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Expats and escargots

September 8, 2012 1 comment

escargotAccording to Wikipedia, the official definition of an expat is “a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (“out of”) and patria (“country, fatherland”).

So, if you go to an expat club, you expect to meet other expats in the same situation as you, right?
Wrong. In some countries and cities anyway.

In Yerevan, Armenia, expats tend to hang out in the “Wheel Club”, a sociable restaurant cum bar which is not difficult to find as there are only a handful of such watering spots in town; and within a few quiz nights or dinners there you will have met all the expats living in the country.

In Nairobi, Kenya, expats (and tourists) flock to popular spots like The Carnivore Restaurant and Pavement restaurant and bar. You’ll also find them easily if you hang out in any of the luxury hotels in town.

In Stockholm, you can read The Local or visit any Irish bar and you’ll find a healthy mix of expats and locals. Attend an event organized by The Local and the chances are that you’ll meet plenty of people in the same situation as yourself bar a handful of Swedes or foreigners with Swedish roots.

In Malta, there are several expat clubs and you won’t find many Maltese there – simply because they already have their own social and support network in place. You might find the occasional Maltese person who is of Maltese descent but a blow-in from abroad, or, occasionally, a local friend of an expat member who was invited along for a drink.

In large cities i.e. over one million inhabitants, and capital cities, you’ll usually be spoiled for choices with British societies or embassies, American Chamber of Commerces, Aussie clubs and much more to choose from so you can sift through and find one that matches you and your interests best.

Then, we come to Lyon in France, a city of almost two million and France’s third largest. InterNations is probably the largest expat club in town; it sells itself as an “Expatriates Community for Expats Worldwide” which helps you to get to know ‘like-minded expats in your city’ but, unlike in Malta, it is run more like a commercial venture than a warm and welcoming place to socialize.

Expect to pay entry for the events, unless you upgrade your status, and expect the drinks at the event to be pricey as the organizers and venues are obviously making money from ‘poor lost expats’ instead of welcoming them with a cheery complimentary cocktail, two-for-one offers and nibbles (like you get at expat events in other countries).

The major difference: in Lyon you will find yourself rubbing shoulders with far more Frenchies than foreigners. Do they consider themselves expats because they are not Lyonnais i.e. they come from another part of France? Does that make them qualify as an ‘expat’? Apparently, it does. Or else they have proudly bestowed themselves with the title of ‘expat’ because they have lived in a former French colony such as Togo for a few weeks, or they have been on vacation a few times to Guadeloupe and Mauritius. These people consider themselves extremely superior and more international than ‘normal French’ people and believe they even qualify as expats because ‘they have been abroad and like to speak English’.

Their other objective for being at these ‘expat’ events is to learn English. So, the role of the homesick expat at these events is not the chance to share experiences and moan about the ups and downs of living in a strange country, no, it’s to offer the ‘locals’ a chance to put their English skills into practice, and give them a taste of our culture so they can become international, just like us expats.

Disillusioned with Internations ‘expats’ , some foreigners try another equally popular  “English club” Act4 and MeetUp.

In all fairness, Act4 does market itself as an English-speaking club and caters for Frenchies who want to immerse themselves in the wonderful world of us Anglophones.

The invitations to English lunches, trips to original version English language movies, trips to the Angloworld pour in. Inevitably, the lunch on Wednesday at 14.00 is often venue-less – that’s decided a day or two before the event. Often, events are cancelled, rescheduled, people put on waiting lists or confirmed and then de-confirmed. In other words, it’s mass confusion. Expect to be bombarded with ten emails every day if you sign up for one event. The latest endeavor is a ‘news club’ which would imply it is a networking club for people who work in media to hang out with other journalists and to immerse in the media world. No, the idea is that you bring a copy of an English news article with you and discuss it … a great exercise to improve language skills, and if you are a ‘ real English-speaking journalist’, then the organizers have hit a jackpot and you should come ‘to see, you’ll probably like it’  – yes, it definitely adds a touch of authenticity to the ‘news club’.

The Act4-ers and MeetUp-ers seem to love everything about us Anglophones – our culture, our language, our way of doing things and even seem to dream of being like us (for all our faults). But, they’ll never be like us – the two cultures are miles apart. Arranging events without an exact time or venue, cancelling last minute, confirming and then de-confirming, that’s not the Anglo way of doing things. But, if you dare to question their way of doing things, or challenge them … then you’ll realize that this is an Anglo-loving club to a certain extent, dare to criticize or raise an eyebrow, or challenge their way of doing things …  and the French culture kicks back in.

Such is the life of an expat amongst escargots!

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Ground control to cockpit suite

January 10, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m reclining in my leather chair reading a newspaper in the first-class lounge of a jumbo jet, enjoying a view of the runway. This will be my home for the next 12 hours.  The difference this time is that there is no pilot on board, I have no life vest under my seat and I’m not flying anywhere. Instead, I am ‘overnighting’ at the Jumbo Stay ‘hotel’ at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport.

Inside the cockpit suite at the "Jumbo" hostel.

 Click here to read the full article. (Published in the Sunday Times of Malta, January 1, 2012.)

Ronan Keating visits the rock

April 26, 2010 2 comments

Ronan Keating made his first ever trip to Malta (or so he said) on the last leg of his 2010 tour, taking the National Stadium near Mdina by storm. Not having made plans for Saturday, April 3, I decided to pick up a few tickets the Tuesday before the concert.

Bruce Springsteen wash-out in Stockholm
My last concert experience was in Stockholm in May 2009 when Bruce Springsteen played in the stadium and, to be perfectly honest, it was one of my worst concert experiences ever. It started with trying to get in …queuing for an hour in the pouring rain to squeeze through one of the two entrances past the stressed-out doormen who were obviously not used to crowds. It rained non-stop for the two hours he was on stage. (Note to self: no more outdoor concerts in Sweden in May!) 

Instead of getting the crowd in a good mood and making them forget about the crappy weather, Bruce decided to play all his new stuff first and only in the last 15 minutes did he finally get around to his really great hits like “Dancing in the Dark” by which time I was so cold, wet and bored that it was time to go home. For a EUR 60 standing ticket, you expect a bit more…at least a bit of atmosphere.

Before Bruce’s concert I had been to see Kim Wilde play on the Cinderella cruise ship which sails between Stockholm, Sweden, and the Åland Islands which belong to Finland. People had been so drunk during her performance that poor Kim had to stop halfway through most her songs to ask people to stop climbing on the stage!)

Ronan Keating wows the audience
I’m not a huge Ronan Keating fan but I do really like some of his stuff and after this concert, I like him even more. On stage, he comes across as such a positive, energetic person with a passion for people and his music. On this tour he was promoting “Songs for my Mother”, the album linked to the anniversary of his mother’s death, and he also dedicated one song to Stephen Gately, his former Boyzone band member and friend who sadly passed away recently.

Yes, he’s famous, yes, he’s rich …but Ronan comes across as someone who has kept his feet firmly on the ground with strongly embedded values and is just a “decent” person. And the positive energy from the crowd, and vibrant atmosphere just made the whole concert even better. Nobody pushed, it was not a hassle to get served at the bar, and the thousands of concert-goers managed easily to get in and out of the venue easily without the need to form a stiff non-moving queue.

And Ronan himself …well he said he was looking forward to getting hammered that night and seeing what Malta’s nightlife had to offer, after a gruelling solo tour. I heard a rumor through a friend of a friend that he called the hotel reception at 3 a.m. looking for a masseuse … 🙂

Not just another Japanese restaurant

The Seikoen Japanese restaurant across the street from the Sheraton Hotel at Tegelbacken was one of Stockholm’s first Japanese restaurants, set up long before the hordes of small sushi joints opened their doors on every other corner of the city.

It’s an elegant, authentic, understated kind of place with a calming atmosphere and offers everything from sushi to tempura and some not so very Japanese desserts like crème brulée and cloudberry cheesecake. It is part of the Roppongi chain of Japanese restaurants which also have restaurants in Kungsholmen and in the city center. Seikoen is also a firm favorite with traveling Japanese businessmen staying at the Sheraton.

There’s a five-course or seven-course set menu for SEK 520 and SEK 740 respectively (add on an extra SEK 280-380 for the wine/drinks menu). The five-course started off with oyster and tuna stomach, followed by an aemono set (three small dishes of spinach, crab meat and scallops and octopus), shrimp tempura, Yakiniku, and dessert.

I opted for the Japanese pumpkin soup which was excellent followed by shrimp tempura and truffles with coffee to top off. One member of the party chose the duck for the main course which he considered “chewy”.

My verdict? Pricey: a bit. Atmosphere: nice. Food: mine was very good. Service: not bad but could not understand the waitress. Overall impression: Would go back when another Japanese craving strikes. But I really wish they had a teppanyaki table too, that’s the one thing that’s missing!

P.s. their lunch menu and sushi is also great.

Opera and food in Stockholm

April 4, 2010 3 comments

Inside Naglo.

Naglo Restaurant, located across the street from Stockholm’s Opera House is grossly overshadowed by the flashy, “place-to-be-seen” restaurants and bars in the Opera House itself, but it’s got an understated tasteful and elegance and usually mouth-watering food. (I’ve eaten there five times and it has only disappointed me once.)

From the outside, it looks like a subtle, elegant and sophisticated establishment and that’s exactly what it is inside too with its wallpapered walls, long open windows, a round wooden bar  and chic, but understated, atmosphere. It’s an upmarket kind of place but without the wannabes and without trying too hard to be super-trendy. This is the kind of place to dine before a night at the opera or at the theatre, for a romantic dinner or even to impress business contacts as the service is quick and professional.

Chef Jacob Undemo’s experience includes stints at Högfjällshotellet in Hemavan and various restaurants in Sydney, New York and Paris. His menu includes main courses like corn-fed chicken with spring onion and asparagus risotto, herring stuffed with smoked salmon and beef Rydberg, while there is an “evening fare” menu which offers three-course set menus for SEK 375 and less fancy main dishes like meatballs and Caesar salad for around SEK 140 and SEK 120 respectively. If you’re really ravenous, there’s a six-course menu.

I opted for the lobster soup for a starter and corn-fed chicken with risotto for main course, while my boyfriend took the set menu with lobster mousse for starter and veal for the main course followed by vanilla mousse with forest berries. Both choices were excellent.

Monday evenings in general are quiet in many Stockholm restaurants and Naglo is no exception with no reservation necessary. If you feel like continuing with a drink afterwards but not walking too far, Naglo’s Vodkabar, just around the corner,  is a tiny little bar (probably one of the smallest in Stockholm!) which, of course, specializes in vodka – with over 70 different vodka brands to choose from.

I’ll definitely be back to Naglo again. (By the way, there are rumors that the building that houses Naglo will be turned into a hotel in 2011 but nothing has been confirmed yet as to what will happen to Naglo…)

One stop shop … for black clothes!

April 1, 2009 1 comment

black-collection Black Collection

Ladies, tired of looking   for that perfect black jacket or little black dress? Look no further than this store in Östermalm. They ONLY sell black clothes and you’ll find just about everything here from black bags and stockings to belts and sweaters. Brands include Aigner, Kathleen Madden and Daniel Hechter.

Sturegatan 8. Tel: +46 8 6629433.

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