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British Expat Newsletter: January 2012

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In this issue

This month

One of the most popular ways for English language native speakers to get themselves established overseas is by teaching their mother tongue to foreigners. Anna Corbett has done this herself, and has “paid it forward” with an excellent article explaining how to become a TEFL teacher in South Korea.

Our latest Quick Quiz was provided by the UK Attractions website and includes just a handful of the tourist destinations across Britain that they feature. See how much you know about “back home” by taking the quiz!

Meanwhile, our latest Pic of the Week is of an Edward VII pillar box in, of all places, George Town on Penang Island in Malaysia.

Editorial: Upstairs, Downstairs

You’re probably aware that it’s HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this year. Actually, next Monday is the day itself – the sixtieth anniversary of her succession.

If you go back another 60 years or so (OK, 55 years) you get to Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It’s quite interesting to consider the amount of social upheaval there’s been in those two half-centuries.

Go back to the end of the nineteenth century, and it was common for households in the UK to either have at least one servant, or else have at least one family member in domestic service. By the early 1950s relatively few did. The large domestic staff establishments of the kind depicted in Upstairs, Downstairs were already well beyond what most households could afford, and so the number of people employed in service had shrunk considerably. And within just a couple of decades, even having someone in to do a bit of cleaning once or twice a week was unusual.

So what drove the change?

Redistribution of wealth was probably the key. Improving general education standards on the one hand and, on the other, manufacturing industry that was expanding more quickly than the workforce, meant that it was possible to earn a better wage, in better working conditions, outside service than in it. Meanwhile, increasing taxation meant that the wealthy weren’t quite so wealthy any more and had to start thinking about ways to economise.

Increasing mechanisation of domestic tasks – washing and ironing, in particular! – meant that saving on servants became a real option. Upstairs, Downstairs gave something of the flavour of how much work was involved in housework.

A TV reality series we saw and enjoyed, The 1900 House, gave a much stronger sense of it – a family of five went and lived in a passably authentic reproduction of a suburban lower-middle-class house from the Edwardian era. The mother, who’d been tremendously keen on the idea beforehand, very quickly regretted her decision!

Then again, for many expats the concept of having domestic staff is one they become accustomed to – depending on the part of the world they move to. In South Asia and the Middle East it would be unusual to find an expat household that didn’t have at least one permanent member of staff – very often, live-in staff. In South East Asia, full-time staff like that are considerably rarer, but many expat households still have someone who comes in and does for them two or three times a week.

It’s not that mechanisation hasn’t reached these places. Even domestic appliances sold in Europe are quite likely to be manufactured in places like Malaysia or Thailand, and they’re not hard to come by in India or Pakistan either.

It might possibly be the convenience – household chores are tedious even if they’re mechanised. Then again, language and other cultural barriers mean it can sometimes be hard work trying to explain to a willing but uncomprehending maid or bearer exactly what it is you want them to do.

Or perhaps it’s just the “done thing”. You do it because your predecessor did it and everyone else does it – even if at first it feels uncomfortable to have a gang of people swarming all over your home just to do your bidding. (There’s a reasonably well-known depiction of the wife of a senior judge in Calcutta in the late 1780s, with 18 household staff in her boudoir. Crikey. Apparently the only atypical feature in the picture is that her butler’s European.)

And after all, it’s putting food on a family’s table and may be giving their kids a better chance in life than they’d otherwise have had.

All the same, there’s no way we would get used to having someone invading our bedroom first thing in the morning with a cup of “bed tea”…

Do you find it a boon or an occasional curse to have domestic staff? Or is the whole idea of servants altogether too feudal for your liking? Why not let us know on our discussion forum?

British Corner Shop is the online supermarket for British expats. Shop online from a range of over 8,000 British food products, with delivery to your door anywhere in the world. Ideal for British expats, or anyone else living or working overseas who misses food items from the UK such as Cadbury’s chocolate, Marmite or PG Tips tea.
Visit the British Corner Shop website

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British Expat Amazon Shopping

Amazon don’t just do books, you know. We’ve teamed up with them to bring you the ultimate in online shopping – from a micro SD card to a garden shed! A great way to do your shopping online, especially if the shops aren’t up to much in your part of the world.
BE Amazon Shop: UK & EU | BE Amazon Shop: non-EU

And now for something completely different…

Does anyone remember the Sinclair ZX81 – a home-build personal computer kit for just £99, in the days when programs were loaded from cassette tape and 1 KB of RAM was just about enough to get by with? One guy thought it would be fun to use Lego’s Digital Designer software to re-create one – and actually went as far as to order and build it using real Lego. He even got a little figure of designer Clive Sinclair to go with it!
HairyDalek: The Lego ZX81 – Finished!

So there’s a round-up of all that’s been going on. Come on over and see for yourself! Don’t forget…
Visit the BE website and join in with our lively community!

Till next time…

Happy surfing!

Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat – the definitive home for British expats

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