Sunday, October 17, 2010

How I Became an Expat

This week Mike and Toni reveal the intimate details surrounding their decisions to marry foreigners. You have been warned.


It all started in Ireland, but the story of how and why I ended up there would, itself, fill a book. And some day I hope it will, but for now, let’s just say I went to Ireland. Let’s also agree that, during a time in my life, escaping to Ireland had been a very attractive prospect, so during my trip to Ireland, I did have, in the back of my mind, the thought that I might have ended up living there.

Happily, that had not been necessary. As fetching as the country turned out to be, and as friendly the people and inviting the Guinness, I just didn’t feel the country calling to me in any meaningful way. In short, I would not have chosen to live there, which reinforced the idea that Americans, who already live in the greatest country in the world, are best to stay put.

As it happens, while in Ireland, I fell in love with a young woman from England. Two months later, when I went to Sussex to visit her, I found myself feeling strangely at home. My initial thought—as I looked around me while dragging my suitcase along the sidewalk and following a man who turned out to be my future father-in-law–was that I could happily live there. This was, however, irrelevant: if anyone was going anywhere, it would be to America because, as anyone can tell you, everyone wants to live in America.

But someone forgot to tell my beloved this, and she surprised me—during a lovely walk along the Brighton prom where we discussed the ins and outs of a long-distance relationship—by revealing that she would prefer to not live in America. We went to bed that night with the issue unresolved.

As I lay on a futon in a spare bedroom smaller than an American walk-in closet, I mulled over this surprising turn of events and, during those dark hours, determined that I could, and would, become an expatriate.

At breakfast the following morning, I informed this woman—who, in truth, I barely knew—that I would move to England if she would have me, and the ensuing conversation gave rise to the most hypothetical marriage proposal in history:

“Then we could live together,” she suggested.

“Well, if I gave up my job and moved over here, I would want you to marry me. So, if I did move over here, would you marry me?”

“I suppose, if you did move over here, then I would marry you.”

The rest, as they say, is history.


It's to no one's surprise that I ended up an expat (or would that be "immigrant" since I'm now a citizen?). My mother always thought I'd live abroad, and indeed, I didn't take a gap year off as I thought I'd wander the planet for a few decades before finally realising that I should probably get myself a real job, which would in turn, necessitate further studying at the ripe old age of say, about 35. It's rather surprising however, that my expat-ness should be in the USA. I had visions of me trailing around some hot, dusty Mediterrenean country or beyond, rather than surviving the torture that is a Chicago winter.

There I was, working for the corporate behemoth in London, when in walks a giant American on secondment from the Dallas office. Two years later he was back on the plane and that was that. We split up. Then we got back together again and tried the long distance relationship thing. In those days there was no e-mailing, and his hand-writing was so bad I used to have to ring him up to ask what on earth his letters said. Anyway, long, complicated story short, we married in London and when my visa eventually came through about a month or two later, I hopped on a plane to Dallas and joined my shiny new husband. None of this "Do I fit here?" malarkey. I mean, it's the USA fer cryin' out loud. They speak English. How hard can it be? Well, let's just say you could write a book about it.

PS.  If Mike has the most hypothetical marriage proposal in history, mine has to be the most confused (at least at the beginning). So there we were at dinner, the Ball & Chain having popped back from the States to tie up some work, and us trying out this ridiculous long-distance relationship. To say things were a bit tense would be a gargantuan understatement - me chattering insanely, about anything and everything, the B&C - well I wasn't quite sure what was going on in his head.

At one point he looks at me and says "It's all a bit difficult this long distance relationship isn't it?", to which I hastily replied "Oh, I don't want to talk about it now. Can we just finish dinner first please?" Poor chap had been about to propose and I thought we were about to become history. Bloody typical.
And the rest, as they say.....

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  1. I enjoyed reading these two accounts of the beginning of married bliss from over the pond.
    It must have been a big step to take but you both came across as slipping into it easily.
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  2. I was born on a drizzly evening in early December 1964, in deepest suburban Surrey, and soon set about growing up in a warm and loving (though occasionally caotic) family.

    My childhood was pretty standard for the time and place, include my years as a pretentious teen, spending hours shut up in my room drawing, reading anything I could get my hands on, trying to act intellectual and writing awful, self-indulgent poetry.

    At 18, I started work as a trainee reporter with a local paper in Croydon. Later I joined the staff of regional daily covering Sussex, before selling out and joined the local electricity board as a Press and Public Relations Officer.

    But something was missing. I had married (at 19!), only to sepoarate less than three years later. And by the time 1988 came around I was restless and thoroughly sick of men to boot. I also decided that if I didn't travel now, I never would.

    I had been enchanted by Greece on a solo holiday that year, so I started making plans for a six-month working holiday to experience more of the country. I sold my flat in Hove (barely breaking even, thanks to property bubble bursting), started learning Greek at night school, quit my job (and had a quiet word with the editor who told me to call him when I returned) and set about getting a summer job with a UK tour company.

    In April 1989, I stepped off the boat at Samos harbour after a gruelling 13-hour sea trip from Athens (no flights thanks to a strike by Olympic Airlines) to start work as a Rep for Thomson Holidays.

    And that was what brought a twist to my carefully-mapped plan. At one of the hotels I was responsible for, I met Nikos behind the bar - fresh out of the army and brimming over with ready smiles, easy humour, helpful advice and free iced coffees.

    I wasn't interest in anything more than friendship, but he had other plans. Apparently, within a week of meeting me he had told his mother I was the woman he was going to marry! Nonetheless, at first I was a little confused about what exactly our growing reationship was - casual friendship? The seeds of something bigger? But even after our first clumsy smooch after her turned to me one night, looked me in the eye and asked "A keess?", I never imagined that it was the start of something that would change my life.

    However, by the end of the season, Nikos had persuaded me to stay and to return to Athens with him for the winter. 21 years on, we been through our share of good and bad times but we're still happily married and have a 13-year-old son.

    I still make my living by waffling - writing stuff to make other people look good (no-one pays me for stuff that makes ME look good!).

    That's the story of my Life Bilingual so far. Who knows what the future holds?

  3. Loved your stories. I'm an American, I went to Wales, and met an Englishman. Good thing I didn't have to learn the language before immigrating to England or it might never have happened:) However almost every day I think, I can't believe I live here, but I love it.

  4. She means well - I did that same ferry journey back in '81, and Samos was the most beautiful of all the islands I went to.

  5. "Poor chap had been about to propose and I thought we were about to become history. Bloody typical." I love that! Sometimes it's impossible to know, in these international relationships, whether it's the culture gap or the planet gap (men are from Mars and women from Venus) that's creating these miscommunications?!

  6. Never a truer word spoken. It definitely set the bar for our relationship, I tell you.

  7. I'm an expat for a different reason...and it can be summed up in 3 husband's job.

    However, I am the least likely candidate to ever become an Expat, ever. I grew up poor in the US, and other than a school related trip to DC when I was 14, never even left New England until I was 20. Which is when I did a one month term abroad. Which was the first time I'd ever been on a plane (were my advisors taking bets on whether or not I'd even get on the plane? Why, yes...yes, they were).

    Did I mention that I have strong aversions to trying new foods?

    Or that my only other language besides English is French (which, as it turns out, is not that useful a second language in most parts of the world outside France and parts of Asia and Africa...but not large ones)?

    Or that I'm introverted and don't get out and meet new people easily?

    And yet I live in Singapore now...unlikeliest match ever.

    As for husband had a nightmare and I woke him up. His response to being woken up was MARRY ME. Um, yes?

  8. I love the proposal story...!

    My expat tale is fairly simple - at first glance. Husband had the opportunity to work in a hopsital in the US for 3 years - he just had to secure funding for his research. After a lot of to-ing and froing it all came together and here we are.

    But the backstory is a lot more complicated: I had been bending his ear since before we had kids that we should go and live abroad and both work abroad. I was probably keener than him and it never happened - instead we did a 4 month sabbatical and went round the world. Then we had kids, and he was advised by his boss to get some experience abroad for his CV. He met an American doctor at a conference, contacted him afterwards, and two years after that finally it happened. So I came out here as a work at home Mum living in the suburbs, and not the ambitious young journo living in Manhattan that I had once imagined. Still, it was worth it!


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