Tag Archives: expat

American ‘candy’!

As I faced the possibility this summer that our American adventure might be coming to an end, it suddenly struck me that I hadn’t fully explored the wealth of American candy out there. As you can see from the photo below, not all American candy is unfamiliar to the British eye. Both countries have access to Mars products like Snickers, Twix and MnMs, and I’ve definitely come across Reese’s cups in the UK. But look closely and you’ll see that American Milky Ways don’t look quite the same as British ones, and then there’s the puzzle of the intriguingly named 3 Musketeers…

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So for the good cause of this blog, I carried out some research into all the chocolate that was unfamiliar to me. I may have to wait a few months for my waistline to recover before I repeat the experiment for non-chocolate candy (or as we say in the UK, sweets)! Anyway, while I’m sure I’ve missed plenty, the preliminary results are now in. I now have a good idea what the different sorts of candy are, and which I would walk to the store to buy in the event of a sugar crisis. In other words, I’ve tasted a variety of Hersheys and other products, and scored them (highly subjectively) out of 5.

Firstly, I can report that, in fact:

  • US Milky Ways are actually like Mars Bars (I’d give them 4/5).
  • And the 3 Musketeers bars are, in a pleasantly surprising way, what UK milky ways used to be like in the 80s/early 90s (these score a perfect 5/5, partly for the nostalgia value).

Another one that made me nostalgic was the Heath bar, which I discovered is like the UK’s dime bar! Toffee in the US is pretty much always hard. Unfortunately this is Hershey’s – I don’t like the after-taste of their chocolate – so I can only score it 2/5.

The York Peppermint Patty is famous from Charlie Brown cartoons. It’s pretty good, not too sweet, and comes in mini or standard sizes. 5/5

There are a few brands that come in boxes, and seem to have been popular cinema snacks:

  •  Milk duds – not at all what I expected from the name. These are like the chocolate covered toffee you get in a tub of Quality street. After a while all the chewing gets tiring (2/5).
  • Junior mints – nice, small chocolate covered mint creams. Pleasant, but not much to write home about (4/5).
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These were devoured before I remembered to take photos…

As you might know, there’s a wealth of peanut themed sweets in the US, so I thought I’d give them their own section. Here’s my observations so far:

  • Reese’s Cups – I always loved these when I could get them in the UK. Chocolate over peanut butter cream – how can you go wrong? In the US they don’t just come in the original sized cups, but also in a large cup, and as mini-cups (eat a whole bag of these and you’ll feel very sick). Sometimes you can find them in dark chocolate. At Halloween they made pumpkin shaped cups, and for Valentines they were heart-shaped (tasty and versatile, always a good bet – 5/5).
  • Reese’s Nutrageous bar – might be my favourite. A bar of peanut butter cream plus actual peanuts, covered in chocolate (5/5).
  • Reese’s pieces – these look like MnMs, but are disappointing. They could actually do with some chocolate as they’re just sweet peanut cream in sweet candy shells (2/5)
  • Butterfinger – again, these come in regular and mini, and they recently brought out a cup version to compete with Reese’s. These remind me slightly of the old peanut cracknell that used to be in Quality Street, but I’m not sure this works so well in a large size (4/5 – mainly for the minis)
  • Baby Ruth – Seemed to me to be basically just like a Snickers, which is not bad (4/5)
  • Mr. Good bar – this is just a Hershey bar with peanuts, and, as I’ve mentioned, I’m not a fan of Hershey’s chocolate (1/5)
  • Payday – salty peanuts in a sweet corn syrup paste. This was actually rather unpleasant. (zero)
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I’m not sure what it is the York peppermint patty has 70% less fat than – a stick of butter?

Happily, as you might know if you’re a regular reader of my blog, our American adventure did not come to an end this autumn – our new visas were approved – so I still have time to try more American candy! There’s always plenty to choose from, including the seasonal treats surrounding Valentines Day, Easter, and Halloween. So if you know of an American candy bar I’ve not tried yet, do let me know. Which are your favourites?

Interlude – a trip ‘home’

So, as many of my family and friends know, we got our visa petition approved! I’ll write more about the saga that was our visa application soon but, suffice to say, it went right to the wire.

Originally we were only going to do our big trip out West of we knew we hadn’t got a visa to stay – we were going to use the grace period at the end of our current visa (four weeks when you can’t work but are encouraged to travel) to say a grand farewell to the States. But as we got to the end of our visa and still hadn’t heard if we could stay or not, we decided to do the trip anyway – it would certainly beat sitting at home waiting for an email.

And I’m really glad we did. I’ll write more about our adventures in the Black Hills, Yellowstone, Denver and Chicago soon, but right now I’m sitting at an airport bar trying to get my head around the fact that we were in Wyoming about two weeks ago and will be in London tomorrow morning.

Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing trip, and I’m really really looking forward to seeing people in the UK, but I’m kind of looking forward to getting back to some kind of routine and writing about the minutiae of DC life. All this waiting to hear has been very disruptive, and I really got into travelling mode on our trip – all we had to think about was where we could drive to for breakfast, and where did Expedia and Yelp advise us to stay the next night. Getting back to my writing will be difficult!

Still, for now I have a couple of weeks of visits and travels in the UK to look forward to. Hopefully there will be Yorkshire fish and chips, West Country game and cider in nice pubs, and maybe even a curry in London. Certainly there will be plenty of fun with family and friends.

Relocating with my best friend

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Born to Be With You.”

I don’t really believe in soul mates or destiny. I don’t believe I was born to be with my husband. But I do believe in meeting someone at the right time, falling in love, working at a relationship, fighting, dancing, singing, loving, and waking up one day to realize that your husband is your best friend.

My husband and I have just been celebrating our 4th wedding anniversary. Since we met we’ve been through some pretty stressful things. We moved in together, planned a wedding, I did a PhD, he got promoted, we bought a flat – and then we moved to the States.

When we bought our first place and moved in I thought things probably couldn’t get much more stressful. Then we went through about a year trying to get a visa to the States and relocating – and that proved to be a whole other level of stress!

In her book The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide (which I promise to write a proper review of once I’ve read more than just the one chapter) Clara Wiggins writes about the strain moving overseas can place on a relationship.

Pretty much everything you go through has the potential to cause a rift in your relationship. The stresses of the move itself, your isolation and loneliness at the start, all the confusion of trying to find your way around your new home…

The list is almost endless!

Certainly I think our overly-positive expectations of how easy it would be for me to get work out here, coupled with my husband’s job requiring frequent travel did lead to some tensions. For the first few months I committed myself to providing support and sorting out our living situation. I spent the days house hunting and food shopping, and the evenings hearing about his day at work. When he no longer needed so much support, and when we were settled, I suddenly had less of a purpose, and it took me a while to set up my social life and get bits of work so that I felt independent again.

Clara and her correspondents all agree that communication becomes even more important in these situations.

The one piece of advice that rang out loud and clear was that good old chestnut – talk.

We’ve certainly had some honest conversations now about what we need to be happy and what we might want going forward. And I would agree with many of her correspondents that the relocation experience has actually made us stronger as a couple.

It’s also meant we have become more reliant on each other for company. I think we already knew that we were best friends – there’s no-one we’d rather go on holiday with for example – and actually I think we relished the expanse of free weekends that we were suddenly presented with. Every weekend was an excuse to go exploring, and we walked miles just enjoying our new surroundings and talking. It felt incredibly selfish, but also pretty amazing.

These days we have more commitments – Skype chats with friends and family at home, parties and happy hours with our DC friends and colleagues, and helping people move house to name just a few. I have a number of social groups now that I commit time to, and a regular tennis partner.

But this anniversary weekend has reminded me how much I enjoy spending time with my husband and how lucky I am. He can always be depended on to celebrate things – whether it’s with a surprise bottle of wine on a weeknight, my favorite pink lilies for our anniversary or a truly great meal out. He’s always interested in what I’ve been working on and is great at summarizing and otherwise helping to develop things. And as my Dad said in his father-of-the-bride speech – to guffaws of laughter – he talks. Even when it’s late at night, he’s always up for a good conversation.

Living in DC has been great for us. There’s been plenty of places to explore together and plenty of new things to talk about. We’ve been able to transplant our favorite routines from home and establish new ones – though our new habit of two pots of coffee on a weekend morning might not be the healthiest… Luckily there’s also been canoeing, hiking and playing tennis to offset our new love of brunch!

I’m hopeful that repatriation – whether we succeed in putting it off or not – could be just as positive overall for us, despite its inevitable stresses. Certainly there’s plenty from our life over here that we need to incorporate into life in the UK. And at least I’ll be going through it all with my best friend.

Integration – 4th of July

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When we moved to the states we decided that we didn’t want to do the ex-pat thing of seeking out other British people. We’ve not even set foot in a ‘British’ pub. It’s not that we’re antisocial, we just felt that we should attempt to make American friends, to better immerse ourselves in the culture.

And we have made some great friends. Friends who introduced us to baseball and explained the rules when we were lost. Friends who took us to brunch and made sure we got the full experience by ordering bottomless mimosas. And the friends that encouraged us to celebrate 4th July on our roof with steak, beer, ‘chips’ and red white and blue frosted cookies.

Last year’s party started early with inexpertly blended iced tea (we soon moved onto beer) and a soundtrack of all the patriotic songs we could think of. We endured the jokes about Yorktown and apologized again for 1812 (how could we burn down the library of congress?!), and wore our most American outfits to make up for it – we even had an American flag that I think went missing that night… By the end of the night we had proven ourselves with our grilled steak sandwiches and ability to put away the bourbon, and then it was time to introduce us to that American party classic – Cards against Humanity.

I’ve heard that this game has made it to the UK by now, but at the time it was the strangest thing I’ve ever done to download the cards, go to Kinko’s to print them out, and then spend much of my afternoon using their guillotine to cut them all out. I remember while I was doing this a young boy came over – clearly fascinated by the guillotine – and wanted to help. I spent the whole time he was ‘helping’ making sure he looked after his fingers and that he didn’t look at the cards! In case you’re unfamiliar with the game, this is an example of what he might have seen:

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Some of the less pornographic/offensive cards

I kept his attention by trying to explain 4th July to him. He knew there were fireworks, but didn’t know why. When I told him the UK had once run the US he was somewhat incredulous.

By the time this year’s 4th of July came round we felt like old hands. We had our own small grill as we knew that the gas-grill on our roof cannot be depended on, we added some of this year’s favorite hits and some new-found country to our patriotic play list, and we bought a new flag to replace the one that got lost last year. We also made our signature guacamole, and stocked the fridge.

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Plus we made sure there was room in the freezer for plenty of ice and a friend’s delicious contribution of ice-cream cookie sandwiches.

Sadly the weather was not as good this year as last. We were grateful that our balcony is mostly covered as the rain came down mid-afternoon and we were able to continue to drink our Sangria and American IPAs outside. Luckily the rain held off while we grilled on the roof, and the fireworks could still mostly be seen despite the cloud and mist. At some point a couple of guys started singing the National Anthem and we all joined in – even us Brits.

We’ve often been asked what our favorite thing is about America. At this party it was suggested that we all went round the circle, saying our favorite thing. My answer is usually the positive outlook we’ve experienced in people here. I can be ironic and urbane with the best of them, but there’s something about living in a more positive country with generally sincere people for over a year that I think’s made me happier, and a lot less insecure. My other favorite thing is how our efforts of integration have been thoroughly encouraged – perhaps especially when these efforts involve throwing a roof party with beer and steak!

Friends and ‘friending’ – social networks abroad

(This post is part of a series. See also: Then and Now, and Here and There – Apartment Hunting)

My life has its share of lost or dropped friendships. Reminders of some of the important ones fill my home. A pewter photo frame from Woolworths, with the engraving ‘friends forever’, holds a photo of me with my secondary school friends; my favourite coffee mug was a Christmas present from a boy I met on holiday about twenty years ago; and I just can’t throw away some now threadbare penguin socks, which were a birthday present from a much-loved college housemate. These objects remind me of how long it’s been since I properly caught up with all these old friends.

Luckily, in these days of the internet and social media, we rarely lose touch fully with people. I keep up with what my old friends are doing on Facebook, and what they’re reading on Goodreads, and sometimes we comment on one another’s posts. In my virtual world I have many friends and acquaintances who are all to some degree interested enough in what I’m doing/posting, or fond enough of me, to have not culled me from their contacts yet. It’s nice to know that these bonds, however loose, still exist. And this was an especially nice thing to bear in mind when I moved to another continent.

In my first few months living in DC I practically lived my life online. From the early morning till my UK friends and family went to bed in my late-afternoon I was getting updates on UK events from Twitter; catching up with family and colleagues via Skype, and constantly checking Facebook and my new blog for comments from friends. The internet really was a lifeline at this point.

But I knew that this ‘living virtually’ was a temporary fix – that soon I would have to make new friends in my new city. In fact, in some ways my clinging to old friendships was actively preventing me from integrating. For a while I resisted ‘friending’ American acquaintances on Facebook, in fear that they would be offended by my complaints as I struggled to adapt to life in DC (sorry about that guys!). And I was getting so used to interacting on a screen, in the quiet of my apartment, that socializing in bars was becoming an exhausting contrast.

Gradually, though, I loosened my grip on the old friendships. They’re still there – I know I can call on them when I need them and they’ll be happy to see me when I visit – but I don’t have to check in on them multiple times a day.

I began enjoying socializing in bars with R’s colleagues. Initially it took me a while to keep up with the speed and volume of Americans’ conversations, but now if I’m in the right frame of mood you’ll find me yammering away with the best of them.

And I embraced the different ways I found over here of making new friends. Sometimes it can seem absurdly formal, but someone I now have lunch with relatively regularly became a friend because she gave me her business card when I met her at a party for one of R’s colleagues; I contacted her a couple of days later. A mutual acquaintance became a friend after we were set up on a ‘date’ (this is a term used not only for romantic assignations – think ‘play-date’) to discuss her joining the choir I’d been a member of for a while.

People had told me that DC was a good city in which to make friends: because you continually get new arrivals, people are often in the same boat in terms of not having an established circle of friends. Using Meetup (http://www.meetup.com/), and finding an amateur choir that prided itself on its international nature (http://www.washingtoninternationalchorus.com/), enabled me to find a diverse range of these new arrivals to DC – as well as some more established residents whose social life has altered as friends have moved away or started new lives as parents. It helps at these times to be a ‘joiner’ as my family call it.

The other day I found myself drinking wine at 5pm with someone I met just before Christmas at a book group. It was happy hour and we had finished our work and we just sat and talked. We complained a bit about work, discussed her upcoming holiday, and planned restaurants we would go to with our husbands. It felt normal. And it made me realize that wherever I end up, it will always be possible to find people to be friends with. Especially if those people like wine.