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Expat Life Slice By Slice

Toni Hargis interviews Apple Gidley author of "Expat Life Slice By Slice"

I have written before about static and serial expats , and debut author Apple Gidley is the epitome of a serial expat. As a child, wife and mother, she has moved twenty six times and lived in twelve different countries. I first met her several years ago at a FIGT (Families in Global Transition) conference in Houston, Texas. Her life has always fascinated me, as has her attitude to “getting on with it” and making the most of life’s opportunities.

Her book, “Expat Life Slice by Slice” has just hit the bookshelves, and I devoured it in less than two days.I asked Apple a few questions after reading the book; her answers give a taste of what’s in store for readers. You won’t be disappointed.

Apple, your life has always fascinated me. I know you say you don’t really have a “favourite” place but I was wondering if there was one country or region where you feel more “at home”?

Can I have two regions please? I feel very comfortable in West Africa, though admittedly haven’t been to Nigeria for a very long time but our last posting, in Equatorial Guinea, was a wonderful experience, coups notwithstanding. Like anywhere it’s always about the people and I liked the people on the street, in the markets. I also feel very ‘at home’ in Asia, Thailand particularly. I don’t really count Singapore as Asia – it’s a bit too sanitised for me, but things do work there, which isn’t something you always get elsewhere.

I love your philosophy “Never regret a friendship” because it’s so easy for expats to think it’s not really worth making friends when everyone’s always moving on. Would you care to expand on that or give us an anecdote?

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I suppose the best example is with two sets of friends we have had for over twenty-five years through many countries, not always the same as each other. One couple we met in Singapore and the other in Thailand. Both were over a short period of time, a matter of months really, but the memories were so great that, even without the benefit of email, we remained connected via old-fashioned letter writing and sporadic visits. I’ve also had friends from within the countries we have lived, as well as other expat friendships, which for one reason or another have fallen by the wayside, but that doesn’t negate the shared laughter, and sometimes tears.

You were brought up as a global nomad, as were your children. Are they following in your footsteps now?

Our daughter’s partner is from Trinidad and they anticipate returning there within the next couple of years, along with my granddaughter, so yes she definitely will. Edward, our son, is currently based in England but longs to get back to West Africa, which he thoroughly enjoyed, so I expect he’ll find a way particularly as he is in the oil industry. Both are very comfortable in their own skins, and are adaptable and curious so I wouldn’t be the least surprised to receive a phone call one day saying they were off somewhere new.

We always assume that because of improved communications, (cell phones, Internet etc.) that expat life is easier than it ever used to be, but do you think there are any aspects that may be more difficult?

Yes I do. I think sometimes as global parents with children back at base, we are too quick to interfere. Some of that is guilt at not being on the doorstep, or even in the same time zone, so we over-compensate. I think as an accompanying spouse, maybe for the first time not working, it is too easy to sometimes live in the life back ‘home’ and not in the now. The same goes for relocating children who may hide in their old friendships rather than exploring the new. However the pluses are huge, if like most things, they are tempered.

You give sound advice, in the form of a “Take-Away Slice” at the end of each chapter. Were these nuggets already formed in your approach to life, or did you have to sit down and really ruminate for this book?

It sounds terribly arrogant, but actually I didn’t have to think about them. And as I wrote they become more and more solidified in my mind.

You’ve been in Houston for a while now. Are there any plans to up sticks in the near future, or could it be that you are now “settled”?

I’ve been lucky in that anywhere I have lived I have ‘settled’ for the time I’ve been there ergo Houston is home now, for however long now is. I don’t think any of our relocations have actually been planned in that we knew about them for longer than six weeks before each move. However whatever moves we might make in the future we will always keep a base here – I don’t think our furniture could handle any more packing!

Whether you’ve lived your whole life right where you are now, or have travelled the globe like Apple, this book is something out of the ordinary, and may just inspire you to do something different!

Toni Summers Hargis is the author of "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom", (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.