Versatility?

Laura at “The Everyday Life of a Young American Girl in France” (http://laurasviequotidienne.blogspot.com/) has kindly bestowed me with the Versatile Blogger Award:  (tah-dah!)

Thank you so much, Laura!!

Upon receiving this award I am to list 7 things about myself and then pass the award along to other blogs.  Instead of listing 7 things about myself, I think I will, instead, list 7 things to remember when moving to a foreign country.

7.  Be versatile!!  (wink, wink, nudge, nudge – I slay me)  But in all seriousness, this is a good thing to keep in mind upon arrival in your new country.  Perhaps, in your mind’s eye, you have a vision of how it is all going to go:  you will arrive and get the perfect job, maybe marketing for a wine company, then you will meet a good looking foreign person who will make you laugh with their accent and charming way of saying things.  Needless to say, you and said foreigner will fall madly in love while you simultaneously get a promotion at work.  Money is therefore not an issue and you don’t even have to search for housing because you are, obviously, living at your new lover’s villa (oh, and magically your body will be better).  Voila!

In reality, you may do a series of temp jobs that make you hate yourself while living in a share house with ten strangers, all the while staring at the good looking foreigners who won’t give you the time of day.  Deal with it – make it work (Tim Gunn)!  Be open to whatever situation falls in your lap – who knows?  One day, one of those strangers might end up being in your wedding…really.

6.  All consulates are created equally…horrible.  Make sure that you are thrice prepared for any visa appointments/changes that need to be made…and then be prepared for something to go wrong, something like the clerk just deciding to close the counter for 2 hours while you wait, or the entire ‘tourist visa’ office going on a three day retreat one day before you need to get your passport back, or the list of what you needed for the visa changing the day you arrive with your information.  It doesn’t matter whether you are in France or Timbuktu; this stuff will happen.  My only advice, keep your cool, the people behind the counter really do hold your fate in their hand – don’t piss them off.

5.  Don’t be the guy who spends the whole time eating peanut butter and jelly, listening to Kanye, and drinking Budweiser (insert: whatever cultural references work for your home country).  Basically, try not to spend too much time re-creating home.  Sharing your culture is one of the most fun things about travel; it’s a pleasure to make one of your favorite dishes for someone from another country or show them your favorite film.  It is also crucial to abating any bouts of home-sickness.  Just don’t let it take over.  If you create a mini-version of your own country while you are away then what will you have to talk about when you go home?

4.  “Everything is better in my country!”  (to be said in a 1930’s Philadelphia “society” accent)  Look, we are all guilty of it, I know I do it regularly, but try to keep the comparison game in check; it is not charming.

No local wants to hear a foreign visitor constantly charting the ways in which their own country is better:

“Here (sidebar: in this country I have chosen to live in) you are too fast, too slow, too disorganized, too organized, obnoxious over-achievers, lazy under-achievers, (have) not enough stuff at the grocery store, TOO MUCH STUFF AT THE GROCERY STORE!  In my country we have perfected all these things; over the course of our acquaintance I will list to you all the ways in which we have done so in order for you to learn.  You can thank me later.”

Here’s the deal, there are going to be things in your new country that will drive you bananas and you will miss the way that your own country does stuff; everyone does.  Just try to be careful how you bring it up – you don’t want to be obnoxious – if you catch yourself talking about how much “awesomer” your country is at something, maybe finish the statement with a mention of another thing that you think your host country does better.  No one likes an ungracious guest…and when you can’t take it anymore, unload to your expat friends – they’ll get it.

3.  “I hate it here.  I have no friends, the food sucks, their tv shows are stupid, I’m sick of public transportation, I don’t have any of my stuff, I’m missing out on all the crazy, unusually awesome stuff that my friends at home are CLEARLY doing without me, I’m so lonely!”

The “three month slump” exists and while it does occur generally around the three-month time frame, rest assured that it can rear it’s ugly head at any time during your overseas existence.  Eight-month slump?  Five and one-half month slump?  Why not?  Living in another country can be really exciting, and challenging, and incredibly fun but it is also really hard.  You can’t expect to pluck yourself out of your comfort zone, away from those you love and all things familiar, and have a seamless transition.  Sometimes, it is going to suck and you are going to feel depressed and alone; and that is normal!  Don’t throw in the towel; instead, when three of your ten strange roommates organize a trip to go and do a zip-line over a volcano, do it!  When the daughter of a distant friend of your Father’s emails you to say “hi, I’ve just moved here”, invite her to a party.  Don’t let “slumpness” suck away the possibility of new experiences…I mean, wasn’t that the whole point anyway?

2.  Never move to a new country during their winter.  This might seem stupid to list as #2 but if you have ever done it then you know it is not.  Unless you are an avid skier moving to someplace like the Swiss Alps or Queenstown, NZ, moving to a new country in winter will be horrible.  I mean, think about it, nothing says welcome like barren trees and gray skies.  And forget about meeting new people and making friends, people stay at home in winter, they go to cozy house parties; they do not hang out on patios or stand in groups that are convenient to interrupt with an awkward fake question.

Nothing is more depressing then sitting in your new room, freezing, while it is drizzling outside, with no friends.  Really, if you can avoid it then just don’t do it.  That is all I can say.

1.  Okay, so now, basically forget everything I just wrote and remember this one thing:  it is the same everywhere.  Sure the scenery may be different and the people might have funny accents or don’t smile as much (that’s for you, Frenchies) but your life will pretty much be the same in your new country as in your old one.  From a distance it might seem like in France your bathroom will clean itself, obviously, because living in France is far too glamorous for such things.  In Australia, every work day will be wonderful because they will all be good-looking and say things like “good on ya, mate”  (that last part might be accurate).  But here is the truth, I clean my bathroom once a week and some Australians are ugly.

So have reasonable expectations, remember that mundane days exist everywhere, you can’t run away from them.  No matter where you live you are going to have good days and bad days.  Even at home, you will get a case of “slumpness” or want to pull your hair out because the people in front of you on the sidewalk are walking too slowly – you just won’t have the convenience of being able to blame it on a country.  Travel and living abroad is an amazing, eye-opening, and exciting experience; but altering your coordinates won’t change your life, that is up to you.

And…that is my two cents on living abroad.

Now for the fun part, here are a few blogs that I would like to pass on the Versatile Blogger Award to:

Tanya In Transition (http://tanyaintransition.wordpress.com/)

Existimatio (http://existimatio.wordpress.com/)

Crystal Goes to Europe (http://www.crystalgoestoeurope.blogspot.com/)

Grenobloise (http://grenobloise.wordpress.com/)

Enjoy!

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13 Responses to Versatility?

  1. grenobloise says:

    I love your moving-to-a-foreign-country tips! Well said, all 7 of your points, and very helpful! I am certainly guilty for having a certain amount of “slumpness” and the whole “I’m so lonely/I miss my friends” thing! And thanks for the award!

    Ps – ‘Makes so much sense, #2. I’m glad I moved here in June (especially having such a wonderful person to walk to the Bastille with!), although winter’s not SO bad. :)
    D

    • breadispain says:

      Yeah, writing about the “slumpness” was a good reminder for me too!! It is easy to get trapped in that – especially in winter, I think. I will be happy for sunny Bastille days soon!

  2. Great list! Though we’ve been back in the States for nearly as long as we were gone, our experience left such a huge impression on me that I know moving abroad again is in the cards for us… Next time, though, I will surely heed #2. I am NOT an avid skier and I did move to the Swiss (Pre)Alps at the end of September (winter as far as I’m concerened) = :(

    • breadispain says:

      Yes, I have the #2 mistake in two different countries – horrid idea!! haha! Moving somewhere is spring is the best – then by the time winter comes you’ll actually have people to stay at home WITH. So many great countries to live in – how will y’all ever choose?!?

  3. Kate says:

    Hi, I just started following your blog (am an American currently living in Limoges). This is great advice–Might find my way back here next time I hit a living-abroad slump.

  4. Theresa says:

    I had a much better time when I moved to NZ and Australia in springtime than I did when I lived in London for six months — the six months being October till March, arguably the worst time to live there. The other points were all spot-on: I loved the bit about not re-creating an American life abroad, because what would you talk about when you go back? So true! Also loved the bit about inviting your dad’s friend’s daughter to a party. Since I’m now dating the co-worker of that person, I have you to thank for it.

    BTW, I noticed you don’t seem to be hyperlinking things. All you have to do is highlight the text you want to link and click the little button that looks like a chain, then input the http://. See: http://en.support.wordpress.com/links/

    • breadispain says:

      YES – I moved to NZ at the end of summer and was okay but Australia and France in winter was fairly depressing. Hehe – yes, I did try to incorporate some actual real-life situations in this one. Most of these things are mistakes that I have made over the past 4 years.

      Thanks for the tech advice…god, I’m so technologically retarded. It is very sad!

  5. Crystal says:

    Great post! You make some very valid points that the logical, intelligent part of me recognizes, yet the irrational, homesick part of me was saying “omg I do that…and that…and that…” as I read it. I always thought I would ease into an ex-pat life, but 6 years later, I can hardly say that. What works for me is knowing I’ve got awesome friends and family in Canada and in France, and I have a safety net (aka my parents) back here in Canada should things not work out in France.

    I’m TRYING to integrate myself more into French life, and certainly living in the Alps helps, but it might be a long time before I consider it ‘home’.

    Oh and I would definitely advise potential ex-pats not to move to Canada during the winter. It’s enough to make even the most determined ex-pat pack it up and move on back to their home country!

    (thanks for the shout out and blogging award…I’m not a huge fan of memes, but who knows, I might get around to doing this one!)

    • breadispain says:

      oh yes – a large part of this post was me listing out some of the things that I do that don’t help the transition. We are all guilty of it from time to time – it is good to have a reminder to stay focused on the positive though (and there is a lot of positive).

      Good lord, Canadian winters scare me to my core.

      Can’t wait to have a drink upon your return!

  6. LOL! I loved this. Such good tips for people thinking of moving abroad. Yes, it’s so easy to default to the things we know and loved about our home country but at some point we have to embrace the new and unfamiliar things of our new home.

    I’ll let you know when I’ve posted my 7 things!
    Cheerio!!!

  7. LOVE your tips! So true and candid at the same time! I moved here a long time ago but I’d be wise to remember some of them, especially dealing with administration people – those guys have the key to EVERYTHING so it’s really wise not to piss them off! That’s something I need to work at LOL!

    • breadispain says:

      Thanks for such kind feedback! Yeah, I forget these tips myself so it was a good reminder to write them all down.
      Pfff…went to the consulate last week and they were actually nice to me…felt like a Twilight Zone episode! :)

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