Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Honeymoon's Over

Let’s talk a bit about the phase that most Trailing Spouses go through AFTER the Honeymoon stage.  I have previously referred to it as the “Oh, Shit What Have I Done” phase, but it could also be called the “Why is Everything So Difficult Here?” phase or “Please Don’t Make Me Go Out of the House and Deal with THESE PEOPLE Again” phase.  There is actually a psychological condition that can manifest itself at this stage called “Trailing Spouse Syndrome”.  Really.

Here are some tips from someone who has quasi-survived this difficult transition period and is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I understand that once I am clear of this horrible stage I will be considered “acclimated” to my new culture and everything will be all lollipops and giggles until it time to return home.  Then, apparently, everything happens in reverse, but that is many years in the future so I’m just not going to think about it.  Baby steps, baby steps.

1st Tip:  (Please note, I am going to be brutally honest here with these tips.  Yes, Virginia, it really is THIS bad).

You had better become the kind of person who stops complaining about things that are different and learn to enjoy the differences.  And you had better do this quickly.  Learn the phrase “Get Over It” and make it your mantra.  If you are still bemoaning the ice situation, the sliced bread situation, the nothing’s-open-on-Sunday situation after 9 months to a year in your new place, well, honey, you and your therapist will have a nice, long relationship.

Remember, your spouse is not experiencing this transition phase the same way you are.  He or she is happily going off to work and having lovely, English conversations all day with other adults.  Monday through Friday, your spouse is feeling the culture clash to a much, much lesser degree than you are.  And then, when the weekend comes, he or she will be ready to go exploring your fabulous new country and will totally rely on you to have the itinerary already planned out, (well, honey, really, what else do you have to do ALL WEEK?).  They will look to you to speak to the natives, (because you do this ALL WEEK, sweetie, and your French is so much better than mine), and show them the way on the public transport system, (because you do this ALL WEEK, snookums, and you know I’m used to just driving the car).  If you dwell on this one simple fact too much, you will drive yourself crazy with jealousy.  Concentrate on finding one little thing in YOUR day that YOU accomplished without mishap and take some small pleasure from it.  Spouse is in Amsterdam on business living the dream, probably smoking pot and hiring hookers and ordering from room service all at same time?  Get over it.  YOU managed to get it into your head that 1 kilo of ground beef is the same as 9 McDonald’s Quarter Pounders so all you need to order from the butcher is 200 or 300 grams of meat to make supper.  See?  Wasn’t that fulfilling?  Look at you go, you smart, little cookie!

So, different does not equal “bad”.  In your new world view, different must come to equal “what a fine opportunity for personal growth”.  Snowy day?  Well, strap on some snowshoes, sister, and go for a hike, because a trip to what Europeans euphemistically call a “mall” can maaaaaaybe be stretched out to a 2 hour excursion, if you include lunch.  When you try to describe a typical North American mall to a European, they don’t believe you.  They don’t get the whole “shopping as a leisure activity” thing.  Shopping is shopping and entertainment is entertainment and those two things don’t travel in the same circles.

Can’t find the right ingredients for your recipes?  Get over it.  Try something else that looks close and keep experimenting until it comes out edible.  Let’s face it.  The odds of you finding Kraft sliced singles outside North America are slim to none.  In Europe, there are a million other good cheeses.  Yes, they are different and it is going to make your burger or your fajitas taste different, but that’s OK.   No running lawnmowers or power tools on Sunday, the day of quiet?  Go skiing.  Go hiking.  Go biking.  Enjoy this time in your life where you don’t have to cut the grass on Sunday!  Not only do you not have to cut the grass, it is AGAINST THE LAW to cut the grass!  Free pass from all Do-It-Yourself projects every single Sunday.  What’s not to love about that?

No concept of “lite” foods?  No light dairy products, no light beer, no diet anything in sight?  You won’t need it.  Because you end up walking everywhere and are partaking of all of these outdoor leisure activities, you can eat “real” food and you will still come home at the end of your stint skinnier that when you left.  No joke.  The cream that I put in my coffee every morning is 52% milkfat.  I am addicted to it.  It is called “Crème de Gruyere” and if possible, I would bathe in it.  It is that good.  I eat potatoes, bacon, cheese and bread at least once and sometimes twice a day.  I haven’t put margarine in my mouth for 9 months, it’s all butter all the time.  Yet, I have lost 9 pounds and Mr. Big has lost 12.  And we have done nothing!!  That one fact alone is enough to make you never want to go back.

2nd Tip:  Stop comparing prices to “what you paid in the US”.  This will only make you want to commit hari-kari.  Also, it turns you into a very boring conversationalist because you are so preoccupied with the whole cost of living issue.  Mr. Big has not been able to get beyond the high Swiss prices yet, and it’s all he ever thinks about.  Booooring!  You, Trailing Spouse, must overcome the urge to compare prices between countries or you will never buy anything.  If you want to bargain shop, compare prices within your own new country and look for deals comparing apples to apples.  If you need new boots, and the cheapest ones that you like are 150 euros, DO NOT try to figure out how much they would cost back home or you will be walking around all winter in your old boots.  Physically and mentally stopping yourself from doing this is hard and requires a conscious effort but it can be done.  Well, I say that, but I think this is much harder for really, really thrifty people.  Of which I am not one.  Mr. Big, on the other hand, is a Scrooge by nature, so he is still doing the human calculator thing 24/7.

“Look, Trailing Spouse, just look at the price of this pizza.  50 francs!”

Yes, I see that, Mr. Big, but it is, after all, a family-size pizza, and what are you going to do, just starve yourself?  And, yes, honey, I am aware that eggs are 85 cents each but it is really hard to make an omelette without at least a few of them.  Perhaps we should just dress in flour sacks and live off bread and water?

On second thought, it might be better off for you, fellow Trailing Spouse, if your significant other NEVER gets over this astonishment at price discrepancies.  Because when you travel anywhere else, he/she will think everything is incredibly cheap and you can shop with abandon with no guilt and no hiding of receipts.  Even Paris and London are cheap compared to Zurich and Geneva.  Hmmmmm.  Remind me again why I am encouraging Mr. Big to overcome this bad habit?

Next time, Tips Three and Four. . . Forcing Yourself to Leave the House and How to Make Friends


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  2. Love it as usual. But I bet you bit your tongue more than once even trying to spell snookums since I'm pretty sure that word has NEVER come our of your or Mr. Big's mouth.Love CCA