to feel a place is new again–there’s more adventure and sparkle and anticipation in newness. Maybe it has nothing to do with being an expat, but being one–and reminding myself that I am one, is a convenient way to feel rootless at that moment. Sometimes I need to feel that freedom (even if only in my mind).

It’s difficult, sometimes, to separate some things from being ‘issues arising from my expat life’ and ‘issues that just arise.’ And it’s easy to knee-jerk and immediately attribute the cause to my expat condition.

This weekend I planted a wheel barrel full of bulbs: around 280 crocus and 50 allium. I know! I was planting them in land that is not my own, but voluntarily managed by my husband and myself as its appearance is important to us. It’s a little strip of land in front of our house, at the entrance to the village. We look at it everyday so it’s nice for us if it looks nice. But also as our house is at the entrance of our village I have long held the belief that it is therefore our responsibility to make sure that this entrance to the village is as attracitve as possible. And further, we have an issue with people speeding into the village–there’s a school almost opposite us and people fly past at speeds as high as 60mph on a regular basis. Sometimes even faster. We know this because the village has those speed-reader things out there from time to time and the data is collected and reported back to the village.

Our idea is that the prettier we can make the entrance, the more likely at least a few of those speeders might slow down realising it is in fact a village–or even slow to admire the pretty planting! Maybe. Anyway, I am making grand efforts to make it as interesting as possible.

Back to my game.

As I was planting the bulbs I was thinking about all of this. About my efforts, about how all this planting might look in the spring, about all this investment in my village and in my future in this village. I suddenly switched into that little game again, where I was ever so slightly removed from the place, a foreigner who just picked a place on the globe and arrived one day. It felt strange to be helping this random community somewhere in the world. Strange but but nice.

And the moment I realised how good it felt I was back again, being a part of the community. It wasn’t strange at all and I was no longer a stranger. Because contributing makes you feel like you belong, I guess.

And I realised that no matter where you’re born you can make a home where you choose. Which made me feel all warm and fuzzy and full of belonging.

(That was the cheesy moment for you–you knew this post was going to have it somewhere, right?)

But I still think I’d like to play that game from time to time just to feel that little sparkly buzz of newness!

I know other expats do these kinds of things. Don’t they? Am I the only expat who plays this game?



Your Comments

21 Comments so far

  1. Kimberly says:

    As soon as I become an expat, I will let you know. I am sure it’s always that “greener on the other side” concept. As much as I would enjoy making my home in the UK (North Yorkshire to be specific), I know it would come with more than a few challenges. I enjoy your posts very much.

  2. Iota says:

    I play a game where I imagine and American friend has come to visit, and I’m showing them round. They are curious to know about all the details of the place, and of my daily routines. I find myself mentally talking to them, explaining what I’m doing, why I’m doing it. Making comparisons with them, about how different it is to the US. I used to do it the other way round, imagining a Brit friend visiting my US life. Of course it does happen from time to time in reality, when you have a real friend or relation visiting. But my imaginary friends get a running commentary, whereas real friends talk back!

  3. Expat Mum says:

    Gosh I must be rather boring or lacking imagination. I don’t think I’ve ever done that.

    • Melissa says:

      I thought that was really creative too Toni. I never thought to do something like that because I was so busy just getting on with things.

  4. You are such a good (American) resident! I wish I’d known you when I lived in the UK. You would be a great neighbour to have, looking after the borders, planting the verges.

    It’s funny but, after reading your post, I can’t visualise you as an expat. You seem deeply rooted in the English countryside, much like those hundreds of bulbs planted over the weekend. You are part of the community, you’ve lived there many years, and you have made major efforts to integrate. I see you as a UK resident/national/citizen/contributor – as someone who is firmly placed at home. You just have a different background to some of your neighbours :)

  5. Dunk says:

    Sorry, you are being severely self indulgent here.

    Fire up your sense of humour. I’m sure you have one. And stop being so weepy.

    I once had a guy over here from the States who was a Mormon. He was a very nice guy.He had a really good time here.

    I helped that. You may need to get over yorself.

    I’m sorry if I’ve offended you, but here’s the deal. You choose to live here, you learn to live with the consequences.

    I’m a cool bloke. You arrive here, you are welcome in my world. Just do not slag it off

    • Expat Mum says:

      Dunk – what? Really? Apart from the fact that there doesn’t appear to be a single sentence slagging off the UK….
      So – only Brits are allowed to slag off the UK? Citizens who choose to live there but were born in another country aren’t?
      I complain about Americans telling me to “go home” if I even mention the bloody cold weather in the winter. You’re no better and you’re giving “your country” a bad name. There’s nothing cool about you, and the fact that you said your were cool clinches that.

      • Dunk says:

        OK everybody I have already posted a catch-all apology, but in view of the amount of offense I have caused, inadvertently I may add, I’ll apologise to you all individually.
        I misjudged things very badly. I’m sorry. I can say no more.
        Michelle has let me off the hook. I like her, so I’m not trying to pick on her.
        I’m sorry. C’mon, what else do you want from me?

      • Dunk says:

        Please check out my several and manifest apologies to everyone I offended.
        Offennding is never my intention. Irritating? Well yes.

        So I apologise, unreservedly. I just misjudged things. I can do that. I’m human

    • Michelloui says:

      Not offended, just kind of confused about your comment. I didn’t feel weepy, and I don’t think I mentioned being too worried about the consequences anywhere and I certainly didn’t slag anything off… so, was this comment even meant for this post??

      • Maenadlady says:

        Soooo confused, Dunk – what are you on about?? She’s talking about planting bulbs and you say she’s slagging off the Uk? Maybe you should read the blog again, but slowly this time and actually think about what words are in front of you and not what you think you’re reading. And maybe, just maybe, it might be more polite to email Michelle directly, rather than posting such viciousness on her blog for all to see. Didn’t have you down for a nasty chap, but this is.

    • Dunk says:

      OK guys, apology time.

      I just reread my comment, and realise it’s come across as a lot more vitriolic and jingoistic than I intended.

      So sorry, particularly to Michelle, who has done me the honour of championing my own blogs

      I am currently modelling for the latest range of sackcloth and ashes

  6. Melissa says:


    I get the feeling you are not a regular reader of this blog. If you were, you would know that Michelle very rarely, if ever, slags off the U.K. All she ever does is gives an objective point of view the best she can. If she says something negative she almost always follows it up with a positive side or compares it to a negative side of American life. She is, in fact, the most diplomatic expat blogger I’ve ever read and I follow quite a few expat blogs. Some American expat bloggers are so down on the UK I can’t stand to read them. I was once an expat in England myself and when I read these blogs I wonder “Why are you there?” but I have never, ever had that thought while reading what Michelle has written. I found your comment really snarky and uncalled for.


    • Dunk says:

      I am a regular reader. This is one of the few blogs in my Favourites list.

      I happen to know Michelle, and I like her a good deal.

      I got it wrong. It came across as vitriolic, and It wasn’t supposed to be, but there it is.

      There’s a general apology on this and I can do no more.

  7. PeuAPeu says:

    I think Dunk is just trying to find something to pick on her about. I didn’t feel anything was negative at all. Being an expat is not something that everyone understands…..the struggle between two coun tries. All she was doing was a comparison between where she is and where she has come from and putting a positive spin on it. I found it very uplifting.

    • Dunk says:

      I wasn’t trying to pick on anyone, especially not Michelle, whom I happen to know and whom I like a great deal.
      I got the tone wrong, OK? There’s a major apology a bit further up the Comment chain.

      Hey, what else can I say?

  8. I love that I have found a fellow expat with bulb planting tendancies… I first did it in Denmark, planting several bags of crocuses and snow-drops under my favourite walnut tree in the garden, when they came up in the spring, it helped me feel like I kind of owned it in a funny sort of way, albeit temporarily! We planted lots of crocus bulbs, and tulip bulbs this time in Munich, fingers crossed they come up! :)

  9. kelly says:

    Err hate to break it to you but that’s how often in tiny villages in Britain fights start off about land and fuels arguments in the pub by doing something to a piece of land that isn’t yours. I know this as I was born and raised in an English village.

    • Good thing we don’t have a pub then! 😉

      As a village we are working on different projects that will make it prettier and this is my contribution. I can see how arguments might happen in some places though.

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An American writer in the UK for over 20 years. Lives in Essex. A pretend extrovert.

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