So you move to a new country, you’ve found a new place to live, the boxes are unpacked, you’ve managed to negotiate the aisles of the supermarket, the public transport system and even know where to get your hair cut….. what you need now is friends.
Having been through the re-location process a few times I can say from experience that making friends can potentially be the biggest minefield that you will encounter. When we first moved to Hong Kong I went from having lots of friends from a very busy work and social life to NONE.
I joined lots of expat groups in an effort to find new friends. I did manage to fill my diary but sadly those coffee/lunch/cocktail dates were with people that I was trying desperately to replace my old friends with. I didn’t put too much thought into the process for at least the first 6 months. Then after one of those lightbulb moments I stood back and thought ‘who are all these crazy people and why am I spending so much time with them?’ Then I took a good look at what I was doing.
Not all of them were crazy and I still have a couple of amazing friends I am in touch with 6 years down the line. However, many of them were really not a good ‘fit’ friendship wise. They were acquaintances, but ones I was seeing 2 or 3 times a week, and committing so much time to them that I didn’t have enough time left to meet other people who may actually be a better ‘fit’. I often found myself going to lunch and halfway throughout thinking ‘what the hell am I doing here’, not laughing and enjoying the company of someone I wanted to be with. If you find yourself looking at an appointment in your diary and thinking ‘I’d rather stay home and do the ironing’ then be honest with yourself, the person you are meeting is not going to be a lifelong friend.
I think that expats are often guilty of lowering their standards when it comes to friends, I know I was…. It sounds a bit harsh but I think its the best way of describing what happens.
As I can now take a step back and look with new eyes I can also see how this has happened to both myself and other people I have met along the expat road. The desire to feel needed, part of a group, funny, sociable, accepted are all strong urges that many people feel want to fulfil.
My advice is, and it is something I do still today is to ask a few simple questions.
If this person left the country I am living in - would I go and visit them ?
If I left the country I am living in - would they come and visit me / would I want them to visit me ?
If I had a crisis could I call them at 3am ?
Will they tell me if my ass looks big in something ? (well maybe this isn’t as important as the other three but you get the idea)
Also, If you are meeting people through Expat Groups such as Internations, British Association and the American Womens Association etc choose wisely. You may instantly click with someone who has the same sense of humour or comes from the same city/country as you, but if that doesn’t happen maybe invest your time getting to know people who share your hobbies so you have something more than coffee and cocktails in common, and the friendship will have at least a good starting point.
Its good to remember that some people are more accommodating than others and can easily find themselves being the shoulder to cry on… the reality of the situation comes when they in turn need a shoulder and find themselves surrounded by people who don’t have time, or simply don’t care enough.
Lastly, and for me most importantly, is to spend time with people who you can be yourself around. For me personally I don’t want to have to analyse everything someone has said or how I think they might of interpreted what I said, or how their anger may be a reaction to something I said after something they said after I was late for a lunch that they think I did on purpose because they were late for coffee despite them having a crisis that they think I don’t understand because I was having a more important crisis and didn’t listen to their problem bla bla bla bla bla…….
Seriously LIFE IS TOO SHORT, and its certainly too short to spend time with fake friends….
When my husband travels for work he usually travels to big cities where the company have other offices. London, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sydney and Singapore are regular features on his yearly calendar. If he is going for more than 3 days I like to go with him - especially as I've I've lived there and still have friends....
Its a great opportunity to have a short break, you can visit interesting places that maybe you wouldn't go on holiday (Seoul, South Korea was never on my travel list but it was a great city for 3 days) you don't have to make the bed, or cook dinner - whats not to like?. You can see an exhibition of Wedding Dresses at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London or spend hours people watching in Central Park New York without anyone moaning about it.
As I've said before, I really enjoy traveling and I am quite a happy solo tourist, also, I think it adds some interest for him, especially on the evenings he doesn't have client dinners or meetings. And really, my alternative is being home alone, which has often been in a place where I don't have a social network of friends to hook up with.....
I do still spend quite a bit of time alone On the evenings he has work dinners I have to entertain myself. My choice is either room service, a fast food stop or a solo dinner.
I learnt at an early age when I travelled for work if I didn't get over the 'I don't want to go to a restaurant alone' thing then I had a life of bad room service and take away food to look forward to. I usually have a queue of books on my iPad waiting to be read, so I take this with me, in case there aren't any interesting people to watch! I find most restaurants are used to solo diners, sometimes you get hidden away in the corner, but I usually ask for a table where I can see some activity. I usually make a point of telling the waiter that's I don't want to be rushed (as is often the tendency when you are alone). I want to enjoy my meal as I would if I was with company.... And it's never a problem.
The one thing it is important to remember, especially if you are in a new city, is to restrict how much wine you drink. The only person getting you back to the hotel is you, and sadly it doesn't matter where you are in the world or how safe the city is, there is alway a risk attached to being tipsy and alone in the evening.
Also be prepared to be able to politely decline any unwanted attention.
A short 'that's very flattering but I'm joining my husband and his colleagues after dinner' will usually do the trick. Especially as most guys have fragile egos and won't want to be rejected twice !
If any situation gets out of hand the restaurant will usually help out and call you a cab so you don't have to resort to climbing out of a toilet window !!.
In over 20 years of dining alone I've never had any major problems or felt physically threatened, however it's just good sense to be aware that not everyone out there can be taken at face value. (Or maybe I watch too many American crime dramas!)
Solo dining also has many advantages, like with being a solo tourist, there is no compromise to be made. If you want to eat pizza you can, you don't have to consider that your husband/partner had pizza at his lunch meeting. You can be fabulously selfish !
Of course I would always rather have dinner with my husband, but Im certainly glad I took the step to eating out alone a long time ago. I have had some amazing food experiences, and sadly have forgotten most of the restaurants names. - why wasn't trip advisor around 20 years ago? Some fabulous restaurants have been reduced to descriptions like 'a tiny restaurant, next to a pub on a side street in Bantry Bay'... Which isn't very helpful to anyone going to Bantry Bay.... In fact even I would struggle to find many of the places myself... But that could also be age...
Sushi Ann was as close to being in Japan as I have ever been outside japan ! The guys behind the counter even shout out greetings as we entered. They were incredibly busy when I went with my husband for lunch and we booked a day ahead and got the last 2 seats at the sushi counter.
We chatted a little to our waitress and she was charming, telling us how amazing Japanese chocolate is (I have to agree) but also how expensive it is to buy in NYC.
The sushi chefs - I think there were 8 - were constantly busy turning out amazing platters of beautifully presented sushi and sashimi and everything we ate was amazingly fresh.
If you are new to sushi and sashimi thus us a great place to come as the quality us excellent... If you are a sushi lover (like me) or Japanese then you will love Sushi Ann.
From the outside we were not too impressed. I think had we been walking by we probably would not even consider DBGB. The Maitre'd at Betony had suggested this place and since he had also suggested Carbone, we decided to give it a try.
Owner Daniel Boulud created this as his downtown casual dining restaurant. The menu represents this. there are sausages and burgers alongside oyster and seafood platters. The inside is very industrial and the music a bizarre rock/punk/pop mixture. We had the music explained to us, its because the restaurant is named after the famous CBGB club that was a few doors away. Suddenly listening to The Pixies, The Cure and Red Hot Chilli Peppers over dinner made sense (kind of).
The waitress was lovely, attentive and happy to explain anything we questioned. We had oysters and fried calamari to start. I have had some calamari disasters in New York and I am pleased to say that this was not on of them. The batter was light and the calamari cooked perfectly. Next course we both had burgers. They were perfect. A good combination of juicy without making the bun too soggy. Lots of toppings and they come with fries.
We were here on a Wednesday evening and it wasn't too busy, but if you want to get a table in the back dining room I'd suggest booking in advance. They also have a table in the kitchen which I think would be interesting too.
DBGB Bar and Kitchen, 299 Bowery Street, NY 10003 Tel 212 933 5300
I love coming to New York. We had visited many times before we lived upstate for 2 years and so have done the regular touristy things many times. so now there is no real 'to do' list and we can just enjoy being there. Whenever my husband says he has a trip to New York I jump online - price up flights and google new restaurants all at the same time as mentally preparing a shopping list.
There are so many things I buy when I am in the USA and vitamins is one of them. I stock up for a year on high quality food state vitamins. This quality is not available at all in Switzerland and although I can buy them in the UK they cost about 3 times as much. I also love stores like Century 21, Loft, Banana Republic, Nine West and Michael Kors. One of the great things about travel and visiting places regularly is that you really can cherry pick things to buy and where to get them at the best prices. This time we are also lucky as the dollar is quite weak against the Swiss Franc so everything is even cheaper than normal - even better !!
This trip was in June and so it was quite hot in the city. This was not idea shopping weather but still bearable. What did strike me this time was how well dressed the New York women were. I have never see so many women in colourful pretty dresses.... or at least I never noticed before. Maybe I have become a bit too used to the Swiss style of dressing and it was always like this, and now I notice because of the contrast, or maybe there are just more dress choices available in the stores...I'm not sure the reason....Of course there were exceptions however for the most part I suspect these were tourists from out of town or elsewhere in the world. On one day whilst walking to central park I just took some candid shots of people just going about their business - wearing dresses. The photos are below and were taken within about 30 minutes.
I LOVE dresses, and wear them often - despite being told that when I passed 40 I was too old to wear them (by a Swiss woman I feel I must add) and seeing so many around the city made me excited to get home to my colourful dress collection.
Created by Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick this restaurant featured in the Time Out best new restaurants in New York City of 2014 list, so I was excited to give it a try.
No problem being a solo diner here. I booked for lunch and unfortunately my husband had a lunch meeting (again). I got a nice table in the middle of a row at the wall with a view of the restaurant. It wasn't full - which I was quite surprised about, but I guess its such a big city destinations for lunch can often take 30 mins just to get to.
I was given some yummy garlic bread and warm mozzarella as a complimentary appetiser. It was excellent Just the right combination of flavours, and not too much that it would spoil my appetite for the starter ordered.
My first course - Minestrone soup - was a deceptive description. It was nothing like minestrone, except the presence of pasta and some beans.. it was very minty with a definite green tinge..bean and mint would be a much more accurate description. It was however very fresh tasting and light. I'd order it again in a heartbeat. Sadly though, no soup spoon - which is one of my pet irritants in restaurants in the USA.
My next course - vongole was amazing. Lots of flavour fresh herbs and just the right amount of garlic. It had a fabulous spicy kick too. If I lived here I'd eat this weekly !!
I saw desserts being delivered to other tables and they looked delicious, but I had eaten too much to order one !
Service was excellent attentive without being overbearing. I'd highly recommend Carbone to anyone.
It's not cheap and almost impossible to get a table In the evening but book in advance or go for lunch !
181 Thompson Street, between Bleecker & Houston New York, NY 10012 Tel 212 933 0707
I went mid week for a tea and a scone. It was not too busy but as I was leaving there were lots of people arriving for lunch. Friends had recommended Alice's Tea Cup and they weren't wrong.
The choice of teas was almost too much so I actually stopped reading the menu and just asked for peppermint! There was even a choice of mint teas !
I had ham and cheese scone which was fresh and tasty. It was nicely baked with a slightly crunchy outside and nice fluffy inside. What more can you ask for. The restaurant itself is obviously themed in Alice in Wonderland. The tea cups and chairs were must and match and there were quotes from the story painted on the walls.
There is also a large room upstairs that was being used for a small children's tea party when I was there. This would be a cool place for tea and cakes if you are a little girl ! Service was also excellent, really nothing I could find wrong with Alice's Tea Cup.
Alice's Tea Cup Chapter II 156 East 64th St. New York 10021 +1 212 486 9200
Everything from the moment we walked in the door was amazing. The maître d Bradford was charming, professional and offered us a choice of table. It got very busy quickly and they turned a few people away - so my advice would definitely be to book in advance!
We ordered the Foie Gras bon bons and the lobster roll. OMG they were both amazing. the foie gras was a taste explosion. we were so excited about the flavours we ordered the marinated scallops. these were just the right balance of citrus and scallop. Delicious.
Tomato snow and gooseberry Amuse Bouche was amazing. When it came I did a little inward eye roll at the ‘tomato snow’ but i was quickly eating not only the snow but my words. It was just awesome.
Our starters were the same - Hen’s egg tagliatelle with Ham Hock.It was almost perfect. A little more salt and it would of got 100% !!
For our main courses I had the grilled short rib which was perfectly cooked, though a little too fatty for my taste. My husband thought it was amazing. He had the poached lobster and he thoroughly enjoyed it.We didn't have desserts as we had eaten far too much by this point. Everything was amazing.
This was certainly one of the best meals we have had in a long time, and we generally don't eat badly, as I think my other reviews show! I thoroughly recommend Betony. Everything about our experience was perfect.
Betony 41 West 57th, Street New York. 10019 212 465 2400
Behind a red curtain in the hotel lobby is the door to the Burger Joint. A great little place with AMAZING burgers. The tables are a bit battered, and there is graffiti everywhere adding to the 'hole in the wall' idea. It's fast food style - everything comes in paper with paper plates, and wine and beer in plastic cups. ? This quite clever as it also cuts down on the staff they need as you throw your own rubbish away at the end of the meal. (2 extra bodies bringing food and clearing tables would reduce the space for customers in this tiny spot).
The menu is limited - burgers or cheeseburgers, red wine or beer (or soft drinks) but if you do something this well - why deviate.
The burgers were juicy without being greasy. The fries were tasty - possibly a flavoured sale sprinkled on them ?? And the red wine despite coming out of a bad and being served in a plastic cup was surprisingly drinkable. Speedy service in this word of mouth kind of place and there was still a queue out of the door. I will DEFINITELY be back again !
They have menus with tick boxes on the wall outside the door for non English speakers, reducing the room for error !
I also just discovered it got in The Guardian top ten New York burgers in 2011 too.
The Burger Joint.
Le Parker Meridien, 119 West 56th St.
A Happy Spouse = A Happy House.....Becoming a Desperate Housewife ?? I'd heard the phrase 'A Happy Spouse = A Happy House' in the run up to our first move. We were having dinner with some of my husbands colleagues who had been re-located to London. At first I dismissed it as rubbish dreamt up in an HR dept where they constantly heard the cries of misery from their relocated employees. As the discussion progressed I became more aware of the responsibilities that would fall on my shoulders and also how I had underestimated what my role in the overseas assignment would be.
I learnt that my husbands company actually made financial commitments to the spouses of their employees. They would contribute to the cost of language lessons in Hong Kong for example. They also hired a relocation specialist who would drive us around for a few days and help out on a practical level. She helped us to find a new home, told us how the transport system worked, took us to supermarkets and gave us great information about English speaking doctors and dentists. So they did take the Happy Spouse = Happy House seriously. I was however, still a little reluctant to embrace the Expat Wife title, after I had spent years working hard and retaining my independence. I didn't want to be reduced to being a 'housewife' I had so much to learn !!
Let me say that with or without children the role of the Expat Wife is neither a small nor an easy one. Its challenging, sometimes stressful, often frustrating but actually quite rewarding.
I'm sure there are lots of people out there with books and or therapy sessions to dissect the issues. but for me it was simple. I just had to stop resisting the inevitable, I was a housewife and a 'dependant' and it even said so on the visa page stuck in my passport!! There was nothing I could do about the situation, or my new 'title', but there was something I could do about how I dealt with it. I embraced it.
I thought about the times I had spent sitting in my office in London wishing I had more time to learn to take better photographs, wondering how hard it would be to make pasta from scratch, wanting to spend more time playing golf and dreaming about studying for a Batchelors Degree. When I found myself in Hong Kong, I realised I actually had the time to do all of these things. Why was a wasting time complaining about being a 'housewife' ? I now had the luxury I had so often dreamed of. This is one of the first bits of advice I give whenever I meet new expats struggling to come to terms with their new status. EMBRACE THE LUXURY OF TIME.
I started to take Cantonese lessons, I joined the YWCA and took some cookery classes, I volunteered at a local dog rescue as a dog walker - I later became involved in fund raising for them also, during the time we lived in Hong Kong and Singapore I completed a Social Science honours degree with the Open University. This expat lark wasn't too bad after all.
I did of course meet many women who were desperately unhappy. I met a woman who drove herself (and those in earshot) crazy trying to recreate America in Asia, and always complaining that she couldn't find a particular brand of breakfast cereal or cookie mix, and a woman who gained kilos as she spent most of the day on the sofa eating crisps and biscuits watching British TV shows. What most of the unhappy women I met had in common was their lack of desire to embrace their new lifestyle. One woman in particular who was from Chicago. She hated that her husband worked such long hours and travelled a lot. He was a lawyer and earned LOADS of money. I reminded her that he didn't get paid his big salary for nothing and that it was his long hours that enabled her to live the lifestyle she had. My words fell on deaf ears. She was miserable, and when he got home from the office or back from a trip, she nagged him and cried. He was committed to a 3 year contract, there was nothing he could do, she was adding to his stress. He dealt with it the only way he knew how - he worked longer hours to stay away from the drama at home. She was in a terrible cycle. She was negative about everything in Hong Kong, and consequently the new friends she made didn't stick around for long. She stayed in Hong Kong for about 7 months before she left the island and her husband and returned the USA
It was then that I realised the importance of Happy Spouse = Happy House. And it has a lot to do with attitude and your own self worth. I see my role as the person who keeps the wheels of the household turning as vital to our marriage. I don't complain that I have to collect the dry cleaning, I see this as one of the tasks in the job description 'Housewife'. What I do is I try to make sure I have something nice/interesting to do on a daily basis or at least something to look forward to. It might be as small as lunch with a friend or it could be as exciting as flying to New York to spend time with my husband while he is working there. These things give me something to smile about and something to focus on when I am mopping the floors, and also give me endless things to chat about and giggle with my husband over when we sit down to dinner together.
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