Tag Archives: happiness

International divorce is on my mind

And no, it’s not me thinking about divorcing my poor husband (luckily, he doesn’t read my blogs).  Rather, it is a growing concern amongst my international friends, and is also a hotly debated topic on expat chat forums online.  What happens to couples from two different countries who are living in a third country (and who may have bilingual children with dual citizenship) when they decide to get a divorce?  I mean, getting divorced in a single country is complicated enough, but it becomes a logistical jungle when multiple legal systems, taxation systems, child custody arrangements and of course international sets of grandparents all get thrown into the mix!

I’ve got one set of friends who have divorced amicably and share custody of their child, but both of them are stuck in a foreign country that has nothing to do with them, because neither of them wants to relocate to the country of the other partner.  And, of course, neither wants to be at a distance from their child.

I have another friend who cannot find work in the UK at the moment, and struggles to support herself and her kids.  However, she cannot return to her country of origin (and her supportive family and far better career prospects) because her husband threatens to charge her with child abduction.

I know of another case where the couple had relocated to Australia before their divorce.  The husband has agreed to let the wife move back to the UK with the kids, but his own parents (in Germany) are very cross that they will have less opportunity to see their grandchildren, that they will forget to speak German and so they are considering legal action for joint custody.   Meanwhile, the mother is concerned that, because of the huge distance, the bond with their father will be severely damaged.

International law is a very tricky subject, and so is international financial advice, but I am thinking above all of the emotional costs to all involved.  And how quickly a delightful adventure abroad can turn into a nightmare.  I’m thinking of putting together a support group and advisory session for people going through such situations – or do you think people will avoid this like the plague because ‘it might be tempting fate’?

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Homesick for a place to call home

We are gearing up for a ski trip to France in less than a month.  Which in our household not only means getting the ski suits and gloves out of the loft, but also practising French so the kids can understand the ‘moniteurs de ski’.  So the other day I had a CD with French songs on and found myself suddenly overwhelmed with homesickness for our little flat in Geneva, for the view of Mont Blanc from our balcony, for the chat with the boulanger as I buy those essential croissants…

I started musing how my whole life seems to consist of being really happy in some wonderful places – and then having to tear myself away from them.   I love exploring new places but I also like settling in, making those places my own, getting that intimate connection with them that can only come from repetition and routine.  When it’s time to move on, I am excited about the new adventures I will have, but I am also sad to leave a certain part of myself behind.  With each encounter with a different country and culture, I become richer in experience, but somehow also poorer when I leave.  Does anybody else feel like that?

It’s difficult to explain – but it’s like my soul has been bereft to a certain extent.  I keep the experience locked up somewhere tight within and remember it with such delight from time to time.  But the experience is unrepeatable.  Even if I go back to that country, it will never feel the same again.  If you go back as a tourist to a country where you were once resident, it can be exhilarating as long as you don’t think about it too closely.  Or you can feel shut out, a stranger once more.  It will certainly never again feel like home.

I was very lucky a few years ago to return for a couple of months to Vienna in almost exactly the same conditions I had lived there before during my childhood.  I stayed with a friend who had known me since I was three, she lived just a few streets down from where I had grown up.  Vienna itself is a city that changes subtly rather than rapidly, so I found myself remembering even the tram routes and little shops.  I met up with old friends and slipped easily into dialect.  And yet… I am not that same person, I am not the same age, I do not have that same attitude and innocence.  Vienna was lovely, welcoming, filled with nostalgia for me…   All the externals were right, but it was no longer home.

People do ask me:  ‘Don’t you feel bad about having no place to call home?’ and I often laugh it off, saying: ‘But I feel at home anywhere!’  And I certainly do believe that and consider myself very fortunate to have been able to call so many beautiful places home.  (Also, any place that is home becomes beautiful, even if it didn’t look so promising to start off with – that includes you, Drumul Taberei!)

But sometimes I do wonder if, by leaving little chunks of my heart in so many different places, I will end up in smithereens.  And why I couldn’t  spend more time in those places where I have been happiest.

What place do you call home?  Do you feel you can repeat your experience of living in a certain place, or is it best to just wallow in unfulfilled nostalgia?

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Lonely this Christmas?

With the recent snowfall in the UK, my children are getting more and more excited about Christmas.  It’s easy to get caught up in this seasonal cheer and just float along in a cloud of euphoria or else allow oneself to get caught up in stress and debt.  But at this time of year I always think of those who have no family and friends with whom to celebrate, for whom Christmas just reinforces their feelings of loneliness.

Recent research findings published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology show that loneliness is contagious.  In other words, lonely people tend to attract similarly lonely people.  Even if they join small groups, it is likely to be composed of introverted people who prefer to retreat within, so it ends up making them feel more lonely.  Lonely people act as a ‘downer’ on others, causing them in turn to behave in less affirming ways.  And everyone ends up being grumpy and hating this season, when they feel they have to make an effort and pretend to be friendly and loving to everybody.

What a set of Scrooges we’ve become! I think the message should be: even if it is an effort, make friends with an extrovert, with a person who does not feel lonely, with someone who has lots of friends.  It may be trying, it may be annoying, at this time of year it may feel like more of a hassle than it’s worth to attend all those repetitive Christmas parties… and you can feel lonely in a crowd.  Go through the motions and who knows….You may well meet a few special people and discover you are even enjoying yourself.  Heaven forbid, you may even start enjoying the festive season!

Merry Christmas everyone, happy Hannukah, Shinnen omedetoo and have a great start to the New Year!

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Can the global markets be moral?

There’s been quite a bit of talk lately about ‘happiness economics’ (James Naughtie on Radio 4, Professor Michael Sandel presenting the set of Reith Lectures).  When I first heard the term I thought: ‘ Oh, no, this is another of those hip-hip-hurrah movements of the you’ve-got-the-right-to-and-should-be-happy-all-the-time type!’  But actually, this does not refer to the supposed happiness you will feel once you have consumed, acquired, possessed or done whatever the advertisers want to sell you.  Instead, this is about something that has become deeply unfashionable in recent years, namely thinking about other people and their general well-being.

It’s also about reintroducing the concept of ethics and values into the marketplace.  It’s about putting paid to the myth that markets are pure mechanisms that have no effect on the people and goods with which they operate.  It’s about acknowledging that prosperity and consumption may not make us as happy as perceived fairness and equality.

I never thought I would catch myself saying this.  I come from Romania and have spent a large chunk of my childhood under Communism, so I certainly embraced the ‘free market economy’ with gusto when it became available to us.  Ah, the freedom to be selfish, to operate in a world where self-interest and self-development is admired rather than regarded with suspicion!  So much better than to be a socialist do-gooder!  Admittedly, how could anyone take socialist ideals seriously while living in a society where they were trumpeted in every publication yet being cynically trampled underfoot in practice?

I am not convinced that Denmark is quite the perfect model of contentment and of a just, egalitarian society (and Naughtie does point out some of his concerns in that respect, see http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8166000/8166798.stm ).  Even if it were, is it a model that poorer, more diverse, less ‘obedient’  countries can truly emulate?

  I liked Michael Sandel’s comment at

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rmhttp/radio4/transcripts/20090609_thereithlectures_marketsandmorals.rtf

 that it is all too easy to settle for efficiency when it comes to markets, because it is the sort of thing that will offend no one.  However, what we should be having, he argues, are robust debates and moral arguments, welcoming all sorts of new and previously marginalised voices.  It’s time to address some of the big ethical questions about globalisation, instead of relying on the markets to muddle through.

Is it possible to make markets more moral?  Is it possible to make bankers more aware of the effect they are having on individual people?  Can we harness greed and self-interest for the common good?

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