Update on my radio silence

The blog has been very quiet this spring, with good reason…My husband and I welcomed our little boy into the world on April 19th! Parenthood is keeping us busy and I am currently on maternity leave from my library job. I plan to continue with the blog though am giving some thought as to what I want to write about since obviously my time is less taken up with the usual library/music/professional things and rather more nappy changes/keeping up with baby laundry/napping and feeding me and baby.

I’ve got a few bookshelf posts in the pipeline. Any other suggestions or feedback, please leave me a comment. Thanks for reading!

 

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My expat stand up routine – Expat life part 3

I’ve been getting into my standup comedy recently. I especially like the expat comedians and the provincial comics (sorry if I have just insulted a whole group of comics). There’s something very funny about people talking about their homeplaces and being Liverpudlian/Yorkshire/Indian/etc and fitting in here. I don’t have the courage to do standup so, presented here in the safety of my own blog, is my wannabe standup routine.

First, in all fairness, I have to take the mick from my own country, and specifically the South. Or as some call it, the Bible Belt.

I grew up going to a little whitewashed country church. Max capacity 100, or 120 when the deacons got the folding chairs out for Christmas and Easter. Southerners love church.

Almost as much as we love going to football games. AMERICAN FOOTBALL not SOCCER, that is.

The New Orleans Saints, our local NFL team, were notoriously terrible for decades. But we were proud of them, in a notional way. They were so bad, there was a point when fans would come to games and wear paper bags over their heads with eye holes cut out.

Because they were too embarrassed to be seen.

But still wanted to go to the game.*

Like I said, we love our football.

We are also very friendly (they don’t call it “Southern” hospitality for nothing). We have no qualms about asking a stranger all about their family and where they grew up and we’ll go to great lengths to find somebody or other that is a mutual friend.

The scary thing is you usually can.

Yard art is another important feature of Southern life. You’ve got your tasteful refurbished cast iron sugar kettles turned into water features, your sundials and bottle trees and your ‘Gone fishing’ signs.

Then there are the plastic pink flamingos, the giant inflatable Santa/Frosty/Rudolphs at Christmas, and another Christmas favourite (true story) the decorative gutted deer hanging up with white and red lights festooned appropriately.

 

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Azalea image, CC0 Public Domain from pixabay.com

Deer hunting is an important touchstone in the year for some folks. The hunting season coincides with the college football season in the autumn, so that is generally a busy time of year for us.

The other seasons might be described as Azalea / Hay Fever season (Spring), Gallons of Iced Tea season (Summer) and Glasses of Iced Tea season (all year round).

So drink iced tea, attend church and take up football and hunting, and you’re well on your way to mastering Southerner 101. And I haven’t even gotten started on the food…

The final post in this series and first of the New Year will be some gentle ribbing of the muddy island I now call home. In the meantime, I wish you a very Merry Christmas!

*For the first time in my life, I am paying attention to NFL this season (thanks BBC’s NFL This Week). The Saints are currently a meh 5-8, but apparently Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Who Dat!

Hiya, Ey up, Where y’at, or How to talk to expats – Expat life part 2

Language is a beautiful thing but it does have its quirks. I spent 20-odd years in the States then moved over here. I am undeniably American in culture, outlook and of course accent (we’ll get to this later). Traveling and living abroad is great because it broadens your perspective and has changed my viewpoints on various issues. However there are some points I’ve observed about interacting with locals and what I try to do myself in terms of welcoming and feeling welcomed. I’ve framed some of these below through the common questions I get asked. Obviously the big disclaimer to this post is that *these are my own views and opinions and do not necessarily represent views and opinions of other expats.*

“Are you [insert nationality here]?”
Some people get offended if you get their nationality wrong. I have been guilty of this myself, and have been on the receiving end as well. However I find it hilarious when people think I’m Canadian or Irish (both true examples). Even if you’re 99% sure, the better path is to just ask…

“Where are you from?”
Don’t guess, just ask!

“What do you think about Trump/Obama/other political figure?”
This can go either way so tread carefully! I used to not get asked this very often. However the past six months of this crazy US election season, I’ve seen a massive upswing as EVERYONE is now asking me about politics. I don’t mind and see it as an opportunity to share what’s actually going on in my country beyond the news bites. The main thing is ask with an open mind and view to opening a dialogue.

“Don’t you miss home?”
This question is problematic on so many levels for me. My only response options being, No, I’m a heartless automaton that doesn’t miss home, or, HECK YES I MISS HOME! DAFTEST QUESTION EVER. Instead I suggest asking…

“What do you miss about home?”
Rather than feeling homesick, this then gives me the opportunity to tell you about all the awesome stuff about my country like Southern hospitality, crawfish boils, stable weather day to day, jambalaya, iced tea, college sports, Thanksgiving…

“What was the biggest difference or the hardest thing to adjust to when you arrived?”
This is a good one. The expat can voice an opinion/beef and the questioner learns something new about both countries.

“Do you get to go back?”
Another that can go either way, depending on how close your next trip home is.

“Your accent hasn’t changed much.”
I usually say something like, give it another 20 years, then it might. I spent the first 21 years of my life in the US, so of course I sound American and that doesn’t change with a plane ride! However my family says my accent has changed and it definitely gets thicker when I go home. So check back with me on this one in say, another 15 years.

Agree? Disagree? Let’s start a conversation in the comments.

Next week, my expat wannabe stand-up routine.

Deep South travelogue – Food

Part two of my travelogue of our recent visit back to the States. For the first post on Southern culture click here. The Southern United States is renowned for its cuisine, and oh my goodness, we ate so much good food I don’t know where to start. I’ll just recap geographically.

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Southern cookbook section at Lemuria Books (also worth a visit) in Jackson. Yes, there were about 12 shelves of cookbooks.

  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Tío Javi’s (the rebranded Ninfa’s) serves some of the best Mexican food you can get this side of, well, Mexico. Our family has been eating there for decades. Now that we’re all Baton Rouge exiles, we have to make special pilgrimages for the tortillas and the fajita platters and the chips and salsa and queso dip…

CC’s Coffee House is the coffee shop outlet of storied Louisiana coffee company, Community Coffee (disclaimer- my dad used to work there so I’m a bit biased). Besides great coffee and pastries, a lot of the shops incorporate traditional Louisiana decor. When I was driving 1 hour each way for violin lessons in Baton Rouge, I used to stop at CC’s on the way home for a pick-me-up coffee.

  • Jackson, Mississippi

Two Sisters serves quintessential Southern home cooking, the “meat and three” (meat puts three sides). Buffet style, there was fried chicken, collard greens, stewed sweet potatoes, fried okra, biscuits, bread pudding with rum sauce, iced tea… plus a salad bar! A bunch of famous people have eaten there and the walls are covered with autographed photos. Funnily enough the only one I immediately remember was John McCain!

We were recommended Pig and Pint in the hip Fondren district and it was AMAZING. A barbecue and beer joint in a refurbished gas station, you can’t get much more American than that. We got barbecue nachos and ribs and I left thinking, “why is the first time I’ve  eaten barbecue nachos 2016?” The staff were really friendly too and the place was filled with all the trophies they’ve won for their barbecue (yes there are barbecue competitions).

Mexikale, one word, empanadas (Mexican version of Cornish pasties). Go there and eat them.

We went to Sugar’s Place in downtown Jackson for breakfast. Cheap and tasty and the grits were bringing back all my childhood memories.

Cups in Fondren looks great from a refurbishment but the coffee (student size, with a shot of hazelnut) tasted exactly the same as when I first ordered it in freshmen year. And it was still full of students and people enjoying the atmosphere and the coffee.

Deep South travelogue – Culture

We were recently back in the USA and had an absolutely fabulous time traveling across four states. Great food, hospitality, shed loads of culture and history, consistently warm weather – the Deep South has a lot going for it in my view! We didn’t do too much tourist stuff but here a few cultural highlights from Jackson, Mississippi. Foodie highlights coming in another post.

I hadn’t planned on visiting any libraries, but two serendipitously appeared on our programme. And by programme, I mean laid-back mooching around Jackson during the second week of the trip. My dad took us around Jackson State University, a historically African American university where he lectures and we got a tour of their recently refurbished library. The ground floor was revamped to be what would be termed a ‘learning/information commons’ here. They’ve dubbed the space ‘digital intellectual commons’ and it was primarily flexible study areas and zero book stacks (those are upstairs), and also a makerspace and an A/V recording area. Since it was summer it was quiet, but apparently it’s a buzzy atmosphere in term time. I loved all the colourful furniture and though I prefer a quiet study space, it would be great for group work. (Sorry for my poor quality phone photos!)


My sister took us to visit the Carroll Gartin Justice building which houses the Mississippi Supreme Court and the Mississippi Law Library. The building is a stunning, grandiose neo-Classical behemoth completed in 2006 (for better pictures click here). We took a peek in the beautiful courtrooms (I pretended I was in Law & Order) and we were given a tour of the State Law Library by the Librarian Stephen Parks. He defied all librarian stereotypes by being young, male and super friendly. The library is old school…I’m talking wooden desks, light gently filtering through big windows, brass sconces, and beautifully bound law books everywhere. The library serves all the State Courts, law school students and the general public. Stephen pointed out a framed photograph of a Victorian looking lady and said this was Helen D. Bell, the first female state librarian and, if I remember correctly, the first female state employee. The policy in the 1800s was that a man would be elected law librarian and then appoint a woman to actually do the job – until 1896 when Bell was elected in her own name. Way to go 19th century Mississippi feminists!

Another highlight was meeting Mr. Elbert Hilliard, living legend and director emeritus of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) where my sister works. I saw his signature on many a document when I was volunteering in the MDAH Collections department. And also I have to mention the wonderful Elizabeth Coleman, MDAH volunteers coordinator, and the reason for our visit that day who apparently has some aristocratic relations in the UK! I would love to stay in the family castle sometime, Elizabeth. Just saying.

We also got an aerial view of the two new museums that MDAH are currently building, the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, opening in 2017 to celebrate the bicentennial of Mississippi’s statehood. Exciting times! I can’t wait to visit when they’re open!

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My twin sister and I (can you tell who’s who??) in front of the Museum of Mississippi History (on the left with the columns) and Civil Rights Museum (on the right) linked with that glass bit.