Thursday, November 18, 2010

Top Ten Lists for Ex-Pats That Really Mean Something

I am dedicating this post to those of you who are ex-pats and read this blog for stress relief or to have an “ah ha!” moment every now and then when you recognize yourself in one of my many foibles.  Dear friends and family who read this just to catch up with me, you can probably skip this one!

I am well into the “acclimatization” stage of our transplantation.  There comes a point, for ex-pats, where one has to decide if one is going to acclimate or if one is going to just fake it for the duration.  Basically, from my experience and in talking to other transplants, it boils down to how long one anticipates being “in country”.  If you think your assignment will be between 1 and 3 years, I’m sorry to break it to you, but, unless you are an EXTREMELY fast adapter, you are probably still going to consider yourself whatever-it-was-before-you-came even as you are packing your stuff for your return “back home”.   You will look, I hope fondly, back at your experience as a really, really long vacation involving multiple mishaps.

If, however, you anticipate a longer stay, say 3-10 years, there is a better-than-even chance that you will come to see yourself as quasi-Swiss or quasi-Ugandan or quasi-Whatever.  These are the people who fall off the ex-pat radar on the internet because they have actually made  a REAL life in their new country and no longer rely on ONLY other ex-pats or countrymen for support.  I promise not to become one of THOSE people!  (Don’t worry, I’m nowhere near that stage, yet.)

To help you better acclimate, I’m going to give you the low-down, the nitty-gritty, the skinny, on some of the bigger hurdles you must learn to jump.  For those of you who are reading this who have just found this blog and are only in the beginning stages of your overseas adventure, STOP READING RIGHT NOW, or you will never do it!  Go back to the beginning of the blog and read from there.  Please.  OK, I warned you.

Top Ten Scariest Things To Overcome

10.          Ordering food in a restaurant from a menu that you can only decipher every 5th word.
9.            Shopping for clothes, shoes, etc. in completely different sizes than what you are used to when the sales person does not speak your native language.
8.            Buying a bus/train/tram/metro ticket from a machine or person that does not offer your native language.
7.            Buying fruit, veg, meat, cheese, etc. from a vendor in an outdoor market in metric quantities
6.            Going in a teeny, tiny shop where the salesperson is intimidating as opposed to shopping in big stores where the salesperson is nonexistent.
5.            Answering someone on the street or in the bus or wherever who directs a question at you in your “new” language.
4.            Making an appointment with a doctor/dentist/dermatologist, hair dresser/dog groomer, etc.  in another language.
3.            Conducting any banking or monetary business in a foreign language.
2.            Making friends outside your comfortable ex-pat circle with people who don’t speak your native language.

And, the #1 scariest thing:  Getting into a conflict, i.e. an accident, anything involving the police, an irate landlord, etc. in your new language.  TERRIFYING!!!

Did you notice a theme here?  Unfortunately, if you do not learn your new language beyond “hello, goodbye, thank you, I would like a beer, etc.” you are never going to get past #6.  Learning the language, including verbs!, separates the men from the boys.  There’s no other way around it.  Sorry.

Well, don’t you know, that Mr. Big, who is in no way, shape or form, ready to encounter Scary List Item #1, did just that.  Yes.  He nailed some poor guy in another car and it involved police and the whole nine yards and it was completely his fault.  Later, when he got home and told me of his Swiss Encounter of the Worst Kind, I was in shock.

ME:  Mr. Big!  What did you do?

MR. BIG:  I stood around and looked stupid.

ME:  Did you go to the police station?

MR. BIG:  No, it all took place right there in the middle of the street.

ME:  What do you have to do now?

MR. BIG:  I have absolutely no idea.  I don’t think I have to do anything.  I just signed some papers and they let me go.

ME:  What papers did you sign?

MR. BIG:  I have no idea.

So, dear Mr. Big may or may not be going to jail.  He may or may not owe somebody some money.  We just don’t know.  These are the kind of things that happen on an ex-pat assignment.  One must just accept that these curveballs will be thrown from time to time and then one must either learn to duck or get hit in the head.

Top Ten Signs That You Are Adapting to Your New Country  (I admit that these are skewed from an American adapting to a European point of view.  Sorry!)

10.  When you open your closet, it’s like being sucked into a Black Hole.  All colored items have slowly been weaned out and only black is allowed to come in.  You do not find this depressing.
9.    You stop drinking mixed drinks and abandon the idea of ice in a beverage all together.  Ice just becomes something you scrape off your windshield or avoid on the roadway.
8.    You automatically check that you have at least 50 dollars/francs in your wallet before going out to lunch with your girlfriends.  You are not surprised when your bill is 48 dollars/francs for a salad and a glass of wine.
7.    You stop worrying that your grown children are going to become homeless beggars without you living near them.  You begin worrying that they don’t need you at all.  But then, they call and ask for money so you chide  yourself for being so ridiculous.
6.    Gypsy beggars with one leg and a baby no longer merit a second glance but a fat person does.
5.    People think you look like a local and ask YOU for directions on the street.  You are able to answer them.
4.    Loud conversation in public causes you to turn your head to see what all the fuss is about.
3.    You come to accept that dressing appropriately for even the most horrendous weather renders it a nonissue and you must now find something else to complain about.
2.    You stop practicing anticipated dialogue in your head hours in advance of leaving the house.

And the number 1 sign that you have adapted?  You initiate a conversation with a total stranger without a second thought.  (I have never done this.  Just thinking about it gives me an anxiety attack.)

Now, I am off to America for the Thanksgiving holidays.  While I am there I will be attending my 30th High School Reunion and probably gathering material for a new blog entry about people who still act 18 but are actually 48.

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