Sunday, July 20, 2014

Anarchy in the Ukraine: Interview with Eccentric Expat Part Three

Things, of course, have gone from bad to worse to fucking really really horrendous in the Ukraine; I contacted our reluctant war correspondent, Eccentric Expat, to see how he was weathering the storm .

Read interview Part One here (May)
Read interview Part Two here  (June)

So you've evacuated to Kiev?

Yeah, my employer sent me here until the situation improves in Donetsk, whenever that will be

They have a school there?

They have schools in many different cities here

What's the mood in Kiev right now? After that horrible fucking plane thing?

Hard to explain. One of my coworkers posted some pics of the American embassy here in Kiev. I think those will explain the mood better than I can. Its like the natives have made a shrine of the Embassy sign

What about the expats there, how are they feeling? People starting to jump ship, or they enjoying the chaos?

Most of the ones I know are quite anti-Russia.

Sure, the Russians are definitely ruining the sex-tourist party!

I don't know of too many people who have left, although apparently its hard for the school to find new teachers now.

My Russian friends all say that the plane was a "false flag" thing -- the Ukrainians or the Americans shot it down just to blame Russia and declare war. Have you hard any such conspiracy BS?

Yes I have, but I dont believe it. I think it was shot down due to incompetence.

What's the situation in Kiev in general, business as usual?
More cops or soldiers on the street?

Yeah mostly. Ive only been here a few days though, so I'm probably not the best judge

Often in such cases you see an increase in partying and nightlife and fucking around -- prewar Berlin, for example

Haven't seen many cops, but I got stared down hard by some Right Sector goons the other day

Any feeling that it's "eat and drink, for tomorrow we die?"

Not really, nothing like that.

The feeling was much worse in Donetsk before I left

Did the Right Sector guys say anything to you? Did they know you were a foreigner?

No, they just gave me the evil eye. One guy in the back of the formation wearing a balaclava turned around and eyeballed me hard, like he expected me to start something

What was it like in Donetsk before you left?

Very quiet. People were leaving the city in droves. The hotel I lived next to had been taken over by rebel soldiers. Everyone was expecting the war to flare up in the city at every moment

What about your girlfriend, is she with you?

No, she went back to Nikolaev

Are the sex tourists staying away from Kiev now, or too early to tell?

I have no idea, but from what I understand, there are far fewer Americans now in Ukraine

Have prices changed at all? I heard the exchange rate really flopped.

Yes, prices for food have gone up, but not as much as I thought they would

Is your salary pegged to the dollar or just in local money?

Local currency, of course

Always sucks when you get on the wrong side of a currency slump.

Yeah no kidding, although I haven't really felt it so far. Many of the locals try to turn their money into dollars or euros.

All right. Good luck. Watch your 6. 

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Of course the other argument from Russians in this case is usually something like: Oh, well, the Americans shot down an Iranian plane accidentally once. (None of them seem to remember when Russia shot down that Korean jetliner.)

But that's just basically a "And You Are Lynching Negroes!" argument, anyway.

The demise of the 80's Cold War was apparently aided by the preponderance of terrifying films about nuclear war; in that spirit perhaps we should all watch:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Fatcats and FATCA

FATCA is the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, and is now fully in effect

Basically, the US Government has bullied foreign banks into reporting American citizens who keep accounts of more than $50,000. (Some banks have simply responded by closing bank accounts owned by Americans.) 

US Citizens individually with more than $50,000 in a foreign bank account are required to report it, with prison and fines a possible outcome if you don't.

Even RUSSIAN banks are reportedly complying with this.

So what's the reaction to this, here in the world of TEFL?

It has raised a few eyebrows, but only a few.

Most of the English teachers in the world won’t be affected by it – most English teachers are lucky to have even $1000 in the bank.

(I suppose you could do the old trick of having many bank accounts with less sthan $50,000 in them, if you really needed to.)

Now here at this place, we actually make pretty significant salaries, but I’ve just had my employers – actually a contracting company, rather than the actual state-owned company – send all my money back to my American bank account. (They gave me my first two paychecks in cash, and since I spend very little money here I just spent that for food and such and I use credit cards when I travel.)

I have to say though, America has a comparatively very generous foreign earned income exclusion – about $98,000 this year, I think – so you don’t really have to pay taxes on foreign earned income unless you make more than that. So there’s no reason not to send the bulk of it back to America anyway. It’s not like your money is any safer in a bank in Europe – look at Iceland or Cyprus or the LIBOR bullshit in Britain. Russia recently had a spate of bank failures, too. American banks are as safe as anywhere (which is to say, not particularly.)

There have been record numbers of Americans giving up their citizenships, recently -- the people who are giving up their citizenships are mostly people married to foreigners who make a lot of money, like more than $100,000 a year kind of money. 

As an English teacher, it’s basically not that great an idea to give up your American passport, which is one of the only things that makes you employable. Having a British or American passport at this job, for example, gets you a better salary, no matter how awful your accent is. 

As for my colleagues here, some of them just ignore the foreign bank account problem; nobody I know has had an issue with it yet. Some guys just spend all their money, buying foreign property or whatever (which has its own tax issues);  some put their money in their wife’s name in another country. (Fine if you trust your wife I guess.)

There would be various ways around the law,  I suppose – you can always incorporate and make a shell company that has offices in Dubai or whatever. Even cheap hotels in Dubai have brochures about companies that will help you do that. 

So again, get the stupid idea out of your head that you're somehow going to be OFF THE GRID as an English teacher, although of course you will likely be so poor no one will care about you, it's true. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Triumph of the Will (Excerpt from GRAMMAR SLAMMER)

GRAMMAR SLAMMER is on sale right now as a Kindle Countdown deal; it'll be $2.99 for the next 36 hours or so, then it goes back up to $3.99. You missed your chance to get it for 99 cents and $1.99. So sorry, suckas! Be more attentive next time. Get it HERE on

Here's a free excerpt as a consolation prize.

While the easiest form to make, WILL is surprisingly vague and slippery in the ways it is actually used. It can be used for predictions based on ideas:

You’ll never find true happiness, you loser.

It can be used for promises:

Your honor, I swear, I won’t call her anymore.

It can be used for new ideas and intentions:

Hey, that guy is talking to my woman! I’ll kick his fucking ass!

Now it’s quite likely you’ll tackle these one at a time, in class, but I’m going to tell you how to present them all and contrast them.


Dorky Student: But teacher, what about WILL? It’s the easiest way to make the future tense in English!

You: Sure, the easiest to MAKE, but not the easiest to USE.

I’ll call you tomorrow, baby.
I WILL find him, and I WILL kill him.
I won’t ever drink again!

You: Now look at these two examples. Are these plans?

Students: Uhhhh … no?

You: What are they?

Students: Bullshit lies?

You: They are PROMISES. Statements of intention, in any event.

(You might need the old translation gambit here for the word / idea of promises.)

He’ll make a good husband one of these days – he’s rich.
You’ll never catch me, coppers!
We’ll all have nanobots in our blood in the future.

 You: Now, what about these? Promises?

Students: Uhhhh … nah.

You: Plans?

Students: Not plans, I would say.

Dorky Student: But they’re definitely planning to put nanobots in our blood! It’s a definite arrangement!

You: Shut your hole. No, those are PREDICTIONS.

Dorky Student: Okay. So, promises, and predictions. Can’t those be like plans, too?

You: See, that’s the insidious nature of the future tense. It doesn’t exist yet, so how can we talk about it just one way? It’s all just about our IDEAS about the future, right?

Students: Oh, man, that’s pretty deep. What does insidious mean?

You: Look it up on your phones. But that’s not all. Check this out:


Hmm, somebody’s at the door. I’ll answer it.

You: Is this a prediction or a promise?

Students: Err … neither? Not really.

You: Let’s say it’s a NEW IDEA. Sometimes we use WILL for new ideas. Often with “I think.” Like “I think I’ll end class early today, I’ve got a headache.”

Students: Great idea!

You: Ha, gotcha. Just kidding. Now let’s look at future tense QUESTIONS!

Are you going to open the window?
Will you open the window?

You: Okay, so what’s the difference between these two questions?
Students: Well, going to is about general plans ... will is about promises and new ideas … so ... the first question is about plans, and the second question is about your … promises?

You: It was beautiful watching you try to climb that hill, and painful watching you fail. No, it’s like this: “Will you open the window?” is a REQUEST. I’m asking you to open the window in that case. It’s a polite way to say “Open the window, please.”

Students: Like WOULD YOU?

You: Yeah. “WOULD YOU open the window?” is a slightly more polite way to say “WILL YOU open the window?”

Students: Why that more polite?

You: To that question, I can confidently answer: JUST BECAUSE.

Dorky Student: So questions with WILL are always REQUESTS, eh?

You: (smiling) Did you really think it would be so easy? No. Here are some questions we can make with WILL:

When will you finish school?
Will you ever get married?

You: What about these questions?

Students: Questions about PREDICTIONS, teacher.

You: Yeah. And they’ll sound better if we use “do you think”

When do you think you will finish school?
Do you think you will ever get married?

Students: (Panicked) Teacher, how are we supposed to know whether we want to ask somebody about their predictions or plans?

You: One word: CONTEXT. You will simply know. Open your heart and let English into it.

Students: So we ALWAYS use WILL for PREDICTIONS, eh?

You: Ah …

Students: (unhappy moan of pain)

You: We can use GOING TO if it’s a prediction based on something we see, or hear, or feel.

I drank too much. I ________ vomit.

You: Should we use WILL or GOING TO here?

Students: Well, that’s something we feel. So, GOING TO.

He’s an English teacher. Don’t lend him money, he _______ pay you back.

You: What should be here, WON’T or ISN’T GOING TO?

Students: (staring blankly)

You: Well, both are possible. Probably though, WILL because it’s just my idea about him, because English teachers are usually unreliable fuckwits.


Have some students make some promises with:
I will never … in class / at home /my wife or husband / while I’m driving

Make some requests of students with “Will you” or have them do that in pairs:
You: Tongchai, will you open the window please? Thanks. Hot Chick, will you stand up and walk across the room please? Ohhhhh yeah … that’s it … slowly …

Ask questions with “Do you think you will ever …” regarding the future.
You: Do you think you’ll ever be rich / have two houses / meet the President / visit Tibet (etc.)?

Do you think people (in general) will live on Mars in the future? Find a cure for cancer or AIDS or airborne hemorrhagic gonorrhea? Learn to live in peace and harmony?

(You can teach them the answers: I think so / I think not / I hope so / I hope not.)

And here's a nice easy simpy country ballad to help the students use WILL correctly --note that the uploader has corrected their confused use of "you're" vs. "your" in the lyrics. Progress! 

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Oh, in addition, my COMPLETE COLLECTED COMICS book will be free from July 11 - 15:

Get it HERE as an ebook on Amazon, 
Or spend $20 HERE for the paperback coffee table edition on Amazon. 

And for all of you out there jonesing for the new memoir: it is coming. Just finishing up the first draft. I think it should definitely be published by the end of August at the latest.