And the world’s your oyster!
• 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?
What does it feel like to be an expat, to live in a country outside the one in which you grew up? Being an expat and living abroad is like walking around with your heart outside your body. All. The. Damn. Time. Even if you’ve adapted well and integrated into your adopted home, you generally stay loyal to your home country, and the longing for home sometimes is eternal. But clearly there are tons of benefits, or no one would ever move. (You’ll notice some items in both categories; that’s by design.)
Ten Best Things about Living Abroad:
- New discoveries: architecture, food, culture, art, people, museums.
- The chance to add a new language to your repertoire!
- It’s an opportunity to reinvent yourself!
- It opens your mind and expands your horizons.
- You have a second home! If a war ever breaks out in your country of origin, you’ve got backup, baby.
- You get to travel to new places. (If you’re an American expat, you can easily get to places other than Mexico or Canada).
- You can build strong friendships with other expats quickly, because they know what you’re going through. You almost develop a shorthand for discussing life abroad.
- You HAVE to be flexible and open. Otherwise you’ll suffer.
- Countless opportunities to laugh at yourself, lots of funny misunderstandings, humorous translation moments, not all of which are mortifying.
- I only have 9. I’m sure there are more. Befriending the locals perhaps?
Ten Worst Things about Living Abroad:
- You always feel homesick, even though you don’t want to go back for good just yet (or maybe ever).
- German. (Obviously not all expats learn German. They are lucky.)
- You feel homeless, at least the first year. You don’t really live in the new country yet but you definitely don’t live at ‘home’ anymore either.
- That awkward AF feeling like you live in two places and therefore live two different lives.
- Maybe you don’t want your horizons expanded EVERY DAMN DAY.
- Sometimes feeling that the ‘grass is always greener.’ ‘I’d rather be there than here.’ (This also applies to when you’re visiting ‘home’ and your miss your adopted country! You just can’t win, dammit!)
- Getting lost in translation/language difficulties (some days this is the Number One annoyance.)
- No one at ‘home’ asks that much about your new life, making it seem like they don’t give a rat’s arse about you.
- It means potentially never truly fitting into your adopted country. At times you think, ‘I will ALWAYS and FOREVER be an outsider,’ because you didn’t grow up there, you don’t speak colloquially (even if you are very fluent in the new language), you don’t know the culture through and through, you don’t understand how your partner was raised or what he/she/they experienced in terms of education, music, television, or cultural identity issues surrounding food, dress, sex and on and on. You will never have the full experience of someone who grew up there. (This can change if you have the enough interest and persistence.) I think this one can safely count as numbers 9 and 10.
Other things that can go in either category
1. Missing out/FOMO (Sometimes you can be GLAD you’re ‘missing out’). I personally am happy to have a buffer from the insanity of US politics at the moment. This leads to:
2. Not being as current on the Zeitgeist of your own country. Who are all these new people? What is this show everyone is talking about? When did HE die?
3. Seeing your country how the rest of the world sees it. This can be very eye-opening. It can be quite depressing or truly inspirational. I’ll let you guess what I think it is for me at the moment.
Living abroad means loving some things about your new country and hating some things. It means missing some things about your home country and really NOT missing other things. It means adjusting accordingly, and realizing every place in the world has its good and bad stuff, just like your new home (and your old.) It means frustration, stress, joy, new beginnings, endings, mixed feelings, rigmarole and red tape, and endless visits to the local government authorities for visas. But it also offers endless opportunities for growth and expansion (I know, just what you want, AFGO, another f$ing growth opportunity.) Highs and lows baby, highs and lows. Like life.
And finally it means, after years and years in your new country: maybe, just maybe you are eventually content within yourself no matter where you live. And you’ve truly learned the meaning of the phrase, ‘wherever you go, there you are.’