In a turning of the tables, I have been asked by the lovely Claire of My Theory on Blooming to answer a few questions about being an expat (you may recall that Claire featured as our very funny and insightful January expatter on The Expat Mama meets…). So this is a conversation that originates on Instagram, and I’ll be tagging more expats on there to (hopefully) keep the conversation going, remember to tag me back though so I can link up to your answers! You can find me on Insta at @theexpatmama (of course!)
So, here goes….
Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live?
I was born in Northern Ireland but grew up just outside of Liverpool in the UK. And now I’m living in the far more exciting location of Singapore (not to diss Liverpool, but Singapore is far less grey and drizzly)!
What made you leave your home country?
A combination of things really- Brexit, boredom, wanting a better future for my kids….the fact that my husband was offered a job overseas just acted as a catalyst for something that we were both thinking about anyway. It was the push we needed to make a move happen. We hadn’t actually considered Singapore before, it just sort of happened and all fell into place at exactly the right time in exactly the right way.
What type of reactions do you get when you meet new people and tell them where you are from?
Ha! I’m sure I’m not the only person to get the completely unoriginal “calm down, calm down” comments, or something about nicking your tyres. Or, as is more often the case in Singapore, I’m told I don’t sound like I’m from Liverpool. Everyone seems to know the city though- football has a lot to say for that I think!
What was the easiest/hardest part in adjusting to your new country?
With no language barriers (or at least no significant one’s), it was very easy to adjust to living in Singapore. Plus it’s true that you can get ANYTHING here, so once I’d figured out things like supermarkets, post office, public transport etc we were pretty set. Saying that, there are still some things that take me by surprise (like buying a roasting chicken from the supermarket only to get home and discover it’s quite literally a WHOLE chicken…). Not quite Sainsburys!
Hardest is without a doubt the culture here, specifically the treatment of domestic helpers. I completely understand why there is a need for foreign domestic workers (their official title)- both in the economic sense and the lifestyle sense. People work long hours here, wrap around childcare isn’t as readily available as it is in the UK (and costs a fortune), and they’re a widely accepted part of society here and as such there is no stigma attached to having a helper at home. But at the same time, I find myself hugely in the minority for not having a helper and for doing regular stay at home mum stuff with my kids (nothing fancy, just taking my kids to the playground or for a kick about with a football). I’ve witnessed crying children being ignored – or worse – by the family’s helper, and I’ve seen helper’s working all hours of the day and night looking exhausted and clearly being mistreated. I find the lack of transparency and regulation into their working environments a concern (to put it mildly) – for both the helper and the family.
Are there any images, words or sounds that sum up the expat experience you’ve had so far?
Eye opening, expensive, distinct aromas (durian…YUCK), sweat patches, Skype, new friendships, beating homesickness, chicken rice, sunshine, cultural mish mash, gecko’s…
Your favorite food or drink item in your new country?
This is totally unoriginal but chicken rice…I mean, seriously, how can rice and chicken taste so damn good? Now that we’re quite settled here and the kids are not so suspicious of everything you put in front of them we’ve started to be a little bit more adventurous with trying new things at food courts and hawker centres. There’s a hawker place not far from where we live that does unbelievable egg plant. I don’t know what they do to it but it’s covered in oil and chili and garlic, and is basically the stuff of my dreams. We’re also quite partial to a Milo dinosaur or fresh coconut (ideally from the Tekka Centre because the Milo dinosaurs come with rainbow sprinkles too…), and you can’t go wrong with a watermelon juice with tonnes of ice- THE hangover cure.
What’s the one thing you said “yes” to in your new city that you wouldn’t say “yes” to back home?
I don’t really know, to be honest! I’ve always been quite a “yes” sort of person, I think you’d naturally have to be to agree to this sort of life change.
Are there any cultural norms/phrases in your new country which you cannot stand?
See above question re: helpers….
The other cultural norm that I would go as far as to say I cannot stand is the way complete strangers take photo’s of kids. I’m told it’s to show people “back home”. But seriously….taking photo’s of kids without their permission or their parents permission is not ok in my book. There is nothing so fascinating about my fair skinned and fair haired kids that anyone should be able to just walk up to them and put a camera in their face, or stealthily try and take a picture while we’re out somewhere. It’s weird, it’s unnecessary and it’s a complete violation of privacy. It also does nothing to quell the tide of obnoxious and overly-entitled little white expat kids when people are desperate for a photo of or with them like they’re pint sized celebrities. It’s not normal, right?!
What do you enjoy most doing in your new country?
We have a very chilled, family oriented lifestyle here, which I love. On a day when we don’t fancy going anywhere we can just laze about by the pool- the novelty of that still hasn’t worn off! Otherwise we do try and get and about exploring Singapore. There’s so much touristy stuff that we haven’t done yet, but we’re not in any rush as we live here! Jaunts to Marina Bay Sands are nothing major anymore…so surreal! Saying that, having a pool and great weather almost everyday means that a weekend at home isn’t too shabby either, and the novelty of just being able to chill around the pool with neighbours and friends (and a bottle of wine) most definitely hasn’t worn off yet!
Do you think you will ever move home for good?
I don’t know to be honest. I don’t think we’ll stay here, but I’m not sure the UK will be the home we remember by the time we consider going back. It probably won’t be part of Europe for a start, so we’ll have to look at what the Visa constraints are for EU nationals at that point. And then there are the changes that are taking place, albeit in a perhaps more subtle way, such as more taxes of middle class families like ourselves, privatisation of the NHS, an increasingly unaffordable property market- I’m not in any rush to return to that stressful existence! And also…the weather is not exactly appealing….
Having said that, you never know what life will bring next and there are lots of positive reasons to go home permanently at some point too. At the moment, with it not being even a topic for discussion, I just can’t imagine a when, where or why. But it’s not ruled out, it’s just difficult to imagine when the future looks a little grey for the UK- for us anyway.