Living in another country is an adventure! I know this isn’t really news, but nearly 7 months in now it still feels that way. Partially that’s the perpetual feeling of gratitude that I have, but it also has to do with how almost everything, everyday, is still “not normal.” Many things I expected but there are a bunch that took me completely by surprise. It’s a strange life: you’re not a local, and you’re not a tourist; you’re not on vacation, but not at home.
Here are the things we’ve encountered so far.
There is a clock ticking, somewhere. Most of us live in another country at the sufferance of a visa or a permit and they always have an expiration date. Whether its one year or several, we have a deadline that requires our attention. And time is going by so fast — so many times we’ve looked at each other to say, “It’s been three months already!” We received our 2-year residency permits at the end of March which means (as John says in his weird way) if you break our permits into 8 equal chunks, we’ve now used one of them up. We’re only now getting processed for our driver’s licenses, but by the terms of the law here we are now illegal to be driving on our US licenses(!). Fortunately we don’t have a car so this doesn’t impact us day-to-day, but it’s something we have to keep in mind if we want to make a plan involving a car rental.
You can’t see everything / there’s always more to do. We want to do and see All The Things, making every minute count. It’s exhausting. We try to take pleasure in the small things as much as the big events. Yes, we know we can come back (or renew the permit), but that’s the head, not the heart. On our trip to London a couple weeks ago, we entered the British Museum and walked past the Rosetta Stone on our way to another exhibit. Didn’t even stop to look. On the one hand we’ve seen it before, but on the other: it’s the freaking Rosetta Stone!
You’re not on vacation. It’s weirdly hard the day you realize that you are not on vacation. That there is no “home” to return to — you’re in it. We’ve been lucky enough to travel for as long as a month in several countries in the past. But enjoying our current location is hard to do when we’ve got grocery shopping, cleaning, and laundry to do. The days go by very quickly, and sometimes its very, very ordinary. But eating out at our local tavern is an exercise in interpretive dance and language, even though we have exchanged names and know the staff.
You can’t travel as much as you want. This was the toughest aspect to swallow when we were making our plans. We have places to see all over Europe, and the rules of our residency permit include specific limits on how much time we’re allowed out of country. So while we want to spend a year in a little place outside of Florence (for example), that’s not possible right now. And yes, I know, cry me a river, but it is an example of how this is different from being completely at our ease.
You feel betwixt and between. You’re not a local, and never will be. You did not grow up in this area, with its social norms and customs ingrained within your deep knowledge. At the same time, you’re not just touring through your new country, sampling its delights, highlights, and delicacies. There are (too many) expats who live abroad for years and still don’t feel like locals. Right now, mostly because we haven’t been here long, we just feel like we have no idea what’s going on. John just came back from the grocery store yesterday and said he was momentarily taken aback when he realized he couldn’t understand a page over their intercom… which, of course he couldn’t, we’re still learning the language. Still.
You kept a lot of bad habits despite yourself. No matter how much we wanted to become totally healthy people and positively reinventing ourselves, that has not magically happened. We are the same people who traveled here, we brought our same brains and personalities. The first time I heard “[w]herever you go, there you are” I thought it was ridiculous. Now that I’ve lived it some… yeah. So, even though you can be anyone you want, you probably won’t be that much different from who you used to be. Or to put it slightly more positively – it was going to be hard work to change, and it still is. Being here helps motivate some, that’s the difference.
You feel very lonely sometimes, even with your significant other. You’ll be time zones away from family and friends and you will miss out on birthdays and other important events. Just scheduling calls is hard across so many time zones (and timeanddate.com will become your friend). Thank goodness for Zoom and cell phones!
You will desperately crave and miss things you took for granted. Being able to turn right on red, free public toilets, specific foods. We get lots of seafood, but no Mexican, and haven’t had good Chinese since we left the PNW. We miss peanut butter, and tortillas. None of these were our absolutely favorite foods back when we had access to them, and it’s not that we constantly crave them, but occasionally you find yourself in the mood for something and realize it just isn’t going to happen.
Living abroad is full of challenges, constantly new and different. Some days I don’t even want to leave the house because I’m just not up to it. Most days, however, I can’t wait to go out and see what the day brings me. I’m deeply grateful, every day for being able to enjoy this new life.