expatriate life interview

Patrick and Cathy taking a lunch break in Bitberg, Germany

With the end of 2014 already creeping up on us, Just Landed speaks to our final expat interview of this year! Patrick J Hall tells us about his experiences as an American expat in Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as his book “In An Expatriate World“.

Why did you move from the USA to Europe?

My wife was asked to lead a special corporate-wide branding project run from the company headquarters in Belgium and Holland. Both of us worked for the company, so I found a position in the corporate IT department.

Did you experience culture shock when you moved? How did it affect you?

I wouldn’t say we experienced culture “shock”, or anything as sudden or dramatic.  But we did find differences in ways of working, and cultural complexities of working with both Dutch and Belgian colleagues.  It was hard sometimes to discern whether particular characteristics were based on a national customs, or just specific to the individual’s work habits. We found things might look very much the same on the surface, but may mean something different, either culturally or operationally, and you have to check your assumptions before taking action.

Expats abroad Brussels

Mozart Flower Carpet, Grand-Place, Brussels.

What prompted you to write your book – In An Expatriate World?

When we were first offered the opportunity to move to Europe, I wanted to find stories about what to expect. I found lots of practical, check-list types of “how to” books, but none that described the story of the expatriate experience.  When we returned from the assignment, I realized I wanted to tell my story to help others more fully understand many of the nuances of expat life.

Tell us about your book in three sentences.

In An Expatriate World is a first-hand account of what it’s really like to live and work as American expats in Europe. It describes the good and bad, the highs and lows of living in another country, experiencing everyday life in another culture. It also presents unique opportunities and challenges for married couples taking on this life change.

In your opinion, what is the best thing about expat life in Belgium and the Netherlands?In an expatriate world book

I would have to say experiencing so much diversity, so much variety in so many ways has to be the best thing. Different people, different situations, different food, different environments, different cultures collectively give expats a chance to live a much richer life.

What would your top advice be for someone considering a move abroad?

Be open to the new ways of living, and don’t expect it to be easy. Years from now, you will be disappointed that you didn’t become an expat. You will never regret that you did.


Looking for a Christmas present for the expat in your life? In An Expatriate World is now available on Amazon websites in France, Germany, Italy, the UK, USA, and Spain.

Moving abroad comes with a whole range of decisions and things to plan, from managing finances to organising healthcare. Aside from important issues such as these, other, less obvious factors also impact how successful your relocation will be.

Expatriatehealthcare.com has put together the following infographic comparing six elements including average income, property costs and even average rainfall, across 12 countries.

Which country is best for expats? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

Which country is best for expats?

London bus

London bus by E01 (BY-SA 2.0)

In the third instalment of our new series of posts about blending in like a local, we journey to London.

London is one of the top destinations in Europe for both expatriates and tourists. Every year, the city receives millions of tourists and it has many landmarks, attractions and culture for them to see and experience. As an expat in London Town you probably want to feel like a Londoner and distinguish yourself from the thousands of tourists. Below you can find some tips and information on how you can blend in like a local in London.

Avoid tourists

Touristy places such as Leicester Square (make sure you pronounce it correctly, Lester Square), Covent Garden and Camden Town should preferably be avoided, but can be visited during the weekend and in evenings as Londoners would do. Very often these places are crowded and expensive and they probably don’t have much to offer to you in your daily life anyway.

Sorry

We are sorry to say, but if you really want to be a Londoner you will have to use the word “sorry” at least a few times a day. Not only when you actually feel like apologising, but also when it takes you longer than one second to get cash for your takeaway coffee (yes, coffee!), or someone bumps into you and it’s not even your fault, for instance. The Brits in general say sorry in all kinds of situations, but considering the large amount of people with whom you share the city, you will be sorry a lot. Sorry!

London Underground

London underground by Steven Iodice (CC0 1.0)

Metro Tube rules

Considering the distances and the amount of road traffic in London, you will probably spend quite a bit of time on the underground, which Londoners call the Tube. In order to make your tube rides go as smoothly as possible, there are some rules you should stick to.

  • First of all, always stand on the right and walk on the left side of the escalators.
  • You won’t see many locals using the underground map to plan their journeys, as they know it by heart. You could of course cheat and install one of the TfL (Transport for London) apps on your phone, but don’t expect any mobile phone coverage inside the tube.
  • Don’t try to open the doors of the train by pressing the button – everyone knows they will open automatically.
  • Making eye contact is something you shouldn’t do either. You will find many Londoners staring at their e-readers, or reading the free Metro and London Evening Standard newspapers to avoid awkward situations with fellow passengers.

Food and pints

Even though London offers lots of exotic places to eat, traditional British cuisine and English pubs are still beloved by many. Typical meals are fish and chips on Fridays and a Sunday roast with gravy. Indian food is another favourite and Brick Lane in east London is known for its many Indian restaurants.

It is quite common for Londoners to have a pint after work, especially on Fridays. It is also quite common to have lots of pints during the weekend, starting and finishing relatively early compared to other cities in ‘Europe’.  If you order a beer, this will usually be a pint (568 ml) and it won’t have a head – apart from beer, cider is popular. Many people go out in Soho during the weekends, and Clapham, Camden and Shoreditch have an established club scene as well.

Fashion

Shoreditch London

Shoreditch by Free Range 2008 (CC0.1.0)

London is a fashion capital. People tend to care about their appearance a lot and many different styles of fashion are represented. Go to the old Truman Brewery in Shoreditch for vintage clothes and walk around the area to see the latest trends. For a shopping centre experience, head to Westfield London in White City, or Westfield Stratford City. The one in Stratford is the largest urban shopping centre in the EU.

Where to go

Instead of focussing on Central London only, visit other parts of the city. Upcoming areas are Shoreditch and Brixton and if you’re looking for something more exclusive, Mayfair and Chelsea would be good options with lots of posh (expensive) places. Brits tend to find social class important and like to show this, so dress for the type of place you are going.

Have a look at our United Kingdom country guide for more useful information on living in London and the United Kingdom.

If you have any other tips for going local in London add them to the comments below.