Expat, Nomad, Immigrant: Stories from Life Abroad featuring Karen van der Zee

Welcome to my guest post series which gives expats, nomads and immigrants a space to share their stories of life abroad and offers us a glimpse into their experiences.

The series launched with my own post, the story of how I ended up in Mexico all those years ago.  You can read it here:  Stories from Life Abroad - guest post series launch.  Last month featured Emily McGee from My Adaptable Career.

Each month there will be a new post by a different contributor.  They may or may not be bloggers, they could be from any country, living anywhere in the world as expats, immigrants or nomads.  The idea is to tell as wide a variety of stories and experiences of living abroad as possible, from many different viewpoints.

This series will keep running for as long as I continue to get contributions for it, so if you would like to take part, email me at mummyandthemexicans@gmail.com and I will be happy to send you the details.

Stories From Life Abroad: Guest Post Series Featuring Karen Van Der ZeeP

This month I’m going to let my guest poster introduce herself; here she is:

Hi! I’m Karen van der Zee and hail from the Netherlands, where I haven’t lived since I married an American Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya. My husband’s career as a development economist has taken us around the world and I’ve cooked, shopped, mothered, traveled and written romance novels in Africa, Asia, Europe, the US and the Middle East. I’ve seen my Palestinian butcher’s bedroom in Ramallah, dined on fertility goat sausage in Kenya, and almost ended up in a bush jail in Uganda. I’ve been very lucky that my sense of adventure and my “portable” writing career matched perfectly with my husband’s work. I’ve dreamed up 34 romance novels published by Harlequin and my non-fiction work has appeared in The Washington Post, the travel-humor anthology I Should Have Just Stayed Home by RDR Books, Tales of a Small Planet (www.talesmag.com), the story collections Female Nomad and Friends by Rita Golden Gelman, and other publications. For the past four years we’ve lived in France (retired, sort of), where my alter ego Miss Footloose writes light hearted tales about my (mis)adventures abroad on my blog Life in the Expat Lane.

So how exotic is expat life, you ask? Well, you decide. Here’s one of my ordinary daily life tales:

The Expat Girls Do Lunch: Shocking Tales

By Karen van der Zee aka Miss Footloose

While living abroad in various foreign climes, I do lunch with friends, just like I would do at home. Have something nice to eat, do some chatting and philosophizing, admire each other’s nail polish, that sort of thing. So here’s a simple tale of one such event, lunch with my friends in a small restaurant in the center of Yerevan, the capital of beautiful, far-away Armenia in the Caucasus Mountains.

Mount Ararat of Noah's Ark fame, located in eastern Turkey, looming over the city of Yerevan.

Sharing Sorrows

Because I have the good luck of living near the center of Yerevan, I am able to hoof it almost everywhere important, like shops and restaurants and markets.

When I arrive at the restaurant I find we are six around the table and much agonizing is going on.
My Dutch friend Annette has landlord problems. She's steaming with outrage. The man's teenage son used her computer while she and her family were away on vacation. He downloaded games and generously left them there for others to use.

The word privacy does not exist in the Armenian language, I’ve been told. To be grasped, the concept must be described and explained. Which doesn't mean it's understood by landlords, who often will wander in and out as if they still live in their rented properties and you are merely their live-in guests. I heard a story from another expat friend who came home from leave earlier than expected and found a big party going on in her house.

Anoush, an Armenian friend, is having problems with a co-worker. "She has a unique mentality," she tells us. "All the time she causes artificial difficulties and hardships."  We commiserate, agreeing that people with unique mentalities can be a pain in the neck, and artificial difficulties and hardships are a waste of energy and not conducive to peace in the office. Armenians have a magnificent ability to learn English without ever leaving their country. Their verbal dexterity is fantastic and I'm all a-wonder every time I listen to them speak. (I'm even more in awe now that I live in France and find myself hopelessly pathetic in my ability to learn decent French.)

Delicious Armenian Food

Lara is distraught too. An awful thing happened to her! Lara is an Armenian who grew up in both Syria and Lebanon before settling with her businessman husband in the new, no-longer-Soviet, Armenia some years ago. She's in her fifties and bubbles with joie de vivre. She's loud, smokes with abandon, has wildly curly red hair, wears flashy clothes and uses make-up copiously and creatively. She's a flamboyant sort, you might say, with the gift of gab as her crowning glory. My Dutch mother would not approve of her, but we all love her.

Lara's life is a hectic one, with a constant stream of visitors – relatives and friends from all over the world coming to stay, business people to entertain, and so on. Her house is small, her capacity for putting up guests is limited. We hear her many stories of all the cooking she does, and how people just stay and stay and stay . . .

And today she has a truly harrowing tale. Words gush like a waterfall from her mouth. We won't believe what has happened to her! She waves her hands, she rolls her eyes, her bosom heaves in memory of the perils she's about to relate to us. We hang on her every word.

Vodka is a popular drink in Armenia, often home made from mulberries.

Two days ago, Lara, her husband and two of his business partners went to a night club for a civilized postprandial drink, as they often do.

They discussed the fact that their little house was full of guests and two more cousins were coming over from Syria and where, oh where, were they going to put them? They knew the owner of the night club, who somehow became part of the conversation and he told them that the little hotel upstairs belonged with the club and why not rent a room there? Lara, all ears, wanted to know the price and said she’d come back the next day to have a look at the rooms.

"We'll give you a discount," the owner told Lara. Well, why not. She and her husband and their visitors often come for a drink at his place. Next day Lara went back to the hotel with two of her sponging male relatives in tow to help her check out the rooms to see if they were suitable for housing her guest-overflow.

The owner was not present, so a hotel employee took the threesome upstairs, showed them into a room, then left and closed the door. Lara and her two male house guests were left by themselves in the room.

It was then that enlightenment struck and all the bulbs were red. She realized that the hotel people assumed she was a working girl looking for a place to ply her trade.

“I cried!” Lara wails now. “To think that, at my age, they thought I was a prostitute!”

That was lunch.

* * *

Have you ever had a memorable lunch-with-the-girls/guys experience? Or do you remember a fun incident while you were out with your friends? Please share!

Find Karen van der Zee aka Miss Footloose at

www.lifeintheexpatlane.com  Foreign Fun in Exotic Places



I hope you enjoyed this post - please share it or leave us a comment below!

Next month I have another fascinating guest post.  Subscribe to my blog or the newsletter to make sure you don't miss it!

Photo credit: Antique globe turned to Mexico by Adolfo FĂ©lix on Unsplash
Other photos via Flickr

Stories From Life Abroad: Guest Post Series Featuring Karen Van Der Zee

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday


  1. Oh what a fantastic idea for a guest post series, especially for this time of year. I literally cannot believe that happened. I have way too many funny stories from my friends, we would be here all night. #kcacols

  2. I sort of think that's flattering that they thought at her age she could still be working - or maybe a sad indictment on society that she'd have to be working...hmmm. Not sure what I think actually #KCACOLS

  3. I do love a funny story. A fun series to run #KCACOLS

  4. Enjoyed reading this guest post! What a fab and fun guest post series to have! #KCACOLS

  5. Lara sounds brilliant. I was on the edge of my seat. What a funny story. I hope she sees the funny side. Pen x #KCACOLS

  6. What a great story. I travelled a lot in my 20s and always wondered if I would meet Mr Right while I was abroad (no I ended up meeting him in the UK) - how different life cold be #KCACOLS

  7. So much culture to take in!
    Tracy www.viewfromthebeachchair.com #KCACOLS

  8. I really enjoyed the story. Life as an expat must be so exciting!


  9. I would love to sit in on one of these lunch dates, sounds like a lively bunch and a lot of fun! x #KCACOLS

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  11. Haha oh my god! I'd have cringed so much (although I'm very polite so probably wouldn't have corrected them and instead never gone back!)


  12. What a great story, I bet you all laughed so much when she told you that! #KCACOLS

  13. That's such a unique idea for a guest series. Interesting read. #KCACOLS

  14. Your lunches sound so much better than a meal deal sitting on a park bench! Lara sounds very much larger than life and I can imagine you look forward to your catch-ups! #kcacols

  15. Interesting read. I recently had dinner with an old friend that is now a business professor overseas. Some of his stories about how the rest of the world sees Americans really made me cringe! #KCACOLS

  16. Very funny! What an experience. And, how it was all okay? #KCACOLS xoxo

  17. Ha! Don't think I can compete with an experience like that! Hilarious. #KCACOLS

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