take_the_next_step

Creating Momentum

Career, Culture, future, Life, summer

Hello there,

Due to my shockingly infrequent posts, I suspect you have not been avidly checking my blog to see if there’s a new piece up. However, I am making some changes to that and hope to use the summer to start to build momentum towards a personal project that has been a dream of mine for years.

The dream? Launching an online magazine you seriously are going to WANT to read. Like, you are going to NEED it in your life. The idea is still in its embryonic stages but I decided it was finally time to start letting it grow!

For the moment, I intend for this blog to be a launchpad. It starts by me becoming more disciplined and writing waaaaaaay more regularly, hopefully about things you want to read. Even if it’s only little updates like this. And the plan is not just to write things you want to read, but to write things you want to share, to talk about, and comment on.

So along the way, you might notice the blog layout changing or new additions here and there – I’m in the process of creating my own personal domain for example. Anyway, I’m going to do my best to document these things as they move forward – or don’t as the case may be – both here and through my own social media (find me on Instagram or Twitter). I hope my journey to launching this crazy idea might inspire you to jump right into your own adventure and run like crazy with that thing you’ve always wanted to do but never quite got round to.

So yeah, here we go!

Until next time…

My (anti)Brexit List or Why I’m Vote #RemaIN

Culture, emigration, future, Germany, Life, politics, voting

 

I didn’t really want my first post back after a few months hiatus to be about Politics, but the thing is; I’m not sure I can stay quiet. Not that I’ve exactly been silent about the upcoming UK referendum, but, as more and more people tell me why they are voting #Leave, I feel it’s time I share why I’ve voted to #Remain. I’m going to try and keep it short but I’m not making promises. I could write entire 4,000-word essays on this topic ten years ago.

So while I’m praying my little ballot paper has already made it’s way back to the electoral commission HQ place to wait to be counted, here’s some reasons why I put an “X” next to “Remain”.

    • As an ex-politics student who studied the EU in depth for a good few years, I’ll be the first to tell you the EU is flawed. There’s a plethora of institutions and, honestly, even when studying it, it’s not always exactly clear what they all do. In fact, I’m pretty sure I once joked with someone about how complicated it was and that they just seemed to keep adding countries to avoid anyone ever really getting it.ANYWAY, I say all that to say, yes, the EU has it flaws. Yes, it needs reform. Yes, it’s needed reform for a while and yes, it’s been slow at that reforming process, but what do you expect? There’s a bunch of different countries, agendas and beliefs all bundled together, it’s going to take a while. But I still think we have a better chance to see change happen by staying IN it and being part of the change. The UK isn’t the only nation that wants to change the EU (whatever the media might tell you). As a Brit in Germany, it certainly seems like the Germans want to change it too and they’re watching our referendum with interest.

 

    • I’m a Brit living and working in another EU country and frankly, I massively appreciate the freedom of movement/immigration/emigration thing we have going on because of our EU membership. No one has yet, in my opinion, presented a viable option of how things would/could change if we left, so why would I vote to change things that could potentially make my life more difficult and less rich? Also, from living in Germany for four years and chatting with Germans, I have discovered the Germans have pretty much the same fears and concerns about EU immigration/immigration in general as the UK, so any argument based on anti-immigration won’t change my mind. The tactics employed by the #Leave Campaign concerning EU immigration is just terrifying, and that’s not the England I love.

 

    • I have a lot of friends who are EU nationals living and working in the UK right now and paying into the British economy. They have no voice to say what happens to the taxes they are paying. But my EU national friends in the UK can vote for MEPs to represent them either in the UK OR in their home country (but only in ONE of those places) and that, even if there’s not much achieved by MEPs right now, is a small step in a democratic direction.

 

    • On the topic of democracy/democratic deficit (I once wrote a lengthy essay years ago about that by the way), I know the EU gets a lot of flack for not being truly democratic but think about this:
      The EU has evolved to become what it is today, but because it’s politics and it’s multi-national and it’s bureaucratic, it hasn’t necessarily developed in the most streamlined of ways, meaning democracy isn’t necessarily there in the ideal way it should be. It’s perhaps a bit more diplomatic than democratic to be honest. But, like I said, it does give all EU nationals wherever they live in the EU (even if they’re not living in their home nation and can’t vote in state elections in their resident EU nation), the right to vote for someone who will (hopefully) represent their views at some level. I know it’s not the most ideal situation but speaking as someone who’s well on their way to loosing the right to vote in their home nation (unless I move back there), being able to have a say in the EU no matter where I live in it, is actually pretty awesome.Also, if you’re going to complain about the lack of elected representatives making decisions for us, have you looked at how the UK elects Members of Parliament recently? Our First Past The Post system means that you don’t need to win more than 50% of the vote to get a seat. You just need to win enough votes to be the party with the highest number of single votes in your area. Basically, if you manage to choose the biggest piece of pie, you win. At least the EU uses Proportional Representation which means pretty much everyone’s political views are represented no matter how much pie they got.

 

    • I don’t believe either side has been responsible in communicating the true predicted impact of what leaving or staying will really have. It’s been a lot of scaremongering, misleadingly represented facts and figures, and an absolute avalanche of opinions spun with emotions. In this situation I favour one of two options. Sticking with what I know (ie remaining in the EU) or making the government do what we elected them to do which is make decisions on our behalf, representative of our beliefs. But then, I don’t really trust the current UK
      government
      (see: Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt) so I’d rather vote to #Remain

 

  • And finally, I was going to write something here about the economics of it but if I’m honest, I don’t understand enough about the economic implications of staying or leaving to offer that as a reason why I decided to vote #Remain. What I do know is that, what I have read so far and tried to understand, to me, just doesn’t actually add up. Kinda in the same way that EU nationals can’t all be taking UK jobs and stealing all our benefits.

 

OK. I’m done now. Maybe you understand where I’m coming from. Maybe I’ve inspired you to go find out for yourself and make your own decision. And so, with that all said, however you decide to vote on Thursday, please do three things.

      1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK (to get you started, spend 20 minutes listening to this uni professor explain some things about the EU.)
      2. GO VOTE
      3. REMEMBER the history Europe had before the EU was born. The EU rose out of decades of unrest, where hate had bred hate, where extreme-wing politics (both left and right) had prevailed, and where people and nations had been torn apart. The EU wasn’t a first attempt at unification – there were previous iterations that had failed – but it has been the one that has survived the longest. To me, that indicates that there is something good in it. We need to work together to find that and improve the rest of it.

 

 

The Trials of an Expat Voter #GE2015

Britain, Culture, emigration, general election, Life, politics, voting

In a few short hours, millions of people in the United Kingdom will be taking to the polls to (hopefully) decide who will be in charge of their country for the next five years. Except for perhaps some of the most astute political analysts, no one really knows what to expect tomorrow. Will Cameron be out? Will Clegg collapse? Will Ed form a coalition with Russell Brand?

But while various pundits will be focussed on voter turnouts and the overall result, thousands of eligible voters won’t be putting that all important X where it matters at all. Not because they don’t want to. Not because they forgot to turn up.  And not even because they’re disenfranchised, don’t care and think their voice won’t count.

No, on May 7th potentially thousands will be left without the chance or choice to make their voice heard simply because they’re expats. Citizens of the United Kingdom, with UK passports, but not currently residing in the UK. And it’s that which will cost them their democratic voice come polling day. But not for the reasons you might think.

 

Computer Says No

The UK Government barraged me with endless targeted Facebook ads during the months of March and April 2015 with the cheery promise that it takes less than 5 minutes to register to vote. It actually took me almost SIX MONTHS of correspondence, phone calls and three separate attempts to register online before my name was successfully added to the electoral register. The cause of this problem? Apparently “I don’t know where I was last registered to vote” was not a valid option on the online registration, especially when trying to procure a postal vote as an expat.

The simple truth was, due to having been a student for a rather large chunk of the last decade and having moved house every 9 months or so during that time, I couldn’t actually remember where I had last been listed on the electoral register. Add the fact that my parents, who kindly provide me with a fixed UK address and a bed to stay in when I pop back, moved house last year and subsequently moved constituency. Together, these problems somewhat hindered my application. Eventually, with mere weeks until the last possible chance to register, my only option was a sudden “return” to the UK from being abroad before promptly “leaving” once again and applying for a postal vote registered to the address my parents now call home.

But I wasn’t alone in my struggle. British expats experience an array of challenges to be able to claim what is legally still their right up to 15 years of living outside of the UK. Some simply can’t register because they were never registered when they lived in the UK. Now I understand that if a person in their 40s suddenly decides that, despite never voting when living in the UK, they now want to do so, it could create a bit of an ethical dilemma. But what about the young 19 year old who wants to exercise his right to vote but whose family left the UK when he was 15 and thus he had not been on the electoral register before he left? Is he simply not allowed to vote? The chances are he can’t vote in the country he lives in either and so we create another disenfranchised youth who now may never vote.

Oh Where Is My Ballot Paper? 

If you think that once registered all your problems as an expat attempting to vote in a General Election at home are over, think again. Once you’ve jumped the registration hurdle, you fall straight into the mercy of the postal service.

In the last seven days my Facebook newsfeed has been inundated with posts from British friends and acquaintances who, for various reasons, find themselves currently living outside of UK shores. Being, mostly, young, active, politically aware types, they were actually organised. They’ve registered their desire to vote and secured their postal vote application. It’s at this point they hit a problem. A problem I call “Oh Where Is My Ballot Paper?”.

Due to the rule of not sending out postal ballots until 20 days before the Election and the fact that they have to be returned by 10pm on polling day, friends in various locations around the globe didn’t receive their postal ballots until the chance to post it back to the UK in time had long since passed. Several friends in the States reportedly didn’t receive their ballots until the possibility of returning it in time was long gone. But it’s not limited to those facing a long haul flight to return home. Another acquaintance, this time in the Czech Republic, is still to receive her postal ballot. In fact, her outburst on social media to this affect a few short days ago bought forward several others, also living in Europe, also without their ballots.

Surely, when we’re considering something as important as the voting right of citizens, creating such a tight turnaround is placing rather too much faith in the world’s postal services? I mean I have friends who still haven’t received Christmas gifts I posted months ago.* And don’t even get me started on the wondering whether my postal vote will actually arrive back in the UK in time.

*that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

Polling Day

So now, as Polling Day dawns, anyone who knows even the tiniest bit about British Politics right now, knows that 2015 is going to be close.

But one thing’s for sure, thousands of expats will anxiously watch the results, frustrated, angry or just despondent that, despite their best efforts, this time their voice won’t be heard. And the money the UK Government/electoral office spent on targeted Facebook ads to encourage British Expats to register was, it would seem, a little bit redundant.

 

Life in Germany: All patriotic

Britain, Britishness, Culture, Frankfurt, Germany, Olympics

Perhaps it’s because I decided to leave England in the year the Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee (although I do keep accidentally referring to it as her Golden, sorry Ma’am) and the year London hosts the Olympic Games, but since I landed in Deutschland I feel as though I have become more patriotic. I will fiercely defend my homeland against anyone who has a bad word to say about it. In fact, I recently virtually slammed my own brother (via social media) for being “typically British” and ergo negative about our Olympic preparation efforts to give one example.

This isn’t to say that I wasn’t patriotic before I left the UK. It just seems to have come through all the stronger now I’m no longer a permanent resident of the motherland. And, although I have always been a champion of the Royal Family, now, they are the iconic symbol readily available for me wherever I am in need of a Great British fix. If we were ever to loose our monarchy I would be distraught. Yes, I know they cost us money. Yes, I know they are archaic. Yes, I know they don’t really carry much political clout, but to do away with our Royalty is to remove one of the few synonyms of Britishness.

Sure, there are events in British history that some people would rather forget; things that even make me balk at the idea of being associated with Great Britain. (The way we treated the people of the countries we took to be part of our Empire for example.) But I’m 99% sure that there are things in any country’s history that the people of that nation would rather were buried and forgotten. Some of these events are more recent than others.

The iconic “Broom Army” photo tweeted after 2011’s
riots as people took to the streets to clean up.

Watching the Olympic opening ceremony my heart swelled with pride at the fact that my home country had pulled off something that amazing. (In fact watching the opening ceremony is what has encouraged the thoughts for this post). Alright, some of it was typically British in humour and style and probably fell by unnoticed by those watching who weren’t British. But the Queen jumped out of a helicopter with Daniel Craig as 007 – that was a stroke of British genius! Aside from the quirks, what the ceremony did was unite the UK. The current scenes of the Olympics in London is a far cry from the scenes on the streets of Britain last summer. Both, however, have united a nation.

Certainly for me, living in another country has served to make me feel even more staunchly patriotic than I was in the UK. Although I hope never to the extent that I will refuse to learn and adapt and accept that other nation’s culture and language. Perhaps it is strange that it has taken uprooting myself and living in a foreign clime to realise how British I really am, but then again, perhaps what I needed to fully identify my sense of being a Briton was to emerge myself in a culture vastly different to what I knew and was familiar with.

Life in Germany: A visit to the British Consulate

Culture, emigration, Frankfurt, Germany

It’s been an eventful few weeks of life in Germany since my last post, involving broken elbows (not mine), lost passports (thankfully also not mine) and seeing some beautiful German countryside as my train zooms through it.

Last Wednesday I accompanied a friend visiting from the UK to the British Consulate in Dusseldorf in order to secure an emergency passport for her return home.
Beautiful German countryside
on our way to Dusseldorf

Let me explain how we came to need an emergency passport in the first place. A few days prior to our unscheduled trip to Dusseldorf my friend, Charlie, lost her bag, presumed stolen, in Frankfurt’s Hauptbahnhof. The Frankfurt British Consulate office informed her she could get an emergency passport to travel home on. However, only the Dusseldorf office would be able to issue one.

Bright and early Wednesday morning (after I had convinced staff at Charlie’s hostel to let me in and wake her up at 5am using a muddled early morning mix of Deutsch and English), we boarded an IC train and started our journey across Germany.

Some hours later, Charlie and I arrived in Dusseldorf Derendorf and attempted to find the British Consulate. In a way that only Charlie can, she accosted a man who alighted at our stop and in the strongest English Midlands accent first said, ‘Sprechen Sie English’ and then before the man could fully give his response, Charlie launched into ‘Do you know where the British Consulate is? Passport problems you see.’ Thankfully the man obliged, explained how to get to the Consulate and bid us good day.

She can go home!
Charlie with her Emergency Passport.

The Consulate itself is an understated building. The only clue this was the Consulate was the four Polizei standing outside and the Union Jack hanging slightly limply from its flagpole. As we approached, a darkened (and probably toughened) glass door opened and a cheery but serious German guard greeted us. Once he established we had an appointment we entered the building where we were ordered to hand over all electronic items, our bags were searched and a metal detector was run over us.

And to be honest, that’s all there is to say on our trip. Our time in the Consulate wasn’t especially interesting being as it involved form filling and a lot of waiting, but she got her passport! So on that note, I’ll sign off for another day. Tschuss!

 

Life In Germany: Challenging perspectives

Culture, emigration, Frankfurt, future

The longer I live in Germany the more I discover how ingrained my British culture is. I guess, though, it’s hardly surprising considering ALL my years of life thus far have been predominantly spent in England.

I’ve lived in Germany for almost two months and that time has opened my eyes to how tied my thoughts and perceptions of the world are to a British sensibility.

Before I moved I thought I was quite accepting of other cultures. In school and at university, despite living in predominantly white middle class areas, I’d had friends with all kinds of national backgrounds; Nigerian, Singaporean, Chinese, French, German, Indian, Greek, American, Welsh, the list goes on. At the time I thought I was embracing my friends’ cultures. But now I live in a foreign country I realise what I accepted was an Anglicised adaptation of their culture. I had an expectation that if you moved to my country you should speak my language and do things the way my country and culture dictated. However, somewhat naively, I had not considered that this notion should also work in reverse.

Now, to use an English idiom, the shoe is on the other foot. Let me give you an example, I would not expect someone in England to approach me and ask if I spoke German, Spanish, Urdu but yet I am fully prepared to ask someone in Germany if they speak English. This is the resounding impact of my British upbringing. Having realised this, I have a completely different perspective on the people I meet in my day to day who look at me slightly vexed and say “Nein” as I utter “Sprechen Sie Englisch bitte?” These people are pertaining the same expectation I have in my country of origin. Simply, “if you live in my country you should try to speak my language”.

And so while I will not renounced my Britishness, I am prepared to be more Germanic in my day to day – as I’ve already expressed in this blog, I am trying to master the German language as my own.

I draw the line at adopting the German’s version of tea though.

Please send supplies of Tetley and Yorkshire!

Life in Germany: Not all plain sailing

Culture, Frankfurt, Hope City Church, Life

Since my last post some unexpected things have happened.

Firstly I found myself jobless after nearly three weeks in the foreign country I have chosen to call home for the next year or so. Secondly, I was also potentially homeless.
What happened? I hear five concerned voices ask as they read. I could, at this juncture, go into some epic tale telling the woes of a English aupair, who struggled with a family who knew not her mother tongue. That however, would be a fabrication of fiction. The truth is, as is often the case, a little duller than that.
As previously mentioned, the little girl I had been charged to care for over the next three months did not know any English and I, for my part, had extremely patchy German with comparatively less knowledge about Deutsch than Eurozone politicians have on how to solve the international debt crisis. However, despite the challenges, I was confident that, given time, the child and I would eventually form a bond that bridged our language barrier and actually end up conversing in a glorious mix of German and English. I might not have been being terribly realistic I know, but I was willing to give it a shot.
This was not to be. Three weeks into aupairing, just as I managed to win over the girl and place the first foundations of our wonderful bridge, the mother tells me she fears the challenge of language between her daughter and I is too big to overcome. Another childcare solution would be found and I was free to look for another job and she would be willing to give references.
With that one sentence not only was the job that bought me to Germany gone, so too was the home I had planned to live in until my flat became available.
Most other people would, I suppose, accept defeat, move back home and try again later. I, however, am not most people. Instead I’ve chosen to believe that somewhere out there (are you paying attention Germany?) my perfect job awaits. And the housing thing? Well it just so happens that wonderful friends of mine from the UK who have also moved to Germany have a spare room. Sorted.
No one ever said living your dream was easy.
Germany, bring it on.

Life in Germany: Ist gleich England. Almost.

Culture, Frankfurt, Hope City Church

Would you believe I touched down in Germany ready and raring to completely immerse myself in German life, German culture and hopefully to at least gain an understanding of the German language a mere three (ish) weeks ago?

These weeks have simultaneously felt like an eternity and yet have wooshed passed in a flash of coffees, German verbs and cake; not to mention the wurst, kase and brot! In that time, whilst I still frequently have a blank look on my face as someone talks merrily away to me in Deutsch, I have to some extent gained a grounding in a language I could only before butcher everytime I opened my mouth. (That’s not to say I don’t still destroy it – I continually deal with Germans looking at me in incredulous disbelief after I’ve said something. And the little girl I look after tells me I don’t know German – which, ironically, she says in German.)

Hopefully the title of this post translates, roughly as “Life in Germany: It’s the same as England. Almost”. And really it is. I think I was all prepared for something completely and utterly different but actually, it’s not all that far removed from English life.

Have you ever seen so many varieties of Heinz sauces?

Sure, there are differences; driving on the right, (multiple) bins in train stations for all sorts of waste and attitudes towards smoking.

In Germany it’s much more acceptable to light up and cigarette advertising is prolific. In England, I forget the last time I saw an advert for cigarettes or any adverts where cigarettes featured in some small way. Here it’s hard to go more than a few 100 metres without bumping into something promoting smoking or cigarettes. You can even buy your ciggies from vending machines on the street! In the supermarkets by the tills where in England you’d find sweets and chewing gum and other ‘last minute buys’ you will find cigarettes and little miniature bottles of booze alongside the confectionery.

And I’m pretty sure I’ve never even SEEN a bin in an English train station except maybe in a quintessentially old English village in the backwaters of the countryside where it may quite conceivably be the ONLY public bin for miles. I’ve also never seen so many different Heinz sauces in one place, which a brief trip to the local store recently revealed. It was eye-opening, let me tell you. I didn’t even know half of those sauces existed!

I guess other people’s experiences might be hugely different, but for me, aside from wondering first thing in the morning what the strange language going on around me is, Germany isn’t as drastically different as I perhaps imagined it would be. Culture is all about “the way we do things ’round ‘ere” and I’m sure, as time wears on, more differences will arise, particularly when the time comes for me to brave things on my own. At the moment I am blissfully unaware what is a typical German trait and what is a quirk of the family I’m living with.

So for now, I’ll embrace the little differences and oddities that have cropped up into my everyday life and, at least for the time being, I’ll not be too upset about swapping my tea for coffee. I’d been going off tea anyway.

Hello Germany, I’m here!

Culture, emigration, Frankfurt, Hope City Church, Life

I made it. I actually made it.

Four (quite long) days ago I stepped off a plane and made my way to the Arrivals lounge of Frankfurt International Airport. There I was greeted by three Germans, ready to welcome me into their family for the next three months.

I type this in my new home in the middle of the German countryside watching Fireman Sam, or rather Feuerwehrmann Sam. It’s not quite how I remember it growing up as a child in England. Sam et al appear to have turned into Pontypandy’s super rescue A team; not only putting out fires and saving kittens from rooftops but becoming Pontypandy’s coastguard too.

I should probably point out that I’m watching Feuerwehrmann Sam on my own. Anna, the five-year old girl I’m here to look after for the next three months, is at Kindergarten. The TV is on to try and ease the eerie lack of noise in my new home (and also to help with my learning the German language.)

Everyone warns you moving country is a big deal, but no one quite prepares you for the change!

And it has definitely been a change. Taking everything I want for my life in Germany, and using only a plane to take it, somewhat limits what can be packed. Despite moving house over 12 times in the last eight years, I’ve often failed to clear out unwanted items; habit, time and personal nature resulted in me chucking most of what I own into the back of a car and hoping for the best.

This time, packing a Ford Feista to its gills was not an option. This time, I had just one large suitcase, one small suitcase and a handbag (thank God for BA’s generous hand luggage allowance!). This time, my whole life had to fit into 46kg give or take a few hundred grams.

I’m a natural hoarder (a gene I’ve inherited from my father who would keep anything ‘just in case’), so ruthlessly going through my clothes created THREE bags of items I no longer wore, and several pairs of shoes that had seen significantly better days. Not to mention the collection of general things I no longer used, picture frames, cables, jewellery, little gifts from people I’d never opened, unburned candles, endless toiletries I didn’t need. However even after getting rid of several bags worth of items it took me days to make everything I wanted/needed to fit in my suitcase. (And we’ll just not talk about the small collection of items I’ve wistfully left in England with the plea to anyone coming out to visit to bring an item or two with them…)

Now the drama of the cases is over and done with – well until the next move – the next challenge is settling into German life, learning the German language and not forgetting to drive on the right (so far I’ve not actually got behind the wheel of a car though so that’s not such a problem).

I do, however, really miss breakfast cereal.