Looking for true love? Make a list

New York City in Winter (NASA, International S...
New York City in Winter (NASA, International Space Station, 01/09/11) (Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center) I knew he was out there…somewhere!!!

Years ago, a single woman I knew — tall, blond, attractive, intelligent, professionally successful — was getting really sick of being single. She had plenty of dates, but no one she ever wanted to marry.

So she made a list.

When she told me this, I wondered how weird and bossy that was, but she was soon happily married so…how wrong was she to try?

I made a list, too.

It was really, really long. I think it had about 36 things on it.

I didn’t specify anything about looks — height or weight or length of hair — I know what I like. I knew I would only want to marry someone in decent physical shape, who dressed with style. I’d dated a few bald men who were super-attractive beyond their hairiness, so that wasn’t an issue. I’m 5’5″, so didn’t need a guy who’s 6’4″, as some tall women might.

I had to start paring it down, which was a really interesting exercise. What did I most want?


A man willing and able to brush/shovel show — score! (This is the Jose I keep talking about.)

Something I couldn’t really put into writing in an on-line ad, which is the only way I was meeting anyone — I really hoped to find a man who was extraordinarily accomplished but extremely modest. Hah! In New York? Anyone who fit the first category would never date me, (I’m not a size 00, have no Ivy degrees nor a huge salary or fancy job) and the latter…it’s deeply un-American, at least where I live, to hide your light beneath a bushel. The skyline is virtually lit with ego and special-snowflake-ness!

But I also knew I wanted someone with clear, consistent ethics and a spiritual life. That, too, sounded way too starchy to put in an ad and I couldn’t figure out how to bring it up in conversation. I was reluctant to describe myself as a church-goer, (occasional), while knowing someone who couldn’t care less about the state of their soul, and the fate of the world, would never be a match for me.

My list was the best move I’ve ever made.

It forced me to really look at my priorities and decide which were the most important. Fun, cute, sexy…sure, in my 20s and 30s. But in my early 40s, by then six years’ divorced with no kids and no wish for any, I also wanted someone with real substance.

To use an old-fashioned word that means a great deal to me — with character. Of good character.

Not just a character!

Cover of "Catch Me If You Can (Full Scree...
Cover via Amazon

Jose, now my second husband, found me through an on-line profile I created while writing a story for Mademoiselle magazine. “Catch Me if You Can”, was my truthful headline.

I didn’t say I was a journalist but he knew right away — “That ego!” he’s told me many times.

(If you’re currently looking for love on-line, check out this story that had professionals tweak re-write two users’ profiles.)

Within a few dates, we both had a pretty good idea this one might take — it’s now been 13 years. He turned out to be a devout Buddhist, with a small room in his Brooklyn apartment with a shrine, Buddha and prayer flags. He took the vows of refuge after covering the end of the war in Bosnia for six weeks, which seared his soul.

Buddha statue from the Gandhara-culture (1st c...
Buddha statue from the Gandhara-culture (1st century, Pakistan) Español: Gandhara, siglo I. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We share: a strong work ethic, a commitment to spiritual growth, a love of great food and wine, a hunger to travel, intellectual curiosity, ease in settings from the White House, (he has photographed three Presidents) to a rural cabin, short fuses and tart tongues. He is crazily accomplished, (a Pulitzer, for 9/11 photo editing), but never tells anyone. (Check that box!) He’s funny, optimistic, affectionate, fiercely loyal.

We’re also very dissimilar in many ways. I live to take risks and am careless about rules and regulations. He’s a PK, a preacher’s kid, cautious about giving offense. I’ve spent much of my career freelance, figuring out my income month by month — he has never not had a job, ever.

When we started dating I had read a book with an interesting list; PEPSI…suggesting you seek a partner with whom you are compatible Professionally, Emotionally, Physically, Spiritually and Intellectually. We fit on four of the five, which seemed enough to me. And the one we didn’t fit on, Intellectually, (he rarely reads non-work material that is not focused on Buddhism), he has changed a lot, and we never run out of things to talk about.

Here’s a recent New York Times wedding announcement about a young woman and her list.

And a wise blog post about defining your values:

For too many years, I played the part of the perfect little southern girl: I kept my mouth shut and my opinions to myself. I dressed properly, including panty hose, slips, and girdles. I didn’t laugh too loudly in public. I did what I was told.

You see, I learned at an early age that I had to do this in order to always be seen as a “good little girl” (and avoid getting punished). I continued the same behavior after I got married, doing what my husband expected of me and keeping up the appearances of a perfect life behind a white picket fence.

I was a mental and emotional chameleon, changing my viewpoints and values to match first those of my parents and then those of my husband. Secretly, inside myself, I had my own dreams and opinions, ideas, and desires. Eventually I realized that in order to be happy, I needed to learn to live outside the box of my upbringing.

Have you ever made a list of what you really want in a partner?

Did it work?

Thank you! Merci! Gracias! Danke!

With 4,180 people now following Broadside, and 1,360 posts here to choose from,

Broadside Benefit 1979

Readers include:

— a tour guide in Ghana

— a medical student in Lebanon

— a journalism student in New Zealand

— a Toronto interior designer

— a translator in Berlin

— a mother-of-six in Australia

— an American father-of-five

— a Canadian woman living and working on a remote Australian sheep farm

— a Manhattan cinematographer

— a high school student in Paris (salut Hanae!)

I enjoy this diversity — although it’s tough to satisfy all of you!

I began my career when I was 17, when I sold three photos as the cover of a magazine in Toronto, so you’ll find posts about how to freelance and how to find work and how to deal with it once you’ve got it.

Many of you, like me, have traveled widely, and/or are currently, or hope to be, or have been ex-patriates. We’re  people who share a deep curiosity about the rest of the world and have explored it firsthand. My second husband is both American born, and of Hispanic (Mexican) heritage, so I also live some of these cross-cultural challenges in our marriage.

Some of the things I blog about:

How to live an ethical life?

What are our best “next steps”? And what will we do if they don’t work out?

What contributions, paid or volunteer, can we make to the world?

How can we and our families live (well) in a time of income inequality and restricted access to good jobs?

Can I really produce art — writing, music, dance, design, film, video — that touches people? How?

What drives creativity?

What does it take to make  friendship, family or marriage thrive, or wither?

What is success and (how) can I achieve it?

Making a home beautiful — on a budget!

As a twice-married Canadian who has lived in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, London, Paris, New Hampshire, Cuernavaca, Mexico and now suburban New York, I know we each see the world through glasses colored by race, gender, sexual preference, education, socioeconomic class, nationality and religion, (or none), just to name a few.

Toronto Skyline
Toronto Skyline (Photo credit: Bobolink)

I earn my living, and have since my undergrad years at the University of Toronto, as a writer of journalism and non-fiction. I’ve worked as a reporter for three major daily newspapers, most recently the New York Daily News. I write often for The New York Times, with five business features for them in the past year, with two more to come.

I’m also the author of two well-reviewed non-fiction books, so if you haven’t checked them out, I hope you will. My newest, “Malled”, a memoir of working retail and an expose of low-wage labor in the U. S., is being published in China in June. I’m excited!

I won my National Magazine Award for a humor essay about getting divorced — that’s fairly typical for me. Life’s too short for constant draaaaaaama, and panicking — as they taught us in lifeguard school — usually just kills you faster.

I began writing Broadside in July 2009. Please take some time to roam around the archives.

Here are some of my favorite posts, all from 2009:

Why I read obituaries, and you should too.

— How summer camp changed my life.

— Why being a journalist feels like joining a tribe (in a good way!)

— What it feels like to try to sell your non-fiction book (it sold!)

Thank you for reading Broadside!

I'm Caitlin Kelly, author here.
I’m Caitlin Kelly, author here.

The wearying, growing toll of “emotional labor”

emotion icon
emotion icon (Photo credit: Łukasz Strachanowski)

It’s a phrase some of you might not know, even as your every workday includes it:

Does your job require you to manage your emotions, or the way you express those emotions, to meet organizational expectations? This is called ’emotional labor.’ People in a service-oriented role – hotel workers, airline flight attendants, tour operators, coaches, counselors – often face the demands of emotional labor.

Arlie Hochschild created the term ’emotional labor’ in 1983 to describe the things that service workers do that goes beyond physical or mental duties. Showing a genuine concern for customers’ needs, smiling, and making positive eye contact are all critical to a customer’s perception of service quality. These types of activities, when they’re essential to worker performance, are emotional labor.

When you face angry clients, or people who are generally unpleasant, emotional labor can be particularly challenging. A large part of that challenge comes from the need to hide your real emotions, and continue to ‘smile and nod your head,’ even when receiving negative or critical feedback.

Companies often place a great deal of strategic importance on service orientation, not only to external customers but to colleagues and internal clients as well. While emotional labor is applicable to many areas of business, the consequences are probably greatest in traditional service roles. However, in an increasingly service-oriented marketplace, it’s important to understand how emotional labor affects workers, and what organizations can do to support and manage any issues.

People who serve others in customer-facing jobs — like waitress/er, bartender, nurse, flight attendant, public transit workers and retail staff, to name only a few — shoulder this significant burden with every shift.

When I took a part-time retail job, which I describe candidly in my 2011 memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, I didn’t really get how hard emotional labor is. Now I do!

Part of it is the assumption, if you work in a service job like retail — and a snotty assumption increasingly made in a time of growing income inequality — that the person serving you has never attended or graduated college or traveled or can speak foreign languages. (All of which our staff of 15 could or had.) We really didn’t need to be spoken to sloooooowly in words of one syllable, as we so often were.

And then there was the bad-customer behavior — which we were expected to ignore, or greet with indulgent smiles — The tantrums! The insults! The whining and finger-snapping and eye-rolling.

With a grateful sigh, I left retail work on December 18, 2009.

English: Managing emotions - Identifying feelings
English: Managing emotions – Identifying feelings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But my writing business is pushing many of the same buttons.

A few recent examples from my freelance writing life:

— The young PR official from a company I’m profiling who Tweets my visit, (alerting all my staff and freelance competitors to my story), and then, (oh, irony), accused me hotly of “betraying” him by finding and interviewing sources he hadn’t pre-selected, approved and overseen. His naivete in tweeting leaves me shocked and furious, but in front of him, I pretend it’s not that big a deal because I really need to get this story finished.

–An editor assigned me five stories then told me she was leaving her position the following week. I felt a mix of confusion, annoyance and fear I might not get paid without her there; instead, I simply wished her well in her next project. (And, funny thing, the final two fell through, and cost me income I expected to earn. I did get paid, six weeks after invoicing.)

— A lawyer, a partner in a major D.C. firm, a story source, talks for 30 minutes — then tells me “this is all off the record.” In an email, he insists I print every word as he wrote it to me later, a promise I make but know I can’t keep because I don’t edit these stories. I’m now scared he’ll make my life hell, annoyed at his lack of understanding of how journalism works and sick to death of people threatening me!

Technically, I don’t have to do this for any employer (that would be me!), but I do…because maintaining my composure in the face of endless bullshit, no matter what I actually feel about it, is still just as essential to keeping sources cooperative, getting editors to answer/return my calls and emails and making sure I actually get paid.

Being self-employed offers no protection from emotional labor! We’re all in the service industry now, kids.

Do you perform emotional labor in your job?

How does it affect you?

Can a Freelancers’ Union really help us?

Freelancers Union Logo
Freelancers Union Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Interesting story in The New York Times about the Freelancers’ Union, a New York based group with 200,000 members:

SOON after landing a job at a Manhattan law firm nearly 20 years ago, Sara Horowitz was shocked to discover that it planned to treat her not as an employee, but as an independent contractor.

“I saw right away that something wasn’t kosher,” Ms. Horowitz recalls. Her status meant no health coverage, no pension plan, no paid vacation — nothing but a paycheck. She realized that she was part of a trend in which American employers relied increasingly on independent contractors, temporary workers, contract employees and freelancers to cut costs….

Ms. Horowitz’s grandfather was a vice president of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, and her father was a labor lawyer. So it was perhaps not surprising that she responded to her rising outrage by deciding to organize a union…The Freelancers Union, with its oxymoronic name, is a motley collection of workers in the fast-evolving freelance economy — whether lawyers, software developers, graphic artists, accountants, consultants, nannies, writers, editors, Web site designers or sellers on Etsy.

I’m not a member of the FU (Hmmmm, nice abbreviation!), but I applaud her efforts.

Turns out that 87 percent of her members earn less than $50,000 — 29 percent of them make less than $25,000 a year.

God knows, freelancers/temps/contract workers need all the help we can get.

In the same edition of the Times, there’s a fascinating interview about the many powerful emotions we often feel at work. This one really resonated for me:

Certainty is a constant drive for the brain. We saw this with Hurricane Sandy. The feeling of uncertainty feels like pain, when you can’t predict when the lights will come back on and you’re holding multiple possible futures in your head. That turns out to be cognitively exhausting. And the more we can predict the future, the more rewarded we feel. The less we can predict the future, the more threatened we feel. As soon as any ambiguity arises in even a very simple activity, we get a threat response. So we are driven to create certainty.

I get up every day with no idea where my income is going to arrive from in three months from now. I usually work three months ahead — i.e. with enough income lined up to count on that my basic bills will get paid in that time and it buys me time to go line up the next batch. I live by the salesman’s motto: ABCAlways Be Closing.

Which means not just having coffee, sending emails, taking meetings or chatting to potential clients, but closing the deal — agreeing to a set fee, terms and deadline. Working retail, which I did for 27 months selling clothing in a mall, was extraordinarily helpful to me in this respect. I used to be too scared to ask for the sale. Not any more!

Now I’m much better at sussing out the tire-kickers and time-wasters.

Time Selector
Time Selector (Photo credit: Telstar Logistics)

Here are some of the many issues that face freelancers:

— How much will they pay me?

— Is this a lot less (or more) than that they are paying others at my level of skill and experience? (Networking and joining an industry-focused freelance group is essential to determine this.)

— Do I have a contract, and one with terms acceptable to me? If not, how much of it can I negotiate?

— When will I get paid? Some companies are playing truly nasty games — like 90 days after submission. Three months!? I work on 30 days, after which I start sending emails and phone calls.

–How many times will I need to sue in small claims court or hire a lawyer to write a threatening letter on my behalf? (Did it, it worked, from Kansas City to Vancouver.)

— How will I meet my monthly financial commitments when payment arrives late (or not at all?) A line of credit and low-interest credit cards, plus whatever savings you can scrape together.

— Who is the point person who will make sure, internally, that I do get paid? (Both my editors quit one company recently, leaving my payment much more vulnerable. Luckily, it did arrive and within six weeks.)

— When and how can I ask for a higher rate?

— What is the lowest fee I’ll accept, and why am I bottom-feeding?

— How soon can I fire this PITA client?

— Where can I find my next 5,10, 15 new clients?

—Which conferences, events and meetings are really worth investing my hard-won time and money in to meet collegial veterans and learn important new skills?

I grew up in a family where no one had a paycheck. My father made documentary and feature films and television news series. My stepmother wrote television drama. So whatever we earned was whatever our skill, talent and tough negotiation won for us.

Nothing was guaranteed. Just like “real” jobs — which you can (and many do) lose overnight with no warning at all.

I hate the stress of not knowing my annual income will be. I know what I hope to earn, but will I make it? The joy/terror of freelance work is that it’s all up to me.

But, having been summarily canned from a few well-paid jobs and having been badly bullied at a few as well, I know how stressful that is, too.

Do you work freelance?

How’s it going?

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Making a lovely home: adding grace notes

Every home — even if it’s only one room — needs grace notes,  a few items that simply lift your spirits and make you happy because they’re part of your daily life.

They’re not necessities, and you can always save money by not having them.

But here are some things I love having in our home:

Candles (Photo credit: magnuscanis)


Every night, as we sit down to dinner, we light candles around our small, (11 by 10.5 foot), dining room, a mixture of votives and tapers. We dim the chandelier and enjoy our shared meal in soft light. No TV. (We don’t have kids, so this is our choice entirely and probably unthinkable if you do have kids, especially small ones.) But even if you’re eating alone and it’s just mac and cheese, light some candles! A meal is an occasion. It’s an important time to nourish your body and your spirit.


I have a variety: wood, silver plate, pewter, brass and glass. Check consignment, thrift and antique shops. Buy singles in one material and mix up the shapes and sizes.


Fresh flowers

Every week. Yes, they die. (So do we.) But oh, the beauty! Even one small bud — a freesia or a rose or a peony — in a vase beside the bed gives you something charming to wake up to. Nothing makes me feel richer than when our small apartment has fresh flowers in every room, do-able on a budget of $20-25. This time of year, some pussy willow or flowering branches are nice, and the sharp scent of some eucalyptus stems is always a great-looking option. Stock up on Oasis, (the green foam blocks that florists use, and sell) and a few frogs (the metal or glass stem holders you drop into a pot or vase) and you’ll be able to make interesting arrangements, in a wide range of containers, (a vintage teacup?), with ease.


Something fresh, green and growing reminds us, especially during an interminable winter, that life is all around us. I put my plants in funky containers I find in flea markets or antique stores, like a round turquoise metal tin that once held honey. A plant can cost as little as $5 and last for months, well cared for.



Whatever your heart desires! Some of the objects currently on display in our place are these carved wooden horses. I found them both in Ontario — the larger one in an antique shop, the small one at auction. The larger one, whom we’ve named St. Andrew for the church we were married in, is a piece of folk art; the smaller one has no markings of any sort. He might be brand new, or not. But I love how they ended up, by accident, going so nicely together.

This early heavy glass bowl is now (sigh) badly cracked, (I placed a candle too close to it), but still works, holding a collection of Christmas ornaments I bought at Pottery Barn a few years ago. In candlelight they glow.

Here’s a perfect example of what I mean; a small collection of small vintage clocks, from a house tour on Apartment Therapy.


Picture frames

So many choices! The simplest sketch, or magazine photo, or your wedding invitation or a ticket to a show you loved gains prominence in a handsome frame. A small collection of similar color/shaped frames makes a great little tablescape.


I collect textiles of all sorts, from antique paisley woolen and cashmere shawls to bits of new stuff I make into pillow covers or tablecloths. Vintage linens have fantastic details, like faggoting, crochet, cross-stitch — all the sorts of handiwork almost no one does anymore.


Don’t just store them on your phone or computer. Spend an afternoon going through your favorites, from a holiday or a family gathering, print them out and assemble them on a memory wall or family wall.


Nothing is nicer than breakfast in bed! And the only way to have breakfast in bed, comfortably, is with a small tray with deep sides, (so things don’t slide off and crash to the floor.) Also useful for holding teapot, milk, cup and saucer, spoon and a little dish of something, say about 4:30 p.m on a cold, gray Sunday afternoon.


Easily forgotten, a large apron, preferably with pockets, makes food prep and cooking a lot more fun when you’re not worried about getting grease or sauce on your clothes. Look for a butcher-style, so long and wide it wraps around you.

Cloth napkins

Linen or cotton, they add color and style to every table. I’ve never used paper. Flea markets are a great place to pick up old soft linen napkins in bundles of six or eight, sometimes with fantastic embroidery or colors.


Interesting containers

My desk holds a Victorian silver-plate child’s cup (pencils) and a green glazed ginger jar (pens.) Our television remotes sit in an antique wooden cutlery box, both organized and unseen in a handsome container that’s nice to look at. I recently bought a small ceramic dish for one of my favorite editors, (a man of impeccable style), useful for pens and pencils on a desk or as a vide-poche — a place to dump out change from your pockets at day’s end; literally, a pocket-emptier. We use covered baskets, including this one, to stash magazines, extension cords and our insane collection of ugly electronics chargers.


We have a dimmer on both bathroom lights and in the dining room. Few things are as depressing and unflattering as light glaring into your eyes 24/7, which is the lot of anyone working in an office under fluorescent lighting. The only thing nicer than a long bubble bath is one enjoyed under soft lighting.

What grace notes make your home happier?

Just give me the ring, already!

Promotional art by Frank King (c. 1941), highl...
Promotional art by Frank King (c. 1941), highlighting Skeezix’s marriage proposal to Nina Clock. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a scary/sad trend — spending shitloads of coin on a wedding proposal to make sure that:

1) it’s seen by millions of strangers on social media;

2) it makes you Famous;

3) it makes your proposal so much better than all your BFFs;

4) it’s something you’ll never forget.

(H/T to Small Dog Syndrome.)

Having been the recipient of a few marriage proposals, here’s my wisdom on the matter:

Don’t waste a ton of cash on the proposal. Weddings are expensive. Honeymoons are expensive. Kids and housing and student loans are expensive. Is this truly the best use of your limited funds? (Billionaires and trustafarians, fire when ready.)

If you’re buying an engagement ring, make sure it’s something she’ll love wearing. Both my engagement rings are unusual, and neither is a single diamond in a raised setting. Not my style! Both are pave, and super-comfortable. Is she sporty? Girly? Super-traditional? Crazy about vintage? (And if so, which styles?)

Don’t propose at the bottom of a hotel escalator. That was proposal Number One from Husband No. 1. I said no, because — really? He tried again in a restaurant about 10 minutes later. No. Then on a street corner in Hanover, NH. The final one was, (cue Rocky theme), on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, with a gorgeous ring we had finally chosen on a visit to Boston.

Think twice about the whole bended-knee, in-public thing. For every woman who loves that much attention, some of us hate it. This is a major moment, not a made-for-TV drama! (And what if she says no?)

Even though she’s crying, don’t assume why. I did weep when HN1 proposed, but, (spoiler alert), because I didn’t want to get married to him right away. Maybe, (I realized with a mixture of confusion, guilt and terror), ever. The ring was so damn nice!

If your sweetie says she really doesn’t want an engagement ring, think long and hard before you heave a sigh or relief and blow that cash on something else. She might not like diamonds, (especially conflict diamonds), but she might really welcome something lovely as a memento of this important moment. Earrings? A pendant?

An engagement ring doesn’t have to mean a trip to Kay Jewelers or Tiffany. My first one came from a fancy Boston jeweler, but my second was an estate piece I found at Saks; it looks like an Art Deco ring and would have cost double if it were new, or that old. It might be a family heirloom or something you design or find on Etsy.

Classic "one-knee" proposal, ca. 1815
Classic “one-knee” proposal, ca. 1815 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pick your moment/location carefully. Jose, my second husband, could not have done it better when he chose to pop the question. We emerged from midnight church service one Christmas Eve and it had just started to snow. He knew that two of my worst-ever memories had both happened on Christmas Eve and he wanted to “re-brand” that night with something happier. And so he did!

Have you proposed or been proposed to?

Did you enjoy it?

Snakes, shivs and snow chains — it’s journalism!

One of the things I enjoy most about being a journo is hearing, and sharing, stories of past assignments with others in the biz, whether writers, broadcasters or photographers.

Out for dinner recently with a long-married couple, the stories poured out:

— M. was covering the prison beat in a southern U.S. state when the Associated Press called to offer her a job. Miami! Atlanta! Um, no. Jackson, Misisssippi, a place she had to look up in the atlas. But this girl knows from prisons, and told us of her collection of shivs. “One even has blood on it.” The things you learn after a martini or two…

— Her husband, D., was a photographer in the area, working with a very nervous young woman reporter. They were canoeing through a swamp when the lead canoeist warned him, “It’s going to get really gnarly up ahead.” He told her to put her head down and do not look up. The trees were dangling, thickly, with cottonmouths, deadly snakes.

— My husband was in Bosnia, in winter, to photograph the end of the war. It was dusk, and snowing, and their car got stuck. He and the reporter (ego alert!) got into a shouting match over which set of tires should get the snow chains. They finally escaped when a UNHCR truck pulled up and Jose just happened to have a spare carabiner, with which to attach the truck’s cable. (Memo: always carry a carabiner.)

Few other jobs thrust you so often and so rudely into others’ lives, whether a convicted felon or a Prime Minister — I’ve interviewed both.

The offices of The Gazette newspaper on Saint ...
The offices of The Gazette newspaper on Saint Catherine Street, Montreal, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My journo adventures include:

Flying to the Arctic town of Salluit, Quebec, pop. 500 or so, on assignment for the Montreal Gazette. We had 24 hours (!) to get the story, which was supposed to be a heart-warming Christmas tale of Southern generosity, as the tiny plane was jammed floor to ceiling with boxes of clothing donated by the Salvation Army. (I hate heart-warming stories.)

Instead, the plane landed about 2:00 p.m. — with an hour left before sunset at that latitude in December — and a local Inuk man on a snowmobile said: “We’ve got a problem. No one wants the clothes. They’re really pissed off.” So we went to the town radio station and he interviewed me in English, then translated it into Inuktitut, to try and mollify everyone enough to speak to me.

We went to a community feast — red jello and caribou — and I heard about an incredible waste of provincial government money used to building a community center  so poorly built no one could use it. The floor sagged like a cheap mattress, a total disaster, meaning local kids had nowhere warm, dry and well-lit to play so they were sniffing gasoline and dying in snowbanks instead.

I stumbled onto a powerful story I would never have heard otherwise. (The government, embarrassed, finally decided to fix it.)

Traveling from Perpignan to Istanbul with a truck-driver who spoke only French. Pierre was a sweetheart. Good thing, since we were single, I 25, he 35, and we had to sleep in the truck, in bunks behind the seats, about two feet from one another. We had no access to showers for the five days and we got pulled over by Bulgarian police who pulled out all my film to ruin. We drove through France, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, and into Turkey. My three days alone in Istanbul remain one of my favorite memories ever.

Truck driver log book (blank)
Truck driver log book (blank) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

— Interviewing a female hunting outfitter in Menard, Texas. Gwynne was a lean, tall, knockout redhead, single by choice, with a Coach handbag and a pistol on the front seat of her truck. She lived on land too dry for any use beyond hunting deer and turkey, so she ran an outfitting operation from what had been a one-room schoolhouse where her grandmother was taught. Of all the people I’ve met, thousands by now, she was one of the most memorable; she died a few years ago in a car accident.

This week, for a story, I’ve been researching de-salination, the patenting process and nanotechnology (God help the English major who never studied physics or chemistry!) Last week I was writing about video games.

I love being paid to find and tell great stories.

I love it when readers say: “I had no idea.”

Why changing countries can be such a challenge

English: Montage of 15 Canadians from 14 diffe...
English: Montage of 15 Canadians from 14 different ethnic backgrounds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s an excellent, helpful blog post recently chosen for Freshly Pressed, written by one of my favorite bloggers, a Canadian woman who has since re-patriated:

I made the same mistake a lot of people make: assuming that moving to a “similar” culture is a cakewalk. Blaine is the first to admit he thought the same thing, and we’re not alone. A study published in the International Journal of Human Resource Management found that

“in the absence of complete information, expatriates may be creating stereotypes on the basis of language similarity. In particular, those expatriates who spoke the language of the host country expected an ‘easier’ experience…. In fact, these expatriates may need additional CCT [cross-cultural training] to help overcome their stereotypes or their inappropriate expectations.”

I know that several Broadside readers — like Conor in Korea, Katharina in Germany, Rian in Canada, Holly in Australia, Wanderlust Gene in Sri Lanka — are living far away from your homelands (Ireland, Ireland, the U.S., Canada and Australia.)

It demands a real re-boot of your notions of identity and belonging.

It’s not surprising to me that two of my closer friends here in New York, where I moved from Canada in 1989, are people who have moved around globally, like an American-born woman who met her French husband when they were both working in Tokyo. It helps to share international references with them — only about one-third of Americans even own a passport and many have no idea, (or interest in), how the rest of the world functions.

I left Canada in January 1988 to move to a small town in New Hampshire, (double culture shock after living in Toronto, Paris, London and Montreal).  I moved in June 1989 to a small suburban New York town, 25 miles from Manhattan — whose towers I can see, glimmering like Oz, in the distance.

I lived in Mexico at 14 and France at 25. But my adjustment to life in the United States has been tougher for me in some ways than either of those, for the reasons Maria so wisely analyzes:

People tend to fixate on language differences, but of course it goes much deeper than that — we often come up against values, attitudes, and behaviours that we mistakenly assume will be the same as ours. For Blaine, one of the biggest issues was the famous British reserve. “It’s true,” he says. “The stiff upper lip really does exist.”

“That’s funny,” says Aisha. “I find the Canadian veneer of politeness very difficult to penetrate. I find the British more direct — but maybe that’s just because I’m more familiar with the non-verbal cues.”

Canadians live, as many Europeans do, in a “nanny state”, a country where it’s normal to pay a lot of tax — income, sales tax, tax on gasoline and wine and beer, even stamps — and expect a lot in return: free health care and heavily subsidized secondary education, to name two most important. You can apply for government grants for all sorts of things.

Map of Toronto
Map of Toronto (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a small country in population — 34.5 million — but enormous in size. Canadians tend not to move around nearly as often as Americans, for a variety of reasons. There are only a few major cities: Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary; if you don’t speak excellent French, Montreal and Ottawa can present difficulties.

One of the major  behavioral differences to adjust to between Canadians and Americans is their differing appetite for risk…Canadians hate it. They hate conflict. They hate confrontation. They’d rather simply ignore your calls and emails than say” “No, we’re not interested.”

Move to the United States and you’re in for some serious culture shock and some significantly different attitudes.

Standing up and speaking out carry risks. But in the States, people go to prison, (like entrepreneur Martha Stewart), and come right back into successful business, which still leaves me somewhat open-mouthed. But the good news is that if someone here thinks you can be professionally useful to them — i.e. make them some cash — they’ll take your call or email and might meet you. In Canada you need personal introductions through mutual friends to even get someone to take your call and even then they ignore you…

As a freelancer, that’s been a big — and happy — adjustment. But I’ve also learned, after decades in the States, to be both much warier and more persistent. Wary of huge initial enthusiasm, (professional and personal), which is very American, and too often quickly disappears, and being willing to make the 3rd or 5th or 10th email or phone call because so many people are busy and overwhelmed.

Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another difference is bare-knuckled American capitalism. We’re all simply units of labor. Employers can fire you for any reason at any time. One editor I know just left a job after four years, after being one of the founders of a thriving website. She got one month’s severance.

(Many Americans would consider her lucky to have gotten even that much. For a country that yammers on about liberty, American workers seem shockingly cowed and powerless to me.)

Instead of unions, Americans rely on the court system, (which operates by quite different rules than other nations), to try and obtain redress, if not justice. I routinely send — and pay for — lawyer’s letters to deadbeat, cheats and late payers, who abound in the world of publishing and journalism.

You fight for your rights here, and people expect it. It sometimes feels like a wearying game of “who’ll draw first” like cowboys reaching for their pistols in some 1860s saloon.

Many New Yorkers speak to you as if they’ve known you for years — strangers on the street or train (!) have complimented me on my hair color, legs, shoes and other items in ways I still find forward and impertinent, if charming. I’ve started referring to people as “you guys”, sounding more Mafioso than elegant.

My husband is both American and Hispanic, a double cultural difference that plays out in all sorts of ways. There are days he hisses: “This not the time to be Canadian!”

Then I quote a Brit, (and a TV character at that), the Dowager Countess Grantham: “Why does every day involve a fight with an American?”

What adjustments have you made as an ex-pat?

How did you feel about it?

Making time for friendship

On Monday mornings, I sometimes go to a friend’s home and sit in her kitchen and we talk. She pours me a coffee, and cooks or putters or sits at the table with me.

How retro! So 1950s.

How lovely.

Temple of Friendship at 20, Rue Jacob
Temple of Friendship at 20, Rue Jacob (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re very lucky. We both work from from home and can carve out time for face-to-face friendship.

I think it’s as essential as exercise and sleep, this sitting with someone who knows and loves you, or is getting to know you and and you’re peeling back the onion layers of who they are as well.

Friendship takes time.

And it takes face time, not just emails and Facebook updates or texts. I want to feel a fierce hug, enjoy a shared smile, provoke a loud laugh.

I’m now scheduling face time with a friend into every week, determined to strengthen my relationships with the women I’ve recently gotten to know — after decades living in my suburban town with few intimates.

Paris Exposition: Champ de Mars and Eiffel Tow...
Paris Exposition: Champ de Mars and Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, 1900 (Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum)

In the past few weeks, I’ve had some great moments with friends old and new. An Irish woman I met in 1982 in Paris — I was 25, on a journalism fellowship there for eight months with her — was visiting New York to make  a radio documentary. Meeting up with her somewhat wrecked my work that day, but there was absolutely no question which was more important.

We picked up our conversation with the pleasure and intimacy of people who had seen each other a week before, when it might have been decades — we couldn’t remember. She looked amazing. We sat at the bar and ate hamburgers and it was sheer heaven to be with her again.

Because I never had kids, I lost my friends for a while when they were exhausted and spoken for, tending to the needs of their families. Now their nests are empty and they are hungrier for intimacy beyond their family circle.

Last week I sat with a new friend, who, like me, is trying to re-invent herself professionally. Being American, she’s sure that just a little effort will be enough. Being Canadian, I raise an eyebrow and ask: “Really?” She’s a helium balloon shooting for the ceiling, bursting with naive optimism and I’m the string, tugging her back to earth.

As soon as I sat down, she asked: “You look sad. What’s going on?”

You don’t get that from Facebook.

Do you make time to sit with your friends?