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Posts Tagged ‘advice’

For seven years, I was what I used to call an inadvertant ex-pat. I’d skipped off to the US from London because it seemed like a bit of an adventure and, you know, why not? I was unmarried, childless, in a transferable-enough industry, and the opportunity was there. A few months overseas, then back to our ‘real’ lives in England, that’s what we thought. But then one year turned into another year; Seattle turned into Dublin, and before we knew it, we’d been away for the better part of a decade.

The view from my sofa in Seattle. Look, I never said it was *all* hard...

So, although I’m not remotely Irish, I have huge empathy for the ever-increasing number of emigrants setting off for foreign climes. And in case it helps just one person a tiny bit, here’s what I learned in those years of being the foreigner:

  • Milk the overseas-ness. We got really lucky in the Pacific Northwest, a funky, laid-back region of the country where the Americans go to escape America, but avoided by the Europeans bedazzled by the promise of New York or San Francisco (or, to be fair, anywhere where it doesn’t rain as much as home). People loved to talk to us just because we weren’t American. And that American over-friendly gene? Who cares if it’s skin-deep? You don’t need everyone to be your new best friend, but finding your feet in a country full of cheerful, helpful people is actually really, really nice. I wrote about this my first year in Seattle, and I stand by it. Embrace your other-ness, let people be friendly to you, and suddenly it feels less like exile and more like a holiday.
  • Accept every invitation; and the parent-friendly version of this: Nobody made friends sitting inside. For the first six months in a new place, we made a rule that we accepted every invitation that came our way. I’ve lived overseas four times, and each time, I’ve gone to a country where I’ve known nobody. So when those random hanging-out suggestions come in, I take them. Sure, time alone’s great; but when it’s your only option, it always feels a bit more…naked. Going out, even if it’s to something you wouldn’t ordinarily choose to do, gets you out of the house, provides a focus, and, who knows? Occasionally you might even enjoy yourself. At a barbecue thrown by a gun-toting Republican, I met one of my favourite-ever Americans, still a dear friend years later. You never know what’ll happen if you’re out; but you’ve got a relatively predictable idea of what will happen if you don’t leave the house…. Once kids are part of the deal, this obviously becomes trickier to manage; so I just suggest leaving the house daily, rain or shine. Again, you never know who you’ll bump into…
  • Don’t miss the funerals. Look, you’re Irish. You don’t need an Englishwoman telling you this. But if you’re away for an extended period of time, things happen at home that you miss. I couldn’t make it back to England for half a dozen weddings and countless births, and I was really, properly sorry about that because those were major things happening to my oldest, dearest friends (and however much you make new friends in the new places, it’s not like the old friends are replaced. They still matter). But in terms of actual, long-term regrets, it’s the two funerals I didn’t get to that upset me the most. There’s no chance of a do-over if you miss a funeral; no real way of saying your respects. And nothing makes you feel further from home than sitting at your desk working whilst, hundreds or thousands of miles away, your friends are following the coffin of the person you’ll never say goodbye to.  I’m not saying, come back for the funeral of your Mum’s neighbour’s uncle’s  dentist; but if someone ever mattered enough to you in life that you’ll miss them in death, it’s time to pack your black jacket and get on a plane.
  • It’s often better and worse at the same time. That’s the mad thing about living abroad. There are things you miss so desperately you think you’ll go crazy from it. And then there are the bits that are so, so much better. We all end up with a hybrid country we’d want to live in – the ace neighbour from that life, the eternal sunshine from this one, Mum’s homecooked roast dinner in all of them. And the bugger of it is, none of us would be able to live in the same country. We’d just all have to go visit each other’s private Utopias. Which brings us back to where we started…
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Modern life is tough for teenage girls. Early and inappropriate sexualisation combined with a culture of binge drinking can lead to some fairly risky behaviour and very unpleasant outcomes. Pubescent girls are under intense pressure to conform to various idealised and unhealthy body stereotypes. No wonder mothers, older sisters and concerned females who have reached the relative safety of our twenties and thirties (ok, and forties) worry as they watch these vulnerable young women with their post-coital hairstyles, Day-Glo tans and ill-fitting air of insouciance hanging around pubs and nightclubs, often the worse for wear.

The temptation may be to consider curfews aimed at curbing the more excessive manifestations of carefree youth but we all know that knee-jerk draconianism doesn’t work. Ever since Rapunzel let down her hair teenage girls have been climbing out of upstairs windows and shinning down drainpipes to join the fun. Ensuring the safety and well-being of our teens surely depends on them taking responsibility for their own behaviour without feeling smothered by the fear of what might happen. After all it is nothing short of essential that independence is asserted. We all deserve our opportunity to enjoy the careful hedonism of our teens before taking on the weighty responsibilities of adulthood.

Perhaps a Swedish organisation established by teenagers can provide a model for young Irish girls to better protect themselves. United Sisters has helped hundreds of Swedish girls aged between 12 and 20 to cope with the pressures of life. The scheme, developed by two Swedish teenagers  in 1996, aims to shore up self esteem by exploding myths relating to body image and early sexualisation. The girls who participate are drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds and all projects are developed in response to the suggestions and requirements of participants. Weekly get-togethers facilitate discussions that encompass relevant issues including sex, drugs, role models, violence, and prejudice. The intention is to give participants the opportunity to explore these highly charged topics in a safe, supportive and informed environment. Voluntary adult coaches are on hand for times when their intervention is deemed appropriate.

Perhaps the most radical and effective aspect of the programme is the voluntary night patrol involving girls aged 16-20 who walk the streets of Gothenburg and Stockholm helping young people who are too drunk to take care of themselves; embroiled in a hostile or confrontational situation; or simply upset and in need of someone to talk to. Each volunteer undertakes an intensive three month training programme aimed at teaching participants self-protection techniques, first aid, ethics, legal studies, drug knowledge and conflict resolution.

Would a similar scheme work here in Ireland? Would Irish teenage girls welcome such an initiative?

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I’m outta here!

Women fed up with lads’ mags and sexist language undermining our struggle to be taken seriously and treated equally could follow the example of Guardian columnist Wendy Roby who encouraged her readers to engage in random acts of feminism. Roby argues very persuasively that “signs of female solidarity in unlikely places might prove a useful weapon in the feminist’s arsenal”. The creative schemes dreamed up by her and her legions of willing fans included placing copies of Good Housekeeping on top of the latest lads’ mags or attaching Post-it notes pre-inscribed with thought provoking comments like “Real Men Buy Books”, and speech bubbles saying, “I am somebody’s sister” to their covers. Others put fake calling cards in phone boxes helpfully including a premium rate astrology hotline at the bottom. The funniest example of all was from one reader who took pity on the blond trapped in the highest turret of a pink plastic castle in a toy shop. This enterprising woman took a tiny card from her handbag and placed the following beside the princess’s head. “Please let me out. I gotta get to work!” What dastardly schemes would Irish women come up with?

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Since reading this post on social etiquette by US blogger Maggie Mason earlier in the week, I’ve been mulling over my own social graces (or lack thereof). I’d like to think I was reared reasonably well, and parts of her list make perfect sense to me, but I can’t quite get my head around some of her advice.

For starters, I’m all for throwing my own parties, as are my friends (with the exception, lately, of hen parties). As an unemployed bum earlier this year, I didn’t particularly fancy celebrating my birthday, and would have been morto if a friend had organised something for me. Surely one should be able to choose if and when and how one celebrates?

Then there’s the question of the thank-you note. I keep a stash of thank-you cards in my desk – and use them as occasion arises – but if Maggie’s guidelines are to be followed they are, in fact, a cop-out, and I should be sticking to the Basildon Bond instead. Is there really that much of a difference? Is a pre-printed card better than no card at all?

And last, but not least, there’s the condiment situation. There’s no room in my poky apartment kitchen for anything other than my originally-packaged Heinz and Colman’s and Branston so, out on the table they go. Plus, I rather like their kitschy packaging.

So, Anti-Roomers, please tell me, for I am bewildered: am I a complete oaf? What would make it into your etiquette guide? Or, when it comes to socialising, should etiquette guides be binned entirely in favour of plain old individual common sense? Answers on a sheet of Basildon Bond, please.

Catherine Brodigan

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Just Say No

Dear old Elton John. The zanily-bespectacled, platform-soled one may well have been quite correct in his claim that Marylyn Monroe “lived her life like a candle in the wind” but he got it wrong when he maintained that “sorry seems to be the hardest word”. Sorry is fine. “No” is the one I struggle with. It’s often there, tingling on the tip of my reluctant tongue as I’m bombarded with yet another utterly unreasonable request from a client/friend/family member/total stranger.

It’s such a tiny word – just two little letters contained in one diminutive syllable. It can be uttered in a nanosecond. It’s the Usain Bolt of words – over almost before it’s begun. Yet sometimes it seems so much simpler to say “Sure that sounds fine to me” (6 words, 22 letters, a mini-marathon of a sentence) or even “Yes I can do that. When do you need it by?” (11 words, 30 letters, the full 26 miles).

It happened again today. I really thought I’d done the spadework to ensure that we were all perfectly clear on what was being promised. Several “Just to clarify…” emails had been exchanges and a number of wary conversations had taken place. Yet the phone rang, the excuses were proffered and inevitably the “favour” was requested. I opened my mouth and stumbled over the infinitesimal “no” that would have saved me hours of additional and unpaid work. “Erm, yes. Sure. I can do that I suppose. When do you need it by?” Doh!

Arrrrrgh! I could have kicked myself. I did in fact give myself a few resounding thumps. What’s wrong with me? I used to be brilliant at “No”. Admittedly it’s been several decades since my toddler-self happily (so to speak) screamed lusty no’s at the highest pitch of my squeaky voice and threw my tiny body to the floor to writhe in a paroxysm of self-justified rage. Perhaps I used up all my nos. Perhaps I peaked too early. When did I transmogrify into this obsequious people-pleaser and how can I reclaim some of my suppressed toddler?

Happily all was not lost. I may struggle to give voice to a refusal but I’m perfectly well able to write one down. A quick email containing a couple of choice phrases such as “On mature reflection….” and “I think you’ll find…” and I’m off the hook. No may not be so easy to say but it’s very, very easy to type.

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Being the unfashionable fool that I am, I gave up buying glossy ‘lady mags’ a few years ago after determining that I’d wasted enough money and brain cells on them. However, recently a friend of mine gave me a bag of old glossies and, well, it would have been rude not to read them before chucking them in the recycling bin.

While idly flicking through the 8 March issue of Grazia I saw a number of ‘tips’ that had me spluttering into my glass of vino. It turns out that all this time I had been ignoring lady mags, I had been missing out on some priceless advice for us women who worry about being fat and old all the time.

Luckily for Anti-Room readers, I’ve included some of these tips for your information.  You’ll wonder how you ever survived without these gems, such as this one included in an article on the highlights of London Fashion Week:

How simple – feeling fat and worthless? Just unpick the stitches in your favourite dress and then hold it together with bulldog clips. Why hadn’t I thought of that before? Such an easy way of distracting people from my hideous figure.

So, if you get sad every time you see an unused bulldog clip sitting forlornly on your desk, now you know what to do. Unpick your shirt, pop on a bulldog clip and voila! Instant, fat-covering glamour. If anyone in the office asks why you have a clip stuck to you, or sniggers as you walk past, assuming you’re the victim of the company prankster, be assured that you are in fact being extremely fashion-forward.

“All the gals were doing it at LFW, darling!” should be your reply, “Kate, Lara and even Cheryl!” Then flounce off smiling – just be careful the clips don’t ping off mid-flounce, showing rather more of your body than you had intended. Oh, the perils of high fashion.

I used to think that nail length is only indicative of whether you are a nail-biter or not, so imagine how stunned I was to discover this tip:

Silly me, thinking that nails were, well, nails, and have nothing to do with body shape. Hell no! I can’t believe that for the past 27 years I could have been disguising my shape by growing my nails to a certain length.  Consider me a changed woman, Grazia. No one will guess I’m a size 12 once I’ve redone these glamorous talons!

Finally, if you’re sick of your crow’s feet but fear the frozen expression that Botox tends to afflict on its users, then worry no more. The trick, according to Grazia, is using white eyeliner. Lots of white eyeliner.

Will you look like a rabbit trapped in the proverbial headlights? You may well indeed, but everyone will be so distracted by your white eyes that they won’t be looking at your crow’s feet. And as we know thanks to Grazia, anything is worth doing if it means looking thinner and younger.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m off to stick bulldog clips to my arse – I’ve heard it will make it look instantly thinner! Thanks for the inspiration, Grazia.

What are your favourite tips from women’s magazines?

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It’s a bank holiday and I’m in work; how is that fair? Stepping briefly away from the accounts I’m supposed to be wading through this morning, I came across this interview with Joan Rivers. Ah Joan Rivers, how I love thee. The first time I saw Joan Rivers live I went into a laughing fit that turned into a bit of a panic attack when I realised I was laughing so convulsively that I couldn’t breathe. Although the second time I saw her I was disappointed that she cut her show short to make it to the Late Late Show on time.

Reading this interview with a bit of a head on me after last night and a bit of a fatalistic attitude after the last few weeks, Joan put me in a good mood. Her career advice is ‘Say ‘Yes’ to everything.’ It’s always been my philosophy too, although it was Claire Rayner who first gave me the idea. She said, say yes first and if you change your mind later you can always say no. BUT if you say no first, you can’t change your mind later and say yes.

Good advice I’ve always thought and it hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

The other good piece of advice I thought Joan had to offer in this piece was embroidered on a cushion: “I need a man to spoil me or I don’t need a man at all.”

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