Things You Do When You’re an Expat in a New Country (but definitely never happened to me.)

• You don’t have any idea what a gram looks like (because you’re not a drug dealer and you’re from a country that doesn’t use the metric system like the rest of the world), so instead of a few ounces of loose tea, you ask the lady at the apotheke for 600 grams. She gives you a weird look but says, ‘Ok please have a seat.’ You wonder why you need to take a seat and after awhile wonder what’s taking so long and then when not one but two ladies come out with 6 ginormous storage bags of loose tea that’ll last you 12 years, it dawns on you that maybe you should’ve said 60 grams. In your embarrassment you pay the 70 euro and slink out. You try to sneak it by your husband but there’s so much that it’s impossible.

• You don’t know what extra scharf means on the paprika label so you load it into the bean dish you’re making for your brand new in-laws. Like load it on so much that the dish is unsalvageable and you have to order pizza. It means extra spicy, Karen. Like what they’d serve in hell.

• Announce on Facebook ‘ich bin so heiss‘. You think it means you’re hot, because it’s a hundred freaking degrees out, but you’re actually proclaiming you’re ‘in the mood’ if you get my drift.

• You aren’t aware of the local corporate culture of employees calling bosses by Mr. or Ms., so you go around calling everyone, including the CEO, by their first name.

• You are told you sound adorable when you finally are brave enough to speak some German (or whatever native language it is) around the locals. No one wants to hear this, trust me.

• You are way more excited than you should be when you finally order something in a restaurant or market and you get actually get what you thought you ordered. But you act cool in front of the native speakers, like you had it all along.

• To be continued bc there’s lots I’m forgetting at the moment. (Not that these are MY stories of course .)

My fellow expats, have any to add?

Conversations with Strangers

View of the Alps from a plane

I once flew to Vienna via Iceland—not my ‘normal’ route. It wasn’t a normal trip, either. After we took off from Reykjavik, I was seated next to a nice local man. He was probably in his mid- to late-30s.  He was very chatty, which in my experience was unusual on European flights.  We got into a conversation and it got deep pretty quickly. Suddenly he was telling me about how his father was jailed for murder while he was in high school and the impact that had made on his life.  There wasn’t even a hint of self-pity in his voice as he straightforwardly shared his story with me.  I must have told him something personal too (I mean, how could I not, after that admission) because I’ll never forget what he said afterward:   ‘Oh, the stones we carry in our hearts.’ And then he sighed and was quiet for a long time.

I can’t remember our full conversation, but his phrasing and his tone struck me as so brave and so beautiful (even if English were his first language, which it wasn’t.)  Yes, the stones we carry in our hearts can feel so heavy, but I would add that they can become lighter with time if we let them.