Many words for many days of absence. . .
I’ve somehow got it my head that a blog relaunch must start on a Monday. Monday is the first real day of the week, after all. (The Brits are right about this one.) Who starts anything new on a Wednesday for God’s sake? Monday is when blogs return for real after Saturday night socials and a few random links thrown down on Friday because four days of romanticizing your own life is enough for anyone! So each Monday in January has passed, and I’ve been distracted, so no blog entry, because cultured and civilized people DO NOT start blogging again on Wednesdays. Readers, I am not an animal.
But Monday is arbitrary. It means nothing. It’s a label given to the way we artificially mark time. It’s a capitalist creation more than anything else–starting you on the work week so you can neatly divide the work and play time so that work becomes worth it because of the work week’s end (says the college Marxist.)
So, blog relaunch. On a Wednesday. Is happening . . . now.
Let’s dive back in by clearly identifying myself as an expat, which is what you’re supposed to do when you move to another country I suppose.
The thing is, like the days of the week, the label is simply manufactured nomenclature–because others must be clearly defined as others, so we can keep track of who really belongs, right?
Years ago, when my husband and I were living in different American cities, I was on a flight up the Eastern seaboard to visit him for the weekend. There was an article in the in-flight magazine about “commuter marriages,” spouses who lived in separate cities in order to each maintain separate careers. Two homes. Two answering machines. Weekend get-togethers. “How horrible!” I thought. “What an awful way to live!”
It only slowly dawned on me as I finished the article that I was in a commuter marriage. I just didn’t know it was a thing. I hadn’t given it a label.
Being an expat is like that. Mostly, I’m just living a life, but people tell me I’m an expat, so I am.
So here’s a few expat pro tips. . .
Pro Tip #1: Expats LOVE to give advice.
Seriously. We can’t shut up with our pro tips.
Pro Tip #2, which probably should be Pro Tip #1: The number one thing you have to get used to being an expat is that you’re going to talk about it all time.
You open your mouth, and people are going to ask you where you’re from. At the coffee shop. At Primark. On the playground. People are going to ask, and you’re going to have to offer your expat elevator speech. So hone that magic story like an expertly polished gemstone.
Pro Tip #3: You’re going to stand out.
I was out to dinner a couple of months ago–Saturday night, heart of Islington’s Supper Street. My party (75% American) was laughing, talking and boisterous–as one does on a grown-up night out at a lively restaurant. The table next to us (Brits, judging by accents, as they surely judged ours) asked to move because we were too loud. I wasn’t particularly offended, because I’m painfully aware that other Brits speaking in the same tone of voice wouldn’t have been annoying to them. The irony was that within 15 minutes, the restaurant was PACKED and you could barely hear the person across from you–no matter what accent they were boozily prattling on in. You just have to accept that opening your mouth puts a label on you as clear as a neon sign and learn to be yourself in spite of it–because the sign often says more about others than it does about yourself. Finding the balance between being yourself and respecting the culture and etiquette of your new home is the key, and if you find it, what a happy expat you will be.
Pro Tip #3: Don’t try to make Little America.
If you move abroad, and you find yourself obsessing over where to get Arizona Iced Tea or Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing or Dunkin Donuts coffee, you are going to be miserable. If you get to your new home and you find yourself ranting on expat forums about how the Brits do their dishes (often, they don’t rinse after soaping,) or WHY ARE THEIR NO SCREENS IN THIS CLEARLY GODFORSAKEN KINGDOM?, you are going to be miserable. I got great advice years ago in graduate school (from the weekly group therapy sessions for our entire class paid for by the school, which is probably worth another blog post): When you are dislocated, the obsessive desire to reproduce what you don’t have will only bring a sense of sorrow and loss. Embracing new traditions by retaining the spirit, rather than the trappings, of the old will bring peace. So, brew a pot of Earl Grey, make some pecan pie with a Mary Berry shortcrust and a whole lot of Golden Syrup, and host a “Spirit of Thanksgiving” party like a boss.
Tomorrow: How I Got Here (Or “The Seven Days I Pretended I Was Wallis Simpson”)