There is a certain upside to being an expat, a ‘citizen of the world’ if you will, with a vast exposure to different cultures, customs, people and (my favorite) food. Whilst you’re away, there is nothing more adventurous than feeling like a bit of an outsider, sent to discover and throw yourself into something new. And frankly, all the other expats are outsiders as well, so you form a silent connection, knowing there are many more like you, figuring out the subway system, looking for English book stores and seeing what their ‘Coke’ tastes like.
Having relocated back to our beloved Europe and currently settling back into our ‘real lives’, that sense of being a bit of an outsider is still there, however this time, not always in such a good way. We have been living abroad for so long; that many every day customs, random paperwork and even the way certain things are cooked, again, seem foreign. Naturally you try and tackle these changes like you’ve tackled all the other changes in your life, but what’s different this time around is that you’re at ‘home’ and the expectation you’ve put on yourself to just ‘slide back into’ the lifestyle you once knew went far more smoothly in your head than it seems to in real life.
I might be alone in this, but per chance if there are any other expats out there, trying to settle back into their old lives.. I thought to share a few points I’m trying to follow myself:
1. Don’t be paranoid
Overseas, you accept the fact that the locals see you as an expat (having lived in Asia for the last 2 years, it was kind of hard hiding being a 172cm tall, pasty blonde and all). But here, in Paris, they see me as ‘one of their own’… and every time someone even slightly glances my way on the metro as I look lost or listen to music, I panic and think “Oh, No!They know!!!” as I quickly, and casually, try to act as French as possible (don’t even ask me what I look like… probably very stupid.)
2. Embrace your accent
Having learnt English in the US, raised in Europe, moved to Australia as a late adolescent and spent the last 4 years moving around and married to a Frenchman.. my accent seems to have taken on a life of its own, rendering no clue as to where I might actually come from. It also appears to have chameleon-like tendencies where it changes and adapts to whomever I am talking to (seriously, you should hear me around the Irish). Living in a city now with a melting pot of different, and strong accents (even amongst people who were born and raised here) I realized it is better to embrace the accent and just speak the language rather than spending a 3 hour afternoon focusing on rolling the ‘rrrr’ properly.
3. When life throws you lemons…
I have not lived or visited a country where the process of paperwork involved in what is called ‘life’ has run smoothly, efficient, and without delay. At times it almost feels like all government/state documentation will take ‘about a month’, no matter how small the step or how easy the process. When will I have my picture ready? ‘about a month’…. when will the person, I need to speak with, be back from their lunch? ‘oh, about a month’. We’re left with grabbing these lemons (all 30 thousand copies of them) and working through them step by step as we slowly make our sweet, sweet lemonade.
4. Connect with ‘your peeps’
The upside of expatting is meeting amazing people all over the world and enjoying the excitement of seeing friends again after long absences. The down side (on some days) is that you don’t really have one set ‘crew’ in one set place. It can sometimes feel very lonely to be surrounded by lovely people, but not by the people you miss the most that day (hormones and paperwork often don’t help the situation 😉 Of course enjoy the company and time of those around you to the fullest, but there is nothing wrong with occasionally missing others and using one of the million ways to connect with people, no matter how far away they are.
5. Don’t try too hard
A lesson I am trying to teach myself every day. Be aware that change takes time… settling back in takes time. I can’t be away from a place for such a long time and expect everything to be the way it was (well, in my case that means people would still be wearing jeans ensembles, listening to walk-mans and using a paper map to get around …. and now I feel old). I need to remind myself to go with the punches, tackle every issue at a time (or 6 at a time, depending on the situation).
Having a thousand things to do at the moment, whilst still living out of a suitcase, can pose its problems and prompted this little, winy blog post…. but I continue to be incredibly grateful for the life I have today and the things I have experienced and wouldn’t want to change it for anything!
I know, very soon, I’ll be laughing about all this as I drink my small black coffee, eat a baguette as a ‘roadie’ and make witty jokes in French… weird accent and everything…