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Cattle Class Carnage

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For distant expats, visiting friends and family can mean long, frequent flights. And, unless you’re one of the lucky few to afford first class, the journey in economy can leave you feeling like a second class citizen. Cramped conditions, hostile hostesses and pissed up passengers; this article takes a look at some of the stresses in cattle class.

In the cattle class cabin, time, space and social status temporarily lose their meaning.

And when you’re in it for the long-haul, you can also lose your sanity.

Trapped in a vacuum of constricted space, artificial air and inactivity[1], intense boredom and exhaustion ensues causing thoughts to become foggy and social norms unclear.

It seems on every flight there is at best a little disquiet, at least one fright, and at worse, a fight.

At least according to my experiences.

Returning from India, I animatedly argued with a hostile holidaymaker; going to Mexico I accidently knocked red wine onto a passengers pale pants; and, after a 12 hour flight to Thailand, my legs swelled so severely I truly believed it was game over.

But the best was in 2010 when emigrating to Australia. Toasting the trip with too much champagne and wine, I subsequently swallowed a strong sleeping pill in a bid to beat the lethargy on landing. Not recommended; I have zero recollection but was apparently rather raucous for some time.

Fast-forward five years; less uptight and with multiple 24 hour trips under my seat belt, including several solo sprees with an infant, I can finally class myself as a composed and accomplished commuter. Well for the most part.

Because there are several things in the questionable conditions of the cattle class cabin that can still rouse a reaction;

Aviation agitation: Most airliners carry an air of anxiety.  While once I flew without fear, excessive media coverage of rare catastrophes and perhaps some parental vulnerability have left me a little shaky. Sure, I still manage to look like a relaxed, rational and fearless flyer – in fact, I still enjoy the turbulence. But now I start the journey checking out people at check-in; deliberating their destinies and pondering potential terrorists. And I’m not the only anxious one; once on-board strong turbulence or strange sounds spark a surge of suspicious, stressed out glances as some silently pray for their survival.

Reclining seat etiquette:  The front runner of in-flight fiascos. On a recent night flight to Dubai, the passenger behind not so passively protested the reasonable reclining of my seat through forceful kicks and hard to ignore loud-mouthed objections. Something of a showdown arose. But when I realised the drunkenness of the people I was dealing with, I quickly backed down. Indignantly though, I kept my seat low. And while leg-room is already too confined[2], I hold the view that particularly on a red eye, that’s what it’s there for you to do?!

Sleep stresses: Gawping, drooling and snoring side by side with strangers. Anyone would think it’s an everyday occurrence. However, I have absolutely nothing but envy for the slobbering sleepers. Because on a plane, noise and neck pain make nodding off near impossible. I’ll often wake elated that I napped. Then sadly see I fell asleep for all of 40 seconds. It’s a fairly frustrating affliction to scan a sea of snoozing passengers when you’re desperate to be dozing too!

Provoking passengers: By the end of my Melbourne to Manchester expedition, two families felt like long-time friends. They chatted with me, helped entertain my toddler and saved my sanity! Alas, on the return from Manchester I wasn’t so lucky. Half the passengers were plastered. And tanked up travellers are a tad irritating unless you’re one of them. But it’s not just the intoxicated that can aggravate. Toilet tardiness, stinkers, sprawlers and loud talkers are common causes for complaint. It’s no wonder that in the air, under a guise of anonymity, tempers often flare.

Trolley torture; The cuisine carrying cart can be a highlight of the flight. And while the food is low quality, it’s a welcome break from the monotony up high. You pop your head into the aisle, but are disappointed to see it’s going to take a while. Worse, your parallel passengers are triggering further tension by already tucking in! And when at last it finds your row, it can be a real blow when those in front choose the last of your first choice, leaving only a dish you despise.

Hostile hostesses: Air stewards; the pedigree of hospitality[3]. The majority of carefully coiffed cabin crew are genial, gracious, good-looking and glamorous. Especially on Emirates.  Yet on every leg, one is sure to sport a sour face. Whether passenger contempt, job dissatisfaction or an oddly overblown ego; when you’re stuck on a plane reluctantly reliant for your requirements, it can only take one hostile host to add an extra strain.  

Screaming kids: These in-air disturbances can be intensely annoying until you have your own. Then they’re even more annoying. Because being disturbed by someone else’s screaming child is nowhere near as stressful as dealing with one. People who hold the notion that parents’ should, and can, continuously control their kids are clearly childless. Or old enough to have blocked out the bedlam. So while smug solo sky surfers are free to drink wine, watch films, listen to music and nod off when the feeling arises, albeit uncomfortably, poor parents are captive to the needs of bored, overtired and wired maniacs. And they are probably on the verge of losing it. So for those not so subtle sighers; lose the attitude before we lose our temper!

So, in cattle class, as we are propelled across multiple time zones and continents at 35,000 feet, we can sometimes lose our head.

Until finally we reach our final destination. And as quickly as we were sucked into the chaos of the cabin, we are swiftly spat out, disorientated, dishevelled and despondent.

Suddenly, any commotion that occurred in the clouds is downgraded to a distant dream like memory.

You made it.

The only thing left to worry about is death by Deep Vein Thrombosis.

What do you find annoying or amusing about cattle class? And what’s your view on the important topic of reclining seat etiquette? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences!  

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[1] Some airlines are making improvements for herds of travelling cattle

[2]This new plane could mean more leg-room for cattle customers and could also help aggressive cows keep their cool

[3] I appreciate air stewards are more than ‘hospitality’ but I liked the phrase so i kept it.

Upside Down Expat

The Decision Dilemma

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Home is where the heart is. A cliché with a lot of truth. But what if our heart is in two places, or more? This post unpacks some of the considerations for expats attempting to reach a decision on a long-term future.

The journey of an expat begins with a full case, bags of anticipation and a pocketful of trepidation.

It can also lack a little foresight.

As while many go on to create an amazing life that better suits, leaving behind strong roots can result in both homes feeling incomplete.

Even those who decided before departing can find this reality presents a predicament.

Because, while a great privilege to be able to pick a country to reside, having more than one possibility can, for many, create an emotional divide.

The result is the common phenomena of expat ambivalence. Where caught within the confines of two minds, long-term plans linger in limbo and decisions are difficult to decipher.

It’s confusing and complicated because;

Pros and cons don’t cut it

While the overseas pro list is often longer, the home pros are stronger, making it impossible to compare. Long pros don’t compensate for the longing we feel for family. And so for life-changing decisions it becomes clear that comparing lists blurs the emotions behind them.  So then we move to mulling over what mirrors our values. However….

Vying values

Basing our toughest choices on our strongest values is a robust approach. But when our most defining values are divided it’s a catch 22 making reaching a decision difficult. For example, strong family values with loved ones faraway contrasting with, say, a relaxed attitude at odds with the rat race of our birthplace. This classic case of dissonance can cripple even the most compos mentis of minds. So if our values are split, it’s also worth assessing…

What’s right for us

Whether simmering under the surface or intermittently intense, every expat experiences an element of guilt. Sorrow at leaving loved ones behind, regret they’re not part of our present, and worry what the future holds without them. It’s therefore important to consider, if no-one got hurt, what would we do? But then again, this is difficult when we’d be hurt too. So maybe we can try…

Visualising our future

Perhaps the easiest and most effective method of deciding what our heart desires. If it rings true that picturing ourselves in one place years from now is impossible to do, it may be our truth calling. Because reality begins in our mind. So a lack of visual projection may be a sign that it’s not what we’d like to find in our future. However, when we can imagine both, or none, then we should realise…

Not deciding is deciding

Being undecided, but not acting, is ultimately deciding. We should consider if  undecided in our head, our heart is deciding instead. We can trust it, go with the flow, live in the moment and wait until we ‘know’ And  if we finally get to that place, we should remember…

Owning our decision

Both options undoubtedly have their challenges. Repatriating is almost certainly harder than expatriating, and remaining an expat will always elicit a little emptiness. However, when we make a big decision we create, sometimes subconscious, reasons to reinforce it. Through cognitive dissonance, we minimise any regret we may have.  So when we choose, eventually our psychological sanity switch will flick and we’ll convince ourselves we made the right decision. Even if we didn’t!

So, when an expats mind is split, there really is no simple solution.

Because it’s not just deciding where to live. It’s deciding what we can live with and exist without.  It’s facing being far away from family forever or turning our back on a way of life we now know to be better.

And wherever we land for the long-haul we’ll forever carry a little extra baggage. The ‘what ifs’ of a life we once knew, or for an important part of our life that changed us.

But ‘what ifs’ mean we had options.

So while our case may end up a little battered and bruised, we will never regret that it was used.

If only we could just unpack it.

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Upside Down Expat

Nightmare Neighbours

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Spiders, snakes and sharks…oh my!  Is the reality of being neighbours with the wildlife down under really as bad as you imagine? This post describes what it’s really like living next door to some of Australia’s notorious natives.

Growing up, I had a reccurring nightmare of a giant hybrid spider.

The ‘Dr C Wasp’ was half giant spider; half giant wasp, who visited in my sleep when the spider catcher (aka my dad) was away.

Armed with a red plastic racket, my mum would attempt in vain to kill the ‘Dr C Wasp’ while my sister and I looked on in terror.

It was indestructible.

So, twenty odd years later, when moving to Australia, I thought of the Dr C Wasp.

Was my nightmare about to come true?!

Because while Australia is known for its hot weather and stunning scenery, it’s also known for it’s unusual animals and creepy crawlies.

And with scary spiders topping the topic of conversation prior to the move, I was feeling uneasy about encountering an eight legged Aussie.

But are they really that bad?

Here is a rundown of some of the notorious and nightmare neighbours, or housemates, you’ll have in Australia.

The nasty neighbours

Spiders. The neighbour you dread bumping into. Redbacks, whitetails and huntsmen. I’ve come face to face with the ugly blood suckers more times than I care to remember. It has tended to happen a few times a year, and has done absolutely nothing to quell my fear. However, the thought of them lurking in the shadows is moderately tolerable, because, contrary to popular belief, they don’t hunt down humans to feast on. And, chances are, if you do get bitten, you’ll live.  [1]

The lurkers

Snakes. The neighbours you know are there but thankfully bumping into one is rare. In urban areas the chance of catching a glimpse of one is slim to none, while on rural land it’s not uncommon to hear their rustles in the bushes. But again, it’s ok because they don’t intentionally hunt down humans. Which buys you some time. To run. Fast. [2]

The scary neighbours

Sharks. The neighbours waiting for someone to step on their lawn so they can launch an attack. You might want to tread Australian water carefully with these petrifying predators at sea. They kill an average of three people a year, and injure many more. And while the risk may seem low, unless you have a death wish I wouldn’t go more than waist high. I personally prefer to paddle. [3].

The famous neighbours

Kangaroos. The notorious neighbours everyone wants a glimpse of. But while tourists hop off the plane expecting a kangaroo to bounce by, these eminent emblems tend to skip around out of town. You’ll find plenty of ‘roo’s on roadtrips, or at their local hangouts (parks and woodland), and can usually get a close up look. But while mostly mild mannered, it’s worth knowing they have a good right hook, and will throw a paw punch or powerful kick if intimidated. [4]

The noisy neighbours

Birds. The neighbours with a perpetually prominent presence. From the striking cockatoos, paraquets and galahs to the more common magpies, crows or plovers; the birds in Australia are proud and loud and not at all intimidated by humans.  [5] Their distinct calls will stir you from your morning haze, and you’ll be confronted by the backyard birds everyday; and want get out of their way. It’s not uncommon to be chased or attacked in chick season. And attempts to feed the ducks will see you ganged up on by a gaggle of goggle eyed geese.

The party animals

Possums. The lively neighbours bringing the house down every night with their antics. Messy, noisy and destructive, they sleep nestled in the trees throughout the day, and come alive outside your house at night.  [6] They’ll scurry across your rooftop, scramble across your fence and scare the life out of you on a regular occasion. But while to many a pest, I’m particularly partial to the placid party animals, with ‘Paul’ my part-time pet.

The layabout stoners

Koalas. The neighbours that when you attempt to chat, you get little back. You’ll be fascinated when you first feast your eyes on one, but quickly bored when you realise they do nothing more than gorge on gum leaves. And while a myth they get high on eucalyptus, they are low-energy lazybones who crash out for up to 20 hours a day! The magnificent marsupials (not bears) can be found in captivity all over Australia but it’s far more satisfying to discover them in the wild in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria or South Australia.[7]

There are of course many more wonderful creatures you could come across; emus, wombats, wallabies, platypuses, goannas, kookaburras, quokkas and tasmanian devils, to name a few.

Thankfully, the Doctor C Wasp isn’t one of them.

But, whether feral friend or foe, the quirky creatures down under are part of what makes Australia so unique.

And with a little space and understanding, it’s highly unlikely you’ll have any problems with your new neighbours.

You may even become good friends.

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Upside Down Mind

Dream Come True

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Pregnancy and becoming a new mum is not always as we expected. It can also come along when we least expect it. This article is for anyone imagining, planning or adapting to motherhood.

For as long as I can remember, I dreamt of having a baby.

It’s the ‘someday’ dream many of us share for when we’re financially stable, settled and established. The ‘pot of gold’ after our fun and freedom.

And as I approached my thirties, my thoughts turned towards starting a family. But when an Australian adventure unexpectedly arrived, any ideas for a baby were pushed aside.

So it came as something as a surprise when, after a recent relocation to Melbourne, I fell pregnant with our daughter. With my partner still temporarily in Perth, and family and friends on the other side of the world, it couldn’t have been further from my imagined journey into motherhood.

Nevertheless, I was over the moon. After all, my biggest dream was about to come true!

The next few months were a hectic scramble of my partner moving over, finding somewhere to live and preparing for our ‘bub’. And after a long nine months, and a difficult, drawn out birth, I was lucky enough to experience that intense rush of love. I was besotted.

But that was just the beginning. And there were some things I definitely wasn’t expecting:

Post childbirth body

Seeing my body immediately after childbirth was a shock. I was unprepared, and I panicked. So, when well enough, I went on a diet and exercise rampage. And while I lost the weight, the rest took a lot longer to bounce back. Rather it slithered its way, arriving long beyond my daughters first birthday. But, despite some lasting legacies, I made peace with my body perhaps more than before. Because making a little person, makes you a little different. It’s incredible. And that makes your body incredible too.

Feeling the loss of your old life

When you welcome a new child, you bid farewell to your old life.  And while a new one has just begun, in the beginning, exhausted and with no time to myself, I sometimes wondered what I had done. But as you watch your child’s character appear, the appeal of your old life disappears. Everyday becomes a little adventure filled with love, laughter, and surprises.  And you’ll wonder how you ever lived life without it.

Life becomes fragile

From your first steps outside to their first steps into the world, life becomes a danger zone with you permanently on high alert. For a while, I worried how I was going to live with the worry! But it becomes second nature to assess safety risks in every environment you enter.  And while terrifying at times it’s enlightening too. Because, when life feels fragile, you start to hold dear every moment we are here.

You’ll relive your childhood

Being responsible for a childhood can bring up memories of your own. You’ll consider how you want them to experience theirs, and relive how you experienced yours. For the bad, it’s an opportunity to confront ignored emotions, and for the good, replicate treasured, often filed away, childhood notions. You’ll also understand you are the centre of your parents’ world, which is hard to comprehend until a little person is at the centre of yours.

Intense emotions

Motherhood brings out the beauty and the beast. Able to warm the coldest heart, and aggravate the calmest mind, one minute you are crying tears of adoration, and seconds later, tears of frustration. Yet conversely you’ll also feel the calmest you’ve ever felt. Because you see what really matters. And with your life occupied by a child, time and energy become precious commodities you’ll spend wisely.

You’ll question your identity

When you stop doing all the things you used to do, you may wonder what it was you believed to be you. Your prior version of ‘me’ can be subconsciously wrapped up in your career, social life, looks or hobbies. And while some become defined by ‘mum’, I questioned why I defined myself at all. Because if you can change so drastically, what else can you be?

So, having a child is much harder, and yet far more fulfilling than you can imagine.

It also comes with some surprises.

Because while the dream that you had does come true, it’s not all blue skies and sunshine, but a splattering mess of colour, grey clouds, thunder and lightening too.

And somewhere in the middle of the rainbow, you’ll also find you.

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Upside Down Expat

Land of Oz Lingo

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Eh, what did you just say?! Communicating overseas can be challenging. And, while English, the wacky words down under can cause a lot of confusion! This is for anyone who would like to get a better understanding of the lingo in the Land of Oz.

Lay in the Australian dentist chair; numb gums, white knuckles and dribble down my chin, I sat up and apologised, as we British do.

 ‘I’m sorry for being a wet lettuce’

The dentist and nurse fell about laughing. I would have laughed too if my face wasn’t so fat from the filling. Because, believe it or not, ‘wet lettuce’ is not part of the lingo in the Land of Oz.

For those not familiar, wet lettuce is a northern English term describing someone who’s not very brave. Which, when it comes to the dentist, I definitely am not.

It is communication that is perhaps one of the biggest challenges of moving overseas. Particularly if you have to learn a new language. But, in the English speaking South Pacific, you’d be forgiven for thinking things would be smooth sailing. Yet, while for the most part things are, quirky British idioms and the wacky words used by the Aussies commonly create linguistic-language barriers.

Australian vernacular is a smorgasboard of shortened words and o’ing (arvo, righto, servo), rhyming slang and bewildering sayings, that have proved a never-ending source of conversation starters, awkwardness, and entertainment.

Their questionable figure of speech can, at least the first time, render you speechless. For instance, a small talk convo (conversation) could potentially go like this:

Friendly Aussie; ‘How you going’?

Grumpy Aussie; ‘I’ve got the shits’

Friendly Aussie; ‘No dramas’

You see, the grumpy Aussie is just in a bad mood.

The cuisine can also cause a little confusion. My once beloved crisps are chips, and crappy ones at that, no Quavers or Discos here, standard chips; hot chips, sweets; lollies, courgette; zucchini and the aubergine an eggplant. Crucially, unless you want the sneeze-inducing variety of pepper on your sanger (sandwich), you’d better get your tongue around capsicum (bell pepper).

It also took me a while to realise the Aussies can, at times, find my accent hard to understand. But when lunch is lanch, no; na, mum; mom, bus; bass, down; darn and duck; dack too, I strongly suspect this is down to our difference in opinion on what constitutes an a, o, and u.

There is also some diversity in the footwear department. At home, wellies headline the shoe show, to their gumboot counterparts down under which are more of a once-a-year wonder. Unless you live in Melbourne! And while UK flip-flops rarely see the light of day, Aussie thongs are worn practically all year long; on the feet of the men tucked up tight in their budgie smugglers.

But, while some things induce a belly laugh and others prompt a groan, my favourite word of all has to be the word used for bedding. Because they call it Manchester. Meaning every night I am, in theory, snuggled up at home.

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Upside Down Expat


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Moving overseas is incredibly exciting at first. But when the dust settles, will you be glad you made the move? This is for anyone considering emigrating, those who wish they hadn’t, and those who have never looked back.

Sometimes I wonder if moving to Australia was the biggest mistake of my life.

I love Melbourne, but crave being closer to my family in the UK. My partner wants to stay put. So, after four and a half years, being so far away is, at times, a source of pain, pondering and panic. As a result, I often ask myself; would I have gone down a different path knowing what I know now?

Our journey down the yellow brick road to Oz began in early 2010 when the British company I had been working for was taken over by an Australian owned organisation.

A conversation with my partner went something like this;

Me ‘We’ve just been taken over by an Australian company, imagine if I got the opportunity to work there, would you want to go?

My partner ‘Imagine. That would be ace; definitely’

Me ‘ Ideally it would just be a 12 month contract, because then I’d like to come back and have a baby

My partner’ I’d never want to come back’

Me ‘I couldn’t possibly stay for longer than a year or two, I’d miss my family too much’

My partner ‘Well I’d want to stay’

Me ‘Yes but I want a baby eventually and want to be near my family when I do’

Row started heating up.

Me ‘What are we even arguing for? This is never going to happen!’

Both laughed and went out for lunch.

A few months later, an internal job opportunity landed at my fingers (aka my inbox). I applied and was offered a twelve month contract in Perth, Western Australia. I really ought to develop my psychic abilities! Or listening skills, given the writing was on the wall – in thick permanent black marker pen!

Nonetheless, we embarked on an incredibly exciting adventure to the other side of the world. Ten months later I got another offer from Melbourne. Two months after that, I fell pregnant with our now two and a half year old daughter.

So two cities, three homes, one baby, and countless ups and downs later, do I have any regrets given the uncertainty of the road ahead? The answer has to be no. Here’s why:

  • Following my heart: Australia was one of those rare opportunities that filled me, above everything, with utter excitement. It was meant to be. And, despite some of the fears and loathing that stem from the outcomes of that decision, it couldn’t have been any other way.
  • Living life to the full: While I may have been shielded from some emotional pain, I would never have attacked life with the same enthusiasm that moving to a new country, or city, inspires. And, though eventually routine sets in, that ignited spark for life remains.
  • Meeting people from all over the world: While at home I was happy to spend my time with the same, lovely, life-long friends, saying yes to the opening of an envelope in the early days led to meeting a ton of people from all corners of the earth, and a ton of fun. The wonderful, the weird and the ones that will last forever. I also learnt lots about myself along the way.
  • High highs:The lows are lower too for those homesick like me, but even after all this time, Australia’s natural beauty (the beaches, the sunsets, the stars at night) still leaves me exhilaratedCombined with great weather, cool cafes, beautiful parks, rooftop bars, wineries, and much more, makes every weekend during summer like a mini-holiday. It is, in the voice of an Aussie, ‘awesome’!
  • Personal growth: Perhaps the most profound change of all. Self-sufficiency, self-awareness, resilience and courage.  When we’re alone in a new country or city and have no-one to rely on but ourselves, we develop an inner strength and independence that makes life less daunting, and anything seem possible.

So, while the path has been tougher than I imagined, the walk along it has been positively life-changing. Because it’s the stumbles and falls during the rockiest routes that help us navigate life’s most challenging terrain, leaving us feeling we can tackle almost anything.Above all, at some point along the path, we invest in a sensible pair of shoes with a tough sole, durable material and strong laces tied up properly in a double knot.

And new shoes are always a good thing.

I just sometimes wish I could click the heels of mine together and be right back where I started.

If you enjoy reading my posts on expat related topics, don’t miss them – visit my home page and sign up by email.

You can also find me on Facebook. UpsideDown

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