Archive for the ‘Expat Living’ Category

Radio has had a resurgence in my world and now I live in a new country it’s taken on a greater significance.

The H1B gets up around 6am and we stream BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, which also starts at 6am UK time five hours before. If I have woken up from a particularly deep slumber, I often don’t realise I am actually in the USA until my Twinnings Earl Grey won’t brew properly even when the tea bag has been in the cup for five minutes (why is that?).

>> Read below for recommended American radio stations… there is a point to this blog, I promise…

Once the H1B has gone off to work with a kiss and a “goodbye dear” (so Mad Men), I tune into Women’s Hour, which is easily the best female-focused discussion forum across any media, including magazines and those ghastly patronising chat shows (though Jezebel is a good online contender).

I will be honest, however, and say I also like it because I daydream about being, in another life, as clever and cool and so exquisitely tough, challenging and school-marm-patronising as Jenni Murray is with difficult politicians and other smug people*.

Sarah Lund's covertable Scandiknit is no barrier to her professionalism

Today’s highlights included a segment on Scandiknits and why they are on-trend (thanks to The Killing and Sarah Lund), and why there are no women in this year’s shortlist for BBC Sportsperson of the Year Award.

Then, just before I feel irreversibly middle-aged, I turn to 6 Music, which specialises in making mid-30 somethings feel ‘with it’ and hip by playing music from the days when there were (slightly more) ‘with it’ and hip.

And when I’ve listened to Lauren Laverne, and Steve Lamacq is getting a bit esoteric for my liking, I tune into Classic FM for some soothing, attention-span-friendly pieces of old music while I and get the cheese and biscuits ready for the H1B’s return.

So, then, radio keeps me in contact with home and also makes me feel a little bit more at home in this new city of ours.


However, I appreciate it’s slightly pathetic to cling to the old country quite so strongly; listening to streamed music from across the Atlantic like a homesick Jack Russell staring forlornly into a cylinder phonograph (he was called Nipper by the way), so I’ve been investigating New York and national radio stations.

Here are some I’ve found so far (please suggest more if you have some favourites):

  • News, current affairs and worthy music – no ads: WNYC AM 820/FM 93.9 (part of BBC World service – so a bit of a cheat)
  • Old school hits, funk and R&B: WBLS FM107.5
  • Classical: WQXR FM105.9

An Australian friend of mine who used to live in New York recommends This American Life, which is a radio station that is hard to define. On their about us page, it says: “One of our problems from the start has been that when we try to describe This American Life in a sentence or two, it just sounds awful. For instance: each week we choose a theme and put together different kinds of stories on that theme. That doesn’t sound like something we’d want to listen to on the radio, and it’s our show.”

Sounds pretty intriguing; I’m game. Although you have to hunt them down as they appear on different frequencies on different days (que?):

New York WNYC 820 AM S 12:00 PM
New York WNYC 93.9 FM S 9:00 PM
New York WNYC 93.9 FM Su 7:00 PM

I’m sure I’ll stream them online instead.

*Jenni Murray is also my hero because at a tender age I appeared on WH to speak about maternity fashion. I was nervous (knowing my mother and her gym friends were listening), and talked about John Lennon‘s maternity range when I meant the department store John Lewis. Murray laughed graciously like I’d said something very witty and that I’d said it on purpose to prove a point.

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Social Security Numbers

In the USA you need a social security number to open a bank account, get a credit card or drivers licence, buy a car and apply for health insurance. And of course you need it to for employment purposes and for filing tax returns.

It is the main source of ID in this country and if you are an H4 you can’t have one. No, really, no, no, no. Not even the third category of SSN, the “non-work card”.

Your H1 spouse can have one and the idea is that you benefit from his or her privileges by default. Or via osmosis or something because you ain’t going to get anything more official than that in the near future.

Useful links:

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What house doesn't need a giant inflatable turkey in its front yard?

Most non-Americans don’t really get Thanksgiving at first – being so close to Christmas and all, but the more I hear about it the more I realise how special it is. Even if all they do is eat too much and fall asleep in front of the TV (like the traditional British chrimbo), it is a family celebration unhindered by the commercialism. It’s sort of the purest form of the modern Christmas.

My first experience of the day was in San Francisco, where I stayed for a week before I backpacked around Central America about five years ago. A friend of a friend of a friend (really) drove all the way across the bridge from Alameda on Thanksgiving morning and took me to her bayside home to celebrate the very American occasion with her family.

When I thanked her, she simply said, “That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”.

It’s just the H1B and myself this year – and the main thing I’m thankful for is having my six-work-days-a-week husband for four days straight. Amen to that.

Here are some other things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving:

  1. I’ve found a shop that sells Lurpak and Carrs Water Biscuits (the Blue Apron, Park Slope).
  2. My parents are nearly seventy but still see my never-ending stints of living abroad as a great holiday opportunity and booked their flights out for Christmas the minute we’d confirmed our visas had come through.
  3. My two-year-old niece has got her pretty auburn head around Skype and will happily chat to me in our weekly catch-up (the first attempts resulted in many tears and Peppa Pig had to be deployed on the DVD so her mum and I could talk – the only bit I saw of the girl for the first few sessions was the back of her head).
  4. My (much older but just as pretty) friend Jo has finally mastered Skype.
  5. For all the people we’ve randomly met since arriving in New York (mainly in bars) who have had no issues with chatting away to slightly tipsy total strangers and suggesting a second meet up.
  6. For streaming radio so I can listen to Women’s Hour and 6 Music whenever I want.

Speaking of which, I was trawling through Jenni Murray and Jane Garvey’s drawers earlier today (so to speak) and found this segment on Thanksgiving from last week.

I bet you didn’t know that Thanksgiving used to be held on different months in different states and it was the editor of a feminist magazine who petitioned Abraham Lincoln to have it unionised to fall on the last Thursday of November…

>> Listen to the segment here

Lurpak - the best butter

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Dependent Visa Holders

I found this article on immigrationvoice.org. It covers important topics, such as protection for victims of violence, and some readers have left interesting comments.

The last sentence is worth flagging as I find the discrepencies between an L2 being able to work, but not an H4, confusing:

Allowing the L2 and E2 category to work didn’t create any marked increase in the unemployment rate among US Citizens.”

What do you think? As H4 visa holders have we traded our right to gainful employment for the experience of living in America with our spouses? Or are we really victims of abuse?

“All these years the United States of America denied work-permits to
dependant visa holders with one simple explanation “You are in USA
because Your Spouse is allowed to work here”. But numerous surveys by
different social organizations has thrown light on the darker sides of
the life of dependant visa holders.

The dependant visa holder has to forgo his/her career growth in-order
to stay with the spouse. This causes  a big gap in the career and
finding a suitable job in the home country becomes difficult when the
principal visa holder has to leave USA and return to the home country.

If the dependant visa holder’s field of study or work is, one in which
getting a sponsorship from an employer is difficult, getting a
work-visa is almost impossible. He/she even loses his/her hard-earned
skills in the respective fields due to the large gap in career. Even
though volunteering is possible, most of the volunteer jobs might not
utilize the persons skills.

Studying in the USA is good option but, being a single income family,
it will affect the financial status of the family if other members of
the family (children) are studying.

90 percent of dependant visa holders are women. Women being, more
susceptible to domestic violence by the partner, becomes even more
prone to violence due to her complete dependence on the Spouse. They
become prisoners in USA due to the spousal abuse and immigration
policies that give their husbands complete control over their lives.

The immigrant Women get protection under VAWA but non-immigrants are
not covered. Even if a law to let the non-immigrant battered women to
obtain work permit is introduced, It might not protect women whose
cases dismissed as non-critical. The abuser can further exert his
control over the victim and convince her that he has changed so that
the victim might not press charges against him. Thus the abuser gets
encouraged to continue violence.

Divorce is not an option because most non-immigrants come from third
world countries where a divorced women has to bear the social stigma of
divorce and will not be protected in her own home country.

Because of the long queues for Labor certification application and
retrogression of visa numbers, getting an EAD and Green Card takes

Most European countries issue work permits to the spouses. Also the
time taken for permanent residency is lesser. In USA L2 and E2 visa
holders can have work permit, but the other categories are ignored.

Fear of flooding the labor market is not a valid reason to deny the
dependant visa holders work permit. Allowing the L2 and E2 category to
work didn’t create any marked increase in the unemployment rate among
US Citizens.”

Read the US Citizenship and Immigration Services definition of the Violence Against Women Act

Read the original article and comments from immigrationvoice.org

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If you are an H4 visa holder in the USA, it’s worth googling around the net to see what other folk are saying about their own situation. I’ve read mutterings about “infringement of human rights” a few times but found this programme by PBS the most considered. It’s well worth a watch, although I find some of the thoughts of the panelists frustrating. They argue that just because the US Government deems a spouse worthy of employment, that doesn’t mean that his wife (or her husband) should automatically get a job.

True, but we are not asking for an instant or automatic job, only the right to be employed if an employer sees us as a potential candidate – based on our merit and experience. Is that too much to ask when we pay taxes and contribute to the economy and wider society on every other level?

The piece centers around a documentary made by former trailing spouse Megha Damani who says: “A sense of self-worth and meaning of life comes from what we do. I felt like that person was just cut off from me when I landed in this country.”

Immigration attorney Shivah Shah points out that there are some serious issues over women who are in abusive relationships being much more vulnerable when they have to depend on their husbands for every cent, every credit card payment. I think this is a different issue though, as terrible as it is, because it takes the attention away from the basic issue – which is, if you have someone in the country paying taxes (albeit through their husbands), contributing to the economy etc etc, and they are particularly well qualified, they should be allowed to work.

Shah also points out that in some states women on an H4 visa can’t get a driving licence.

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After my third meeting of the week at a top publishing house with editors who said that they’d love to hire me for freelance (which I can’t do because of the restrictions of the H4 visa) but had no full-time work, I was experiencing a pretty major trailing spouse slump.

However, while New York (and its immigration laws) might have a way of kicking you down, the city also has a hell of a way of lifting you up. To offset the caffeine from my morning meeting, and a case of what Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s calls the “mean reds“, I embarked on a mega walk that took me down from 27th Street to Washington Square.

Just south of the square  I came across Thompson Street and, oh happy days, what a  treat. The pretty tree-lined streets held vintage shop after vintage shop of treasures, delights and jolly nice people who wanted to share their advice and tips of living in New York with me.

I started at Stella Dallas, which had an excellent selection of retro vintage pieces from the 40s through to the 70s and a whole rack of well-priced vintage fur, leather and sheepskin coats (about $350 for full-length 1960s mink; $150 for a 1970s Afghan coat).

(I can’t work out how to get the pictures off my camera phone so this image has been respectfully pinched from this artice on nymag.com)

I’m on a hunt for a good leather and fur coat after our first experience of New York snow, as apparently they are the best for warmth and wind-proofing (not to mention they look awesome cool) but unfortunately I couldn’t find one that fitted or didn’t make me look like the Sasquatch. The shopkeeper didn’t mind at all that I spent a good 45 minutes in there playing dress up (or she was too polite to say).

I did come out with a pretty alpine-style embroidered woollen jacket for $40.

Further down the street, The Kimono House gave this textile junkie one more fix. With some stunning antique pieces (with prices as high as $900) and some modern versions for a lot less, I was happy as a magpie with the beautifully printed silks and cottons, decorated with birds and flowers in corals, golds, reds and blues. Yukimo helped me try one on but they made me look a bit like a Dim Sum. In another life, I’d waft around the apartment wearing one.

My last forage took me to Legacy, which supplies items to Liberty in London. The best bit about the shop (apart from some interesting designs from independent labels) was Jessy the owner who imparted an array of information from where to buy curtains to where to pick up the best antique/vintage/cheap furniture. She and her business partners have just opened up a homewares store called Dry Goods at 362 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill (nearest subway is Schermerhorn and Hoyts, which is pronounced “Skimerhorn” – thanks Jessy), which I’m very keen to check out. Especially to see the beautiful 1900s hardware store cabinets she has sourced to display the heritage homewares. Jessy promised to send me pictures, which I’ll post when I can. (Have posted them now – see here.)

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