Guest Post: The Expat Male Point of View – Part 2

“It is a bitter-sweet thing, knowing two cultures. Once you leave your birthplace nothing is ever the same.” Sarah Turnbull

So here it is, the long awaited guest post by the other half ‘The Expat Male Point of View – Part 2’, aptly named Everything’s Better With Beer! It seems lots of you really enjoyed his first post (I am not bitter, repeat I am not bitter, I am not bitter) and one of you even suggested he take over the blog full time, how rude! (I know who you are…. MN). Sourcing photos for this post was a bit tricky because everything is pretty much about beer…….. I hope you enjoy reading (just not too much) and I look forward to reading your comments.

Jo x

‘Everything’s better with beer!’ by Dave Brett

Firstly, many thanks for the kind words about my previous post The Expat Male Point of View, it was just the encouragement needed to ensure I provided a ‘part two’ to balance the books. I try to make the most out of living here but certainly miss some things from home, here are my top five.

Part 2 – Top Five Things I Miss About Home.

1. Thank heavens for the internet

Obviously it goes without saying that the number one thing by far you miss when you move abroad is family and friends. The internet, social media and messaging applications have made this considerably easier and cheaper these days though. It is difficult to imagine how hard it would have been when people emigrated years ago and apart from costly transatlantic telephone calls they would have had to rely on post or telegrams to correspond with loved ones, often taking weeks between each communication. A far cry from instant real time conversations using whatsapp or live video chats with Skype. High speed telecommunications have meant that people can communicate more easily across countries and continents and in some cases more often than they did whilst living in the same country. Nowadays for people I haven’t seen in over ten years I get to hear each time they go to the gym, see actual pictures of what they are eating and when they visit Starbucks – how awesome is that!

Joking aside when people ask me about living abroad and wonder if it would work for them the first thing I ask about is their family dynamics. Even though modern day telecommunications make keeping in touch very easy, nothing beats being surrounded by your family and friends, nothing feels worse when something happens at home and you aren’t there to help out or be part of it. The lowest moments for sure are feeling remote, isolated and helpless when a family member needs your help. I am extremely fortunate to have very accommodating parents who are understanding of us being abroad and have been amazingly supportive to the kids in our absence, for this we will be forever grateful.

2. Beer, burgers and more beer

We do have beer in Abu Dhabi, I have even been known to drink some. However nothing compares with ‘proper beer’, real ale served from wooden casks straight from the cellar. I miss proper beer A LOT. The first thing I do upon arrival in the UK is find a suitable old fashioned English pub serving real ale and dive in head first. The first one rarely touches the sides and when I place the empty glass down I feel the warm, cosy feeling of being ‘home’. I miss it so much that I actually get quite disappointed if not slightly annoyed if I find myself in a pub in the UK that doesn’t serve real ale, it feels like a missed opportunity. I have turned into that guy who asks to taste each of the beers on offer before making my selection, not wanting to make a bad choice on such a crucial decision.

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Beer is more than a tasty beverage in the UK it is part of a whole culture. Not much beats a long winter walk to a country pub where an open fire and fantastic smells of home-style cooking await, Sundays mean roast dinner and is the mainstay of pub food at the weekend. If a pub gets its roast dinner just right it will always be busy. Obviously it will never taste like your mum’s (or wife’s err umm) but it is often the next best thing. Burgers are also a pub favourite along with ham, egg and chips. It’s safe to say I always put on a few pounds whenever I visit the UK hardly surprising when I often have burger and beer for lunch followed by burger and beer for dinner.

3. Familiarity

I pretend to be an ‘International Man of Mystery’ and all windswept and interesting but truth be told, I’m a boring old git. A creature of habit, I like a routine and familiarity and have Sheldon (from The Big Bang Theory) esque tendencies when it comes to chairs. I like to sit in the same place on my sofa and at the dining table. I don’t think that is especially weird or out of the ordinary however it provides the immediate family further opportunity for ridicule. The seats I have chosen ARE the best, they provide the optimum viewing angle to the TV and equal distance between my speakers. Anyway the UK is familiar to me and that is always comforting. When you arrive at the airport I know exactly what to do and where to go and if something goes wrong, missing luggage etc I have confidence in the system sorting it out.

The roads and signs are familiar, the shops and bars (did you know I like beer), public buildings are familiar they generally look how they should. We have hospitals in Abu Dhabi that look like futuristic space stations. If I need to get a mobile phone, renew my driving license, obtain a fishing permit (I’m making things up now) the process ‘feels’ familiar. Although you could argue that this familiarity and feeling completely comfortable with my surroundings was one of the drivers for me seeking new experiences and challenges (which is correct) it doesn’t mean I don’t miss it at times and enjoy the feeling of ‘returning home’.

Abu Dhabi has become a lot easier in the time I have lived here and processes and procedures have definitely improved significantly but there are still some things that appear quite random, hugely inconsistent (depending on day of the week, time of day, who you speak to, what nationality you are etc.) and complicated (read bizarre). The trick is to take the apparent randomness and ambiguity in your stride, never get frustrated or impatient (you are living in someone else’s country and English is not their first language) and generally things will get sorted reasonably quickly if you maintain a smile. Whilst this improves your patience and communication skills whenever I phone a helpdesk based in the UK or ask for help back home the support you receive ‘feels’ familiar and comforting and makes you appreciate and miss it.   

4. Golf, beer and banter

In the UK I played golf most weekends, I even played in the winter league and I think I once stayed on the course when it rained.  I like golf and I especially like golf at Basingstoke Golf Club, my favorite golf of all is playing Basingstoke with my three best golfing buddies or with my father and sons. Not sure there are many better days for me than playing my home course with family or friends especially if you are lucky with the weather and by stroke of luck or in my case miracle you win. Golf gets a lot of stick and is seen by many as ‘an old man’s sport’ or a ‘good walk spoilt’. I disagree completely and suggest ‘you are doing it wrong’, they say “golf is like s*x – you don’t have to be good at to enjoy it” I say “who you do it with makes all the difference”☺.

You can obviously play golf here; the courses are fantastic but for a number of reasons it has not become a main activity for me and whilst I play occasionally (generally when my dad or mates from Basingstoke come to visit) the enjoyment I get isn’t the same as back home. This can’t be due to the weather or the facilities so it has to be who you do it with!. Eighteen holes of golf generally takes 3 ½ to 4 hours and sometimes longer, it can feel like a lifetime in the rain or partnered with the wrong person. When we play it is competitive but very relaxed and friendly with lots of banter and good natured humour. Golf can be a frustrating game and over the years I have learnt not to get too upset when things don’t go well, after all you are generally walking around beautiful park land with great people, talking nonsense and having a laugh.

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My other favourite thing about Basingstoke Golf Club is that they serve beer, proper beer, Doombar to be precise. When it comes to beer a decent pint of Doombar takes some beating and after eighteen holes of golf downing the first pint is one of the best feelings there is. I have spent many great afternoons and evenings in the golf club bar and I will always try and get a round in and pay homage to the place whenever I’m back in the UK.

5. TV

I can’t lie, I like TV, like golf it gets some bad press as being a waste of life but I enjoy watching decent TV, there are so many quality shows around and it doesn’t warrant the negative image it gets. Due to the aforementioned wonders of the internet and high speed telecommunications we can still watch UK TV here and download pretty much any show you want. However the whole experience isn’t the same as it is watching it back home in the UK. You can actually ‘miss’ the adverts, some adverts over the years have become famous and spawn their own following, people mention Meerkats to me and I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

I had a discussion here recently with a number of friends of mine of different nationalities, the topic was “what are you most proud of in your country?” it was a lively debate and interesting to hear what people thought of their home countries and what made them great. It was obvious to me – Beer! I went on a rant about warm, flat beer that no-one understood, especially the teetotallers. A lot of people went with their cuisine especially those from Lebanon and Turkey and after I mentioned HiFi another passion of mine, I threw TV into the ring. The UK makes great TV shows across many genres, we have produced classic comedy shows, amazing dramas and documentaries and wildlife series’ that are beyond comparison. Please don’t take this as any endorsement of Soaps, they’re rubbish and a waste of life! ☺.

Obviously we can watch it all here but it’s not quite the same as seeing it for the very first time at home at exactly the same time as the rest of the nation. Same with sport, sport must be watched live on TV and preferably in your own home where you can shout whatever you like without any consequences.

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There are many things I love and miss about the UK I have listed only a few. They say “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, I say “everything’s better with beer”.

All the views are my own. Unless otherwise stated all photos on this page copyright Jo and Dave Brett. All rights reserved.