Sunday, 17 January 2021


There are two types of foreigners: ones only intending to stay for a year or two and those never intending to leave. Expats and immigrants. Though many in the latter group might not call themselves that. I've belonged to both groups.

When I lived in New York, my behaviour was deeply influenced by what I'd seen in Jamaica. When I visited my brother who was working there. (I got to really like the Guinness brewed there, a sort of foreign Extra Stout. Dragon Stout was OK, too, but a bit too sweet for my taste. McEwans Strong Ale was another one. Brewed, I think, in the Guinness. Also fairly nice.)

I saw how his colleagues behaved. It was a very closed group and didn't look particularly healthy. They were all very much expats.What was the lesson it taught me? It's not a good idea to have colleagues know everything about you. 

That's why I didn't share a flat in New York. It's the only time I've ever lived on my own. Rather that than share with colleagues and be with them 24-hours a day.

I had a social life outside of work. I was good friends with Eva, a Czech woman I met in the Czech language section of a library. She'd been studying in Yugoslavia when the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, eventually finding her way to New York.

I'd been looking for books in Czech to keep my knowledge of the language. Shortly before  leaving for the USA, I'd followed a summer school in Czech in Brno. I'd got be reasonably fluent, mostly practising in pubs. Czechoslovakia was perfect. With shared tables and friendly locals, striking up a conversation was a piece of piss. 

The local Brno beer, Starobrno, was fine. There were plenty of other options, too. Cerna Hora, Pilsner Urquell, Budvar, Staropramen (never cared for that, myself), Krusovice and others I can't recall. All pretty good, some outstanding. Lots of choice and dirt cheap with it. As a student I didn't have to exchange the minimum daily amount at the official rate. I was free to change mostly on the black market and get triple the rate.

It was in Brno pub that I met Dolores.

Of course, I socialised with colleagues. We regularly went to the Manhattan Brewery after work to play darts. Where they had English-style beers. A very fine Porter, I recall. Or was it a Stout? It was a very long time ago. Something dark and roasty.

I remember talking with the brewer, a very enthusiastic young bloke called Garret Oliver.

We also played darts in a basement bar in the East Village. Can't for the life of me recall the name. They sold a Czech-style Tmavé Pivo called Prior Double Dark. It was OK. Better than the usual yellow crap, at least.

An expat, is what I was. I never intended to stay longer than my visa, which was for just 18 months. To remain longer, I'd need to apply for a green card. A process which would take years. During which time you couldn't leave the USA. Well, you could, but you wouldn't get back in again. No way I could do that.

Having a very definite and neat end was reassuring somehow. The decision had been made for me about when I'd leave the States.

Next time: I become an immigrant.

1 comment:

Martyn Cornell said...

Garrett Oliver … whatever happened to him?