Sunday, June 27, 2010

An Interview With Meg Gardiner

We are immensely pleased to have as our interviewee this week, Edgar award winning author Meg Gardiner, who, in addition to being an internationally famous writer, also happens to be an expat.

Writing, as Meg points out on her blog – Lying for a Living – is her third career. Born in Oklahoma and raised in Santa Barbara, CA, she practiced law in Los Angeles and taught writing at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Several years ago, after living in California most of her life, she and her family moved to the UK where she began writing suspense novels. She now writes full time and says it is a job she feels immensely lucky to have.

Meg has recently released her eighth novel, The Liar’s Lullaby. I have not yet read that one, but if China Lake and Mission Canyon are anything to go by, it is bound to be a cracker.


1. How did you come to live in Britain and how long have you lived here?

My husband was offered a job at his company’s London office. And I was an avid anglophile, thanks to Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, and the English pub I frequented on Santa Monica beach. I couldn’t wait to move. Plus I’m a James Bond fan, and wanted a jet pack.

We came for a two-year assignment. That was in 1994. When the jet packs are delivered, we’ll load them up and head back to California, like the Beverly Hillbillies.


2. Was your transition to British life easier or more difficult than you had imagined?

It featured some surprises. For instance, my new British friends constantly said, “Brilliant!” to me. It took a while to understand that they didn’t, in fact, consider me an earth-shattering genius. They were simply using the local equivalent of “Cool.” This ego-deflating insight came when a friend said, “Pop-Tarts for breakfast? Brilliant!”

And, like most Americans, I presumed that British television would be all high culture, all the time. The first evening I turned on the TV (“after the watershed,” whatever that meant) eager to expose my daughter to E.M. Forster and the Tudors. We sat down and – Breasts! Big and bare and onscreen. And butts. More than one, and in bed, and… where the hell is the remote?

Transition? What transition?

Actually, the kids are now fluent in both Yank and Brit. One’s a cheerleader and two are Eagle Scouts. They drive a Mini, love ham, egg and chips, play rugby, and can’t live without Top Gear.


3. What preconceptions about Britain and the British were shattered or confirmed after your arrival?

I assumed that in Britain, I would stroll to the quaint neighborhood market to do the family’s grocery shopping. Instead, I walked into a Tesco the size of Heathrow airport. It was apocalyptic.

And I assumed that Sundays in Britain would be like something out of Mrs. Miniver: pews packed with devout Anglicans singing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

And that my fridge would be larger than a shoebox.

However, the coach and footman, and the ladies in waiting, make up for all of that.


4. Having spent most of your early life in the American south and southern California; do you consider the British climate a trade up, or are you thinking you got the short end of the weather-stick by moving to the UK?

As I tell my children when they face a challenge: It builds character.


5. What, in your opinion, is better about living in the UK as opposed to the US?

Pubs. Stonehenge. Prime Minister’s Questions. Long, lingering summer evenings in the garden. BBC reporters who don’t shout and whose careers clearly, endearingly, don’t depend on big hair and shiny teeth. “Jerusalem” – Give me my bow of burning gold; bring me my arrows of desire… I’m tearing up just thinking about that hymn.


6. What do you miss about life in the US?

My family. Good Mexican food. Customer service. College football games on crisp autumn afternoons. Marching bands. Midnight mass at the Old Mission in Santa Barbara. Wild thunderstorms over the New Mexico desert. Hitting the road and driving out where even radio stations can’t reach you.


7. Your books are set in the US; while writing, do you have to remind yourself that America has no zebra crossings and they don't queue, or are you fluently bilingual?

Books can be edited before publication, so I don’t worry about dodgy, or sketchy, language goofs. But when I travel between Britain and the U.S., I have to remember which side of the car has the steering wheel, so when I climb in I don’t look like an idiot.


8. How do you stay connected with friends, family and novel locations in the US?

An extensive network of miniature spy cameras.


9. When you visit the States and people realize you live in Britain, how many of them ask, "Have you met the Queen?" (BTW, have you?)

None, fortunately. Unfortunately, many ask: Why don’t you have an accent?

But I do have an accent, I insist. A California accent, dude.


10. I understand you used to be a mime and, while this has nothing to be with being an expat or an internationally acclaimed writer, I have to ask: are you better now?

I can’t speak as a mime.


I hope you enjoyed Meg’s interview. Now go out and buy her books.








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Sunday, June 20, 2010

I (Heart) Football

Today’s guest poster is Melissa of Smitten by Britain, a self-confessed anglophile who freely admits her love of Britain has grown into an obsession. This obsession began early, around the age of thirteen, and has recently culminated—though certainly not stopped—with her blog, Smitten By Britain. In between, Melissa has managed to actually live in Britain for a time, and acquire a British husband. Talk about an obsession ;)

I (heart) football (okay, soccer) and completely understand why it’s the world’s most popular sport. It is a great unifier as well as a great equalizer. You can be from the wealthiest country and play or you can be from the poorest country and play. All you need is a ball.

I consider myself a frustrated fan. I enjoy EPL play (English Premier League) and struggle to get good wall to wall coverage here in the States. I guess I can understand that since we now have Major League Soccer here in our country. So naively I thought seeing the opening ceremonies of World Cup 2010 would be a cinch. Not so. As I sit here I’m cursing ESPN and Fox Soccer Channel for not showing it live. This is the world’s greatest sporting event and they choked big time. It’s equal to not showing the opening ceremony of the Olympics, which is a celebration that gets people in the mood and excited for what’s to come. As far as I can tell, ESPN only carried it on a premium paid HD channel which most people do not have. And how can you call yourself a soccer channel, Fox Soccer, and not cover its biggest event? Blasphemy!

As usual it comes down to dollars and cents. ESPN bought the rights years ago so it’s theirs to do with whatever they wish. But in my view, the MLS should be dogging them to do what they can to promote the sport, for god’s sake, and showing the opening ceremonies of the World Cup is part of that. It would only serve the MLS better.

Things are changing here in the U.S. Since my son’s generation, kids have grown up here playing football (soccer) and it’s now part of their DNA. ESPN would do well to stay on top of it, all of it. How about an ESPN soccer channel? For far too long we’ve been on the outside looking in and it has passed the time for us to join the family. Nine hundred and fifteen million fans can’t be wrong.

I hope Americans will take some time over the next thirty days to watch at least one match. It’s a beautiful game. (Try not to let the sound of swarming bees put you off; the vuvuzelas are a South African thing, not a football thing.)

Interestingly, I found this article today which argues that the US wouldn’t be where it is without England. http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory?id=10884477

So if the US loses, can we blame England too?



Mike:

No one has ever mistaken me for a sports fan. But when the World Series was on, and when the Super Bowl rolled around, I always became caught up in the hype and excitement. You sort of have to if you don’t want your patriotism and/or masculinity called into question.

It’s no different here. When World Cup season arrives, I generally find myself more interested in soccer (Sorry, I still refer to it as soccer) than I thought I could be. This never happened when I lived in the US. In fact, I can’t recall ever hearing about the World Cup when I lived in the US, even when we hosted it.

These days, that seems to be changing. E-mails from friends and family back home reference the World Cup and indicate that they have not only noticed it, but have the opportunity (and actually took advantage of the opportunity) to watch the games. Still, I have to think, for true die-hard fans such as Melissa, the coverage must appear frustratingly sparse when compared to the 24/7 saturation available in much of the rest of the world.

I have seen Green’s bobble of the ball so many times over the past two days (it is, believe it or not, showing as I write this) I expect I’ll be dreaming about it tonight (as opposed to having nightmares about it, as Mr. Green undoubtedly is).

But gaffs aside, the coverage here is all-inclusive and we have the added advantage (or not, depending on how you feel about soccer) or endless commentary, opinion and prognostication.

I suppose, if you want this sort of coverage in the US, the only way to get it is for the Americans to win the World Cup, then people, and the media, will begin to take a real interest.




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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lunching with Americans

Recently, Mike and a few other Americans met  up for lunch in beautiful Saffron Walden. Here's his hilarious take on things:




Recently, I had the opportunity to meet up with a group of expat bloggers in the charming town of Saffron Walden. Mid-Atlantic English, Nappy Valley Housewife, Not From Around Here and 3-Bedroom Bungalow gathered at the Ask restaurant—along with my wife and myself—for drinks, pasta, pizza, calzone and some lively conversation.

As the UK correspondent for Pond Parleys, I had gone with the intention of asking them individually for interviews but then, somewhere around my third glass of Peroni, the idea of a mass, simultaneous interview occurred to me,

This is vaguely how it went:



Do you like living here?

(A chorus of voices, all enthusiastically in the affirmative.)

It’s great that I’m here because I choose to be here, and if I didn’t really want to be here I would go back to the US.

I love the culture and the history.

I miss Cheez-Its!

That’s how we met; I’m her Cheez-Its connection. We get American food on the base.

Yes, Kat’s my supplier. I’ve also had other bloggers in the US send me American crackers by mail, twice.

I miss the proximity of family.

Customer service!

(Another chorus of agreement)

I don’t really think about it until I go back to the States, but then I realize how bad it is here.

I do like living here, but “Have a nice day,” I miss that.

Mike had his friend bring him A1 Sauce when he came for a visit a few years ago.

I asked him to bring a bottle, but he brought over a six pack. I still have a bottle left, but it’s past the sell by date.

So is the Corn meal.

I know where to get corn meal now, but that’s what I would have people bring over for me if I couldn’t get it.

What I can’t get here is Chick-fil-A! I always have my mom bring me one when she picks me up at the airport.

We have a Subway in town, and I actually like it better than the American version.

They have sweet corn!

What I’d really like is a Wendy’s

My husband would sell one of our children for a Wendy Burger.

I miss the clean streets.

Yes, it’s really cluttered here.

After a Saturday night the whole town is littered.

In Minnesota we have the Adopt a highway Programme, which keeps the streets clean.

When I first came here I was shocked by the amount of litter at the sides of the roads.

And in the parks. Especially after a sunny picnic-type day.

I was brought up to have some sort of civic pride; we don’t litter the way they do here.

The Americans do seem to be a bit cleaner.

And they break windows less frequently.

They're also more modest; the way the young girls dress here!

My 20year old son was scandalized at the way the young people dressed when he came to visit. He wasn’t used to girls-

…having so much exposed? And they don’t mind the weather, I remember waiting for a bus in the winter, all bundled up, cold as could be and seeing young girls walking by wearing nothing but halter tops and skirts that were-

…about as wide as a belt?

Yes.

And, oddly, it’s only here. In the other European countries I travel to, the young girls don’t dress like prostitutes.

We have a friend who’s a lorry driver-

“Lorry?” Have you found yourself speaking British already?

Sometimes I say a word the British way just so I can get on with it and not have to stop and explain myself to people.

I would do that, but I think it might sound funny if I tried to say it as the British do, so I’ll say A-LUM-in-um and then say, yes I know I said that as an American.

I still speak American but my kids speak British—Mummy, can we have a ta-MAH-to sandwich. I say, Yeah, here’s your tom-A-to.

I still write in American, especially on my blog.

It’s an American blog, after all.

How long have you been at it?

Only a few months.

Two years, for me.

About a year.

Three years.

Fifteen years.

Really?

Yeah, I’m a dinosaur. It’s changed a lot since I started out.

I think being part of the blogging community has been amazing. It’s one of the only markets I can think of where you find success by helping others. I think that’s great.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

You’re Really Getting on My Tits

Not that we'd want to, but there are some things we've both discovered that really irritate our fellow host countrymen and women. Here, in no particular order, we let you in on the worst ones.

Toni:

Five Ways to Piss Off Americans

1. Americans, it appears, have a pathological fear of flies and other things that come in through open windows and doors. As someone who gets bitten alive by mozzies, I share the disdain for them, but flies? In most parts of the States, bug screens are placed over windows, and screen doors are everywhere.

American Screen Door

Screen Door after Toni has entered.

One of the quickest ways to irritate an American is to forget to close a screen door on your way into a house. If, like me, you haven't grown up with screen doors, it takes a while for it to become a habit.

2. The other door thing that winds Americans up is leaving them open in the summer when the air conditioning is on. I understand why it shouldn't be done—letting warm air in forces the air conditioning to work even harder to cool rooms down—but this again isn't intuitive to Brits. Cut us some slack would ya?

3. After twenty years here, I still put out forks AND knives at dinner time. My kids roll their eyes and tell me you don't need a knife to eat pasta. It's even worse when it's "finger food" apparently. At least I don't make them eat pizza with cutlery/silverware though.

4. Insisting that an audible "H" at the front of "herb" is the only way to pronounce it. I have to say, while there are a few words I can pronounce the American way (basil and oregano I can handle), I just can't bring myself to drop the "H" in "herb. I was told last week that if Americans pronounced the "h", it would be the man's name Herb. "So what?" I replied, "Basil (not Bayzil) is also a man's name". For some reason the Americans in the room burst out laughing.

5. Fruitcake. To be fair, fruitcake is more a source of laughter and derision that irritation but I had to mention it. There's a joke in the States that there's one fruitcake being re-gifted and wending its way around the country. Unfortunately the fruitcake that I've had here isn't anything like the moist, boozy cake I grew up with, and you wouldn't dream of having a wedding cake made of it. When I tell of friends and relatives who make their fruit cakes six months before they plan to eat it, Americans just can't believe it!

But understand, any Americans reading, that I don't go out of my way to piss you off - it just comes naturally. I'm trying!


Mike:

Five Ways to Piss Off the British

1. Tell them that the only reason they won The War was because the Americans came and bailed them out. This is, without a doubt, the single best way to piss off a Brit, especially one aged 60 plus. I recommend it, though. No, seriously; if you say it to the proper person, you’ll receive a sterling lecture on European history and you just might learn a thing or two, such as the movie “U-571,” wherein the gallant Americans heroically capture a NAZI Enigma machine to help out the British isn’t exactly based on fact.

Given the annoyance factor of the above, it really isn’t necessary for me to continue, but in the interest of evening out the sides, I’ll press on.

2. Say “a LUM’ eh num.” Really, that’s all you need to do to make them cringe. Plus the entertainment value of listening to Brits tying to pronounce it the way Americans do is almost as great as listening to Americans trying to say, “al u MIN’ e um.”

3. When they show you any national landmark—Tower Bridge, Stonehenge, the White Cliffs of Dover—regard it silently for a moment, then say, “I thought it would be bigger.”

4. Tell them that the US has qualified for the World Cup more times than England. I’ve been getting great mileage out of this tidbit for years and, although I have just now discovered (via a quick Google search) that it isn’t technically true, most Brits don’t know that so I see no reason to stop annoying them with this “fact.”

5. Correct their spelling.

Like Toni, I desire to assure the Brits that I don’t go out of my way to annoy, it just comes naturally. Except of course for number 4; they’re just so sensitive about their “footie” it’s hard not to take the opportunity when it arises.



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Sociable