In a previous post, I was talking about how we compare ourselves to others, and how that keeps us from being happy. A lot of people picture our expat lives as one glamorous adventure after another.
So how is life as an expat? Or better: How is life as an expat wife (or wifey, how some seem to see us)? Is it as adventurous as people picture it? I daresay yes, although so far I have neither jumped out of a burning car, nor have I helped hide a spy. I just never got the opportunity. But yeah, we have our everyday adventures, don’t we?
Of course, I can only speak for myself. Our experiences depend on our personality and most certainly, on our location. But it seems when talking to fellow expats, we more or less face the same emotional ups and downs.
But first things first. It all starts with some phone calls, the first emails, any sign that suggests we might be up for a move. All of a sudden I grow new eyes and wander the streets in a new awareness. Dirty side streets become kind of poetic, that neighbour who never greets you seems much friendlier and you are sure, there must be a sad story behind that cold facade. Things that used to annoy you become quirky details, and the littlest things become meaningful things of beauty.
But there is not much time for nostalgia, we need to prepare ourselves for the new adventure.Thank goodness for Wikipedia, where we can find all information re climate, currency, politics and healthcare system. We can even look up different neighbourhoods, check real estate prices, and we already know exactly what our new house should look like. Honestly, I have no idea how we would survive without the internet! In my mind I start packing things into boxes, wondering where they, where we might end up. Finally, the contract gets signed, and in our case that leaves us 2 – 4 weeks to wrap things up.
And that’s when the real fun begins. And also my frantic list making. The tone of our marriage changes from couple talk to colleague talk. Breakfasts turn into morning meetings, and during the day, Mr. R. shoots me reminder emails and vice versa. I get quotes from various moving companies for which I have to list the value of all things we possess. Last time I counted, we had 262 soft cover books, 174 hard covers und 208 non-fiction books. The numbers have increased by now, in contrast to our china and glasswear by the way. Go figure.
In the evenings, Mr. R. gets home exhausted and sad as he has to get things at the office in order and attend farewell dinners, while I try to hang out as much as possible with my friends which leaves me just as miserable. Yeah, those are fun nights. And all of a sudden, we find ourselves in a different country, possibly in a different climate. (Boy, I am sweating just thinking about our move from Seattle to Playa del Carmen!)
While we are waiting for our stuff to arrive, we live in the hotel which is very pleasant the first 4 weeks. Afterwards, it starts to suck. Honestly. Even if that hotel is like paradise. But paradise without privacy – not so much fun. Mr. R. leaves in the morning with a busy schedule, while I am browsing the area for housing options. And in the evenings, we both have to deal with a bit of jealousy. I envy my husband for having his new colleagues and a new routine straight away, and he envies me for having the time and freedom to explore the region.
For me, the first few months are constant ups and downs. Part of me feels very lucky and adventurous, but when things go wrong ALL THE TIME (like when I try to open a new account with the gas company…), then it can happen that I just burst into tears over nothing. Life becomes like a scavenger hunt looking for doctors, figuring out visa stuff, driver’s license, bank accounts… And it is those simple things that become very big. Which supermarket carries what? What is the difference between the various kinds of petrol? (In Mexico: One is like water, one is like water with petrol.) How do I get a plumber? And how many days do I have to wait for him to show up? Where do I pay bills? Is there public transport? What is the best phone company? Millions of little things that need to be taken care of.
The upside is that you can feel like a hero every now and then. Like when you managed your first bribe. Or got your client number after 5 days non-stop phone calls to that above-mentioned gas company and you take your first hot shower. Or when the plumber showed up after less than a week and you can actually use the washing machine. Those are the moments when I always feel like Superwoman. Of course, when the tube bursts and leaves me completely soaked because the plumber forgot to seal it off, then that Superwoman moment is over. But that’s life, right?
Once you get into a certain routine, you find a job, places that you like, favourite restaurants and stores, you develop a social life apart from work, and finally you even manage to speak and understand the language, then life becomes fun. Especially when the first visitors show up and you get to do all the fun stuff while feeling like a local. But that only lasts a short time, then we already get a little itchy… And that is mostly about the time when the phone rings again… One thing is for sure: It never gets boring!
So how about you? How do you feel about living the expat life? I would love to hear about your experiences!