Friday, 31 August 2012

I'm a Top Expat Blog!

Expat social network Internations has featured me on their site as a recommended US expat blogger, and you can read the Q&A I did for them here.

Career boost in the United States
Also, I wrote a wee article about the US election on the web, which has been published on the organic journalism site Samizdat Post today. Have a read and check out the other excellent articles there too.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Stuff wot I brought with me 4 - The Moon

Yes. The moon.

Before heading to these American shores I was given a few leaving presents from close friends and family, including the heart home bracelet from my mum. My dad gave me the moon.

Last night's moon - the same old moon
I am terrible at keeping in touch with my friends and family. Sometimes when things aren't going so well in my new life, I'm scared to let people know in case they think I 'failed'. And even when things are going well I forget about the time zone and by the time 6pm rolls around I know it's 11pm back in the UK and I missed my chance. At least when I was the one in the UK, and my husband was here in the USA, I could stay up later to match his evening (if you're in a long distance relationship don't do this - it leads to bad nights of sleeplessness and fatigue at work).

Then the moon comes out and I remember the gift from my Dad: It's the same moon around the world.

Yes, it's corny, but I brought the moon with me. It's the same old moon I'm used to seeing: I'm not so far away!

And to my friends and family - sorry, and let's Skype soon.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Rustic Photos Tuesday - Ribs n' Corn, Tea n' Cake

Barbecue, beer, bourbon and barbecue sauce, and corn all have important places in American culture, and each have a rich and varied history.
Traditional BBQ should be cooked slowly (overnight) in a wooden pit, but modern BBQ usually involves gas or (in our case) charcoal outside on the patio. Traditional rubs and sauces vary all over the country. I'm sure purists and traditionalists would scoff at Jack Daniels sauce as being too commercially sugar-laden and far-removed from 'the good stuff' but hey, I like it. One day I'd love to do a BBQ road trip of America for tender slow-cooked pulled pork, authentic style.

And I totally get it now, the BBQ thing. A BBQ is not always a special event here, it's just practical. On Sunday when you want a nice family dinner, but it's 100F outside, it makes no sense to heat up the house by cooking in the kitchen.

And for dessert, in contrast:
Afternoon tea has an important place in British culture. And without my fabulous baking girls I've had to resort to my own baking (it's not as good). A decent cup of tea, despite America's tumultuous relationship with the drink, isn't actually hard to find here in the suburban/rural sprawl. I've heard other British expats complain about the quality of American tea, so trust Tetley to combat that:
The irony is that as a Brit I pay US taxes without being able to vote
Tetley British Blend: For American families with a British blend! I'm sure purists are scoffing right now, but hey, I like Tetley's tea, and it sure beats Lipton.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Pros and Air Cons: The US obsession with conditioned air

"too darn hot" - make sure you and your bulldogs are cool and hydrated
So I survived August. I say that because Mr was very intrigued to find out how I'd cope in a month characterized by humidity and heat; when locals take their summer vacations to escape the oppressive weather.

To be fair, I made like a true local and disappeared to the UK for a week. I've already waxed Olympyrical about the Games, but my UK trip also allowed me to catch up with friends and family, almost as if I'd never been away. The trip also allowed me to realize a few more of the subtle differences between US and UK culture.

The week I spent in London was wonderfully sunny. This meant I hardly slept the whole time I was there. Why? I, like many US residents, have become addicted to air conditioning, a comfort that is often elusive in UK accommodation.

Air conditioning was (kind of) invented 110 years ago in the now hipster village of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I first experienced the ups and downs of the US love affair with conditioned air when I found myself in New York City during a heatwave. The mayor warned people not to go running in Central park, the news was filled with locations of 'chill centers' for the young, elderly and other vulnerable folks without air con, and stories of neighborhoods suffering from power outages or power surges. I visited a lot of museums, not only to enjoy their exhibits but also their frosty cool rooms. I learned the stifling discomfort of waiting on a subway platform, and the chilling relief of stepping into a conditioned subway car.

But when I moved over to the USA back in June, I found it hard to get a decent night of sleep: It was too darn cold.

This all brought to mind the stereotype of the wasteful American: During summer they crank up the air con and wear sweaters inside, and during winter they crank up the heating and lounge around in t-shirts. I wasn't used to it - I enjoyed the heat. I wasn't used to light summer bed sheets and cool indoor breezes. I wanted a heavy duvet (AKA a comforter in US English) to weigh me down and keep me cosy. I insisted on turning down the ceiling fan in our bedroom to the lowest setting.

It was lucky I did.

The very next day I stood up on the bed to reach for something and was totally head-decked. The ceiling fan smacked me right above the ear. Mr had to watch in horror as my body crumpled down onto the bed and started to shake.

I was laughing. Oh, I was in pain! I had a lump on my head for a week. But at least the fan had been going slowly enough not to slice my head clean off. This dumb Brit was so unaccustomed to air con that it literally hit her in the face.

But at some point in the past few months something happened to my internal thermostat. It was so subtle that I barely noticed what was happening: I am now fully addicted to flowing, cool air. I find the bedrooms of England stale and stuffy, the hotel duvets too heavy and warm. I still insist on having the ceiling fans on low settings, mostly out of fear, and I try not to stand on the bed anymore, but I sleep soundly, thankful for these artificially cool summer nights.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Stuff wot I brought with me 3 - wedding trinkets

This is probably a no-brainer for expats emigrating on a spouse visa: wedding trinkets. But how much to pack?

It had been a mad, frantic, wedding day, and the next morning we'd woken up with bags of stuff, everywhere.

After a wedding there are things that don't last, such as the flowers, the favors, the cake(s), some of the small funny memories of the day.

And there are things that do last: the paperwork, the invitations, the pictures, the clothing, the feelings, and well, the marriage.

Mark took our wedding album, from our amazo photographer Nikki, to the USA via hand luggage. Although the boxes I shipped turned up perfectly thanks to careful packing, lots of parcel tape, and mountains of bubble wrap, I did not want to trust such a precious thing to sea or air.

The dress remains in the UK. But that's another story altogether.

What did you do with your wedding trinkets? And what did you do with your dress!?

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Watching the London Olympics from the UK Part Two

The London Olympics are over - now what? Can Britain keep up the vibe?
I was in a truly privileged position as a spectator in the London Olympics. I traveled economy class, stayed in a budget hotel, had ordinary tickets. But I attended as both a tourist and a local. I saw things from both sides. I experienced the airports, tube, venues etc as a (newly-minted) foreigner, but really rooted for Team GB to do well. By Team GB, I meant everyone, not just the athletes.

This fellow English-born-ex-Fife-expat(and repat) summed up the logistical experience of the London Olympics really well, good and bad. The volunteers and staff were fantastic. They gave directions, they offered encouragement and lightened moods. They suggested great spots to watch the games, and acted as ambassadors who presented the UK as a friendly and outgoing place full of friendly and outgoing people.

The transport and infrastructure also worked perfectly (for me, at any rate). London felt more vibrant and excited than I've ever felt it. I went to bits of London I'd never been to before. Brits seemed genuinely surprised (in a good way) that things went off without a hitch. Blimey, Britain can scrub up well when lit on the world stage.

The BBC can be proud of its coverage as well - which I can compare first-hand to NBC. The overall choice and the ease with which to access it (even in budget hotel rooms) was not only impressive, but exactly what media outlets should be hoping to achieve with technology available to them. I'm not going to go into comparing budgets here and now though - if anyone else has I'd love to see.

What happens now? Will there be long-lasting positive legacy from the Games? Will it truly rejuvenate the East End? Will this bring a new era of super-serving broadcasting? The tagline for these Olympics was "inspire a generation" and the British government is keen to see Britain's bounce last a while. This hasn't happened in Cameron's case, but it'd be great to see Team GB match its medal haul in four years, and it'd be great to have new and old generations inspired to take up sports, whatever the reason, whether Taekwondo medal hopefuls, or healthy yoga-bugs. But sport success isn't the only inspiration to take from the Olympics. Two different comment pieces in the Guardian cover this topic in different ways, one about the sponsors of the games and another more wry piece about the economy. 
What legacy would I like to see? What inspired me most? Amongst all the branding, celebration and glamour of the games, there's a different message to take. The Olympics see more defeat than success - only the successful few take home a 'prize' - but the message of perseverance and inspiration would be a great one to carry through to the next British generation. Seeing all the defeated athletes getting cheered on and encouraged was an amazing reminder, both to keep on living the best I can and with the best mental attitude, but to support others around me doing the same.

My previous employer also has a great article about one particular aspect of the London Olympics that could be a great legacy if recognized and nurtured: the Gamesmakers. Can the UK inspire a new generation of civic activists? It's food for thought.

As we wave goodbye to London 2012 and the UK's moment of glory, can the UK keep up the enthusiasm for civic pride?
Glasgow has the Commonwealth Games in just two years. While in London I already heard about people keen to pick up even tickets, including me - I want lawn bowl tickets. I hope there'll be the same enthusiasm to get involved too.

What do you think?

Monday, 20 August 2012

Watching the London Olympics from the UK Part One

All of this post's photos were taken by myself, as always, and my mum, just not on DSLR or manual settings
The Olympic hangover has lifted, the jetlag has passed, and I'm back to my country of residence, munching on pretzels and savoring the cool air con breeze. I did a little skip and a jump through immigration at both ends: Benefit of having a Green Card is being able to travel through the 'Citizen' line at both ends of my transatlantic travelling.

Watching the Olympics in my new home country was pride-inducing enough, but being there in person was a positively giddy experience. I've never seen Brits so animated with national pride as the "jolly helpful people", AKA the Gamesmakers, or the army of Olympics volunteers. It definitely got the red, white and blue blood cells pumping.

During the infamous UK Olympics tickets lottery, my mum and I hedged our bets on events we reckoned other Brits wouldn't want to go to. Ergo, we got tickets for the Women's Football/Soccer Final, Men's Freestyle Wrestling, and Women's Mountain Biking. I was super-psyched and US husband was super-envious.
Olympic Womens' Soccer Final: Fans, Wembley, Hope Solo, US Victory, record-breaking crowds.
As a Brit, I'm predisposed to prefer to support the underdog. In ordinary circumstances nobody would call Team USA the underdog, but this was going to be a close game against Japan, and I was proud to wave my little stars n' stripes. We were directly behind the goal when Team USA scored their first of two - you can see the ball fly into the net in one of the photos above. In the second half we saw Hope Solo do some of her best work of the whole Games.

A defining moment of the match was beating the world record for audience numbers at a women's soccer game: 80,203 fans and an almost packed out Wembley. 80,203 fans that booed loudly during the announcement that Seb Blatter, President of Fifa, would be handing out the medals to the US, Japanese and Canadian champs. A chap from San Francisco sat behind us was audibly shocked:

San Fran: Oh my God, why is everyone booing?
Glad Mum: They're booing Seb Blatter, head of Fifa. 
San Fran: But why?
Glad Mum: He's not very popular. I called my last Fantasy Football team Weak Blatter Control.
San Fran: Wow, that's obviously something you feel strongly about! I can't believe all these crazy Brits booed.

The next day we had Freestyle Wrestling at the Excel center/centre. This included a rather handy introduction to the sport and the moves to look out for: They knew their audience, and most Brits aren't clued up on the minutiae of Freestyle Wrestling. This was much to the chagrin of my Pennsylvanian husband who was shocked to discover I knew very little about the sport. He was very proud that we thoroughly enjoyed the day though, especially as he missed out on seeing another US gold medal broadcast live. He did, however, get the Women's soccer final live on TV, along with the super-boo.

This is an illustration of what wrestling is all about:
Freestyle Wrestling: None of this looks very comfortable.
Women's Mountain Biking was no less gruelling. I couldn't have walked the track without breaking a sweat. 

We picked this sport because it took place at Hadleigh Farm, in Essex, not far from my birthtown. Once again I got to witness USA grab a medal (bronze), amidst a fun festival atmosphere. Team GB cyclist Annie Last did not live up to her name, and came a respectable 8th. 

The biggest cheer, however, was reserved for Candice Neethling of South Africa. She came last. A British audience does like an underdog, after all. But at only 20 years old, she's an inspiration to anyone riding a tough track with the odds stacked against them: Keep on pushing on at whatever you do. You can read Candice Neethling's reflections after her tough Olympic race here.
Gold Medal winner Julie Bresset on the right, and the young Candice Neethling, who came last, on the left.
I don't think we could have had a more enjoyable trio of sporting adventure. It was jolly good fun.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Rustic Weekend: Freddy Hill Farm

Hey, it's another dairy farm!

We are spoiled for choice for local dairy goods here. One of the super benefits of living in the heart of nowhere, USA - we can have a rigorous round of mini golf followed by a towering cookie cone of locally made ice cream.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Buy Me Maybe? Differences between UK and USA advertising

The British stereotype is of reserved underwhelm and understatement. Americans are used to directness and hyperbole. These two different cultures result in entirely different advertising styles. British adverts are far more likely to tell you not to buy a product, whereas US commercials are much more like a Carly Rae Jepsen parody on a sugar high: Hey, this is crazy, but buy me maybe?

Because Brits are so reluctant to be direct, British ads have to be creative. Kate Fox writes a funny-coz-it's-true account of TV advertising in the UK:
The humorist George Mikes claimed in 1960 that 'All advertisements - particularly television advertisements - are utterly and hopelessly un-English. They are too outspoken, too definite, too boastful.' … the English should evolve their own style of advertising, recommending, 'Try your luck on Bumpex Fruit Juice. Most people detest it. You may be an exception.'
Kate Fox points out that 30 years later this advert actually happened in the UK: I hate Marmite

I love Marmite, and also loved this advertising campaign. It was a talking point - do you love or hate Marmite - which is exactly what an advertising company hopes to achieve!

I saw a similar billboard on the London Underground during my trip to the Olympics last week. It was British Airways urging people not to fly: Don't Fly, they said, stay at home and support Team GB. It was another perfect example of Brits using their indirectness, their awkwardness with pushy boasting and brash marketing, to create a talking point. Of course it wasn't altruism on BA's part. I reckon most folks flying to escape the Olympics may have opted for a budget airline, not BA. So rather than killing their own business, BA probably affected their competitors' business, if at all.

Incidentally, the article I linked stated that BA predicted they'd get a lot of business from expats travelling back to London. Sorry BA, I travelled with someone else, but your adverts were better.

BA were an official Olympic sponsor. I know this because their billboards peppered the London tube, along with others from other official sponsors. I had read and heard endless criticism of the commercialization of the Games, which limited choice in Olympic park. I didn't visit Olympic Park, and while I can't disagree, I was struck by something interesting at the other venues I did visit: There was very little advertising at all.

I checked back on footage from previous Olympics (okay, Barcelona '92 and Salt Lake City '02) as London was the first I'd been to, and it wasn't an anomaly. It was, I have to say, nice to wander around the venues and enjoy the sports without constantly being reminded who had helped pay for them. Outside of the arenas, and mostly in the tube stations, the billboards were witty and fun and made me feel back at home - including Marks and Spencer saying "On your Marks for Autumn". Oh M & S, bastion of British sensibilities and sensible underwear.

USA advertising is far more in-yer-face to appeal to that direct and hyperbolic US culture. I've written about it before: American ads pretty much all say "you need this product. Go buy it!" And the majority of commercials seem to be for drugs, poptarts, erectile dysfunction, and diabetes. It's a disconcerting combination of messages to receive during a short ad break.

By 'drugs' I don't mean anything illicit, obviously, but I don't mean over the counter stuff either. I mean prescription medication. "Ask your doctor for XYZ" - it's noticeable to Brits purely because of the different natures of the UK and US healthcare systems. And then there's diabetes.

This map states that prevalence of diabetes in the USA is over 10%, while in the UK it's almost 7%. But I'd love to know what percentage of US commercials relate to diabetes products.

My absolute favorite US commercial right now is for something called Accu-chek Nano. This jingle is the summer pop hit of 2012. You thought it was Call Me Maybe? Nope, you are far off the mark. When I first saw it, I thought it was for a mobile phone for girls. It's not. It's a blood checker for those with diabetes.

This jingle is something else entirely. How a commercial for a diabetes product can be so un-ironically saccharine, I don't know, but it's oh so catchy and moreish. You've listened to it twice already now haven't you? You're resisting the urge to get up and dance. The only thing it's comparable to is the equally girly I love Horses advert that used to hit British screens every New Year:

 I'm not the only one who has noticed this amazing jingle. And, in a twist of the strange, it was even used as the soundtrack for a flash mob at the American Association of Diabetes Educators conference.

They really are trying to cash in on the whole Call Me Maybe vibe to attract a target audience. And that's okay by me. If anyone could actually do an Accu-chek Jepsen jingle remix, I'll send them a whole bunch of candy (irony intended).

Once every year the American population tunes in to the Superbowl, not to watch the sport, but to watch the heralded Superbowl commercials, and to see commercials done properly. Why advertisers can't do that all year round I don't know, and I haven't even gotten round to mentioning Jos. A Bank yet … Put simply, Jos. A Bank is American directness at its finest, and this Brit finds it hilarious.

Have you secretly danced to the Accu-chek Nano jingle? What's your favorite/least favorite commercial? Do you like Marmite? Have you ever actually bought a suit from Jos. A Bank, and if so, what came free?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Stuff wot I brought with me 2 - heart home bracelet

This one makes far more sense than an outdated, unusable video cassette. It's a double bangle with names of places I've lived (including my new USA home), joined with the phrase "heart home". It was a Christmas gift from my mum.

And if you think that's sweet, you can get your own. I'd recommend choosing your own lettering. Having my hometowns on your bracelet would be a bit weird.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Rustic Weekend: Pumpkins and Watermelons

Bad news: The giant pumpkin went funky, so we had to throw it out.
Good news: We have more pumpkins.

growing pumpkins
All American street fair
Rural/Suburban America is pretty good with street fairs during summer
Watermelon eating contest
Pie eating and Watermelon eating contests in a nearby town

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Stuff wot I brought with me 1 - Snoopy Come Home

For want of a better name, this post is going to be part of a series named Stuff wot I brought with me, or what (not) to pack when you move three thousand miles.

I was strict when I was packing for the USA move. Most of our wedding gifts had been delivered to the USA, so I was lucky in only having clothes, books and belongings to pack up. I shipped five boxes using Seven Seas Shipping, and I cannot imagine the hassle of having to pack up a whole house and move its contents internationally. Oh my.

I dumped a lot of stuff. Stuff I'd hung onto and had to admit I'd never use again. It was after an encounter with my nan that I felt okay chucking it all out. She'd said that most of the people she knew as a child/teen were no longer in her life for one reason or another. But her family has grown, and she's shared most of her life with her husband and family.

I've moved over to create new moments with my husband. There will be new knick knacks. It's important (and easier in the 'social age') to hold onto moments and things and people from the past, sure, but I've also seen that show Hoarders. There's a limit. My limit was five boxes.

But as irrational and emotional beings are wont to do, I did hold onto some sentimental items. This video is a classic example. I found it while emptying an old chest during the packing process. The chest contained some old bears, a school recorder, some sheet music, old candy wrappers (why did I keep those?) and this video cassette.

It is fully useless. But I loved Snoopy Come Home as a kid.

When I was a toddler my mum, an art student at the time, painted a giant mural of Snoopy and Woodstock on my bedroom wall. We lived in a rented apartment, and while I thought it was the coolest thing EVAR, our landlord didn't agree (but Snoopy stayed).

When I found the video I did a terrible thing: I looked it up on YouTube. Copyright violations aside, it's the saddest movie ever made, and really not fit for watching when you're about to leave one home for another: Snoopy puts his kennel up for rent and leaves after a goodbye party where everyone cries. I learned later that apparently Schulz got divorced when this movie was released, which would explain a lot.

I was in bits. I emailed Mark in a panic over what to do. I'd had the video since I was three, but VHS is entirely outdated, we don't have a video player, and a UK VHS would never work in the USA anyway. This video is entirely obsolete, but I wanted to keep it. Makes total sense, right?

Mark replied: It is ok. I understand. Bring it. I insist.

So I did. Now I have this daft old 1980s video cassette that I can never use…But I'm glad I do.

Have you kept or shipping anything weird or useless? What couldn't you live without?

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Gladley Come Home!

Hello chappies, I'm flying back to the UK this week for some Olympic shenanigans!

This is known as a kiss moment
Moving to the USA has been a huge journey (literally and figuratively).

The first time I called my Dad on the phone since being in the USA, he was surprised to hear from me. I had to remind him that I haven't died, I've just moved across the world. And that means I can come back.

I've had Olympics tickets booked for over a year now, and I can't believe it's come around finally. It was a huge help knowing that I would be heading back to the UK shortly after making the USA move. I'll be catching up with all my family and some of my friends too, which makes the distance feel just a little bit shorter.

When I get back, I don't know when I'll be back to the UK again. But this time period has been a good watershed. It's given me time to spend with my husband after a long stint as a long-distance couple, time to acquaint myself with my new home country, time to get my Green Card, social card and driving permit. I've had volunteer shifts, job applications, and job interviews. When I come back I hope for more, and more of the same.

Psst, don't worry, I've scheduled a bunch of blog posts, so it won't seem like I'm away at all.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Britannia rules: New requirements for UK family immigration

Just before I hopped on a plane to start my life as as US resident proper, the UK Government announced changes to the procedures for family immigration to the UK. The changes broke my heart.
There was some coverage in the media about the changes at the time, and expat websites and blogs explained their concern over the changes because they have made family immigration to the UK so much more prohibitive. More so even than the US. I wrote to my MP, who wrote to Theresa May, who wrote back to me recently. Let me explain, let me compare to the process I experienced, and let me respond to Ms May's words.

In the current US system, a sponsor (US citizen sponsoring foreign relative) must earn 125% of the US poverty guidelines (currently $18,912 for a household of two). If the US citizen does not earn that much, they can use co-sponsors and assets to make up the income level. For example, if the US citizen has just graduated and hasn't set up a household yet, they can use a support network from their family to assist in bringing the foreign relative over. Us Transatlantic couples have great family support networks.

As I explained before, this is to ensure that the foreign family member does not become a public charge upon entering the US. I cannot claim any US government aid, because if I do, my husband will have to pay it back. It's pointless for me to even try.

In the UK the income threshold for the sponsor (the UK citizen sponsoring a foreign relative) is now £18,600, although if the UK citizen does not have an income they may use savings of at least £60,000.

In the words of Theresa May to me:
The purpose of the minimum income requirement for sponsorship is to ensure
that family migrants are supported at a reasonable level so that they do not
become a burden on the taxpayer and they can participate sufficiently in
everyday life to facilitate their integration into British society. British citizens and
those settled in the UK are free to enter into a genuine relationship with
whomever they choose, but if they Wish to establish their family life in the UK, it is
appropriate that they should do so on a basis that does not increase burdens on
the taxpayer and promotes integration…
This I agree with entirely in theory. However, it is possible to avoid a new immigrant becoming a burden on the taxpayer, by making it impossible for them to access benefits, or by making the sponsor financially responsible. I can't be a burden on the US state, because the US state would claim everything back from my husband, but at least we get to be together in the same country. The UK now has one of the highest income requirements for family immigration.

Moreover, as Theresa May then explains:
…We believe it is right that the person seeking to be joined by their migrant spouse
or partner should be the sponsor, and that they should be able to support their
partner independently. Therefore third party or joint sponsorship is not accepted.
Similarly, offers of support from third parties will not be counted towards meeting
the requirement. We want the sponsor, or the couple if both are already in the
UK, to demonstrate independent financial standing, with adequate resources
under their own control. 
No co-sponsors. The new policy expects the UK citizen to be the main breadwinner in the family. If the UK citizen is not the main source of income, or if, for example, the couple were students or recent graduates, the possibility of the couple being able to stay together in the UK would be unlikely, even if they had a strong support network from friends and family.

If the couple were in a situation like ours, where the couple lived abroad and wished to return to the UK, they would either need large savings, or the UK citizen would need to return to the UK and begin to earn £18,600 before they'd be able to start the immigration process. Even for relatively successful graduates like Mark and myself, saving up £60,000 is a pipe dream right now. The choice would be that, or separation. I should note that the thresholds are higher when there are more family members involved (ie children).

We have done long-distance. We did it for a long time. Transatlantic separation is not easy, even when children aren't involved. 

The other policy element that concerns me is the extension of the probationary period from two to five years. Again, let's look at the US policy to compare.

I currently have a two year conditional US Green Card. This is because when I came to the USA Mark and I had not yet been married for two years. We need to prove that we are in a bonafide marriage. Fair enough. Before the two years are up (by mid-2014) we must prove that we are still living in marital union before I can receive a full 10 year Green Card, no conditions attached. A year after that I can apply for US citizenship. It is a long, bureaucratic, expensive, but entirely fair process.

The new UK policy requires a five year probation. This is regardless of how long the couple have been married. Ms May explains thusly:
The main aim of introducing a five year probationary period is to better test the
genuine nature of the relationship before the migrant spouse or partner is
granted settlement. However, the Government believes it will also assist migrant
spouses and partners to integrate into British life before reaching settlement.
If Mark and I did ever plan to move back to the UK, it would likely be after I gained US citizenship and became a dual citizen. By then we would have been married for at least five years. The UK would then wish to test the "genuine nature" of our marriage for another five years. We would be married for a decade before the UK believed we were in a bonafide relationship, and we got married in the UK!

Mark and I have no plans to move to the UK in the near future. But now, if Mark and I ever did wish to return to the UK together, it's highly improbable that we will be able to.

When we got engaged back in 2009, we weighed up our options, our life plans, our situations, and the two immigration processes. Many couples in our situation make these calculated decisions every day. We made, and stuck to, the decision to move to the USA. But the option to return to the UK had been open to us, until now.

I suspect many couples will have pondered a similar decision in the past few months only to discover that one option is no longer realistically open to them. If they don't have £60,000 in the bank, or the UK citizen is not currently in the UK and earning beyond the minimum wage, living in the UK together is likely no longer an option.

The choice between spouse and country is not an easy one to make. I like my birth country, but I also like being allowed to spend time with my husband. When my blotchy, tear-stained face appeared on TV as part of the Britain in a Day movie, I said "It will be hard for me to leave. But it is so much harder to be apart from my husband." Immigration is an emotive subject, and family immigration is especially so.

I have no problem - and never will have a problem - showing the genuine nature of my marriage if it is part of a process that reduces or deters illegal immigration, forced marriage, or marriage scams. But I do not believe these new policies in the UK are part of such a process. I believe they are part of a process to reduce or deter (legal) immigration full stop.  It breaks my heart, but it also boggles my mind.

If you read the policy guidelines from the UKBA, they already pre-empt legal challenges on the basis of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act: The right to a family. The Economist also expects this to happen, though the outcomes are uncertain. I'd personally like to see these guidelines overturned.

New UK Family immigration rules leave little choice for international couples
On a lighter note, they're also changing the UK citizenship test. I think there should be a tea drinking/biscuit dunking test, a long queue (us Brits love queues), and a Eurovision songwriting contest. The person who writes a winning song for the UK gets automatic citizenship.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Rustic Weekend: Love Statue

Love Statue: It crops up everywhere. This is not the famous one in Love Park, Philadelphia (city of brotherly love).

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Our Town

When I was about 16, I played Emily in a production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. If you're American, you probably know it from required reading at school. Maybe you're groaning right now.

We performed in a church hall with the audience facing us on two sides. I remember a member of the audience approaching me after one performance to tell me they enjoyed it, but it was a bit heavy for a weeknight.

Last night we saw an open air production of Our Town in a nearby park. It was a great performance, and ever so much more poignant to be seeing it in rural/surburban America. Beneath the moon and the stars, with crickets and birds making a racket around us; it was almost like we were in the heart of Grover's Corner, especially when a train would pass us in the distance. This is exactly how Our Town should be experienced.

This town, our town, is not unlike that in the play. It's fascinating to speak to my parents-in-law to discover how much this corner of the USA has developed over the past half-century. At the end, when the sun had set completely, and the cast took their bows, we felt uplifted and fortunate, and excited about our future.

Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?