I had a Romper Room moment while reading a travel column on Yahoo the other day. (For non-Romper Room kids, Miss Mary Ann used to hold up the magic mirror and say “I see Jimmy and Kelly and Margaret and and and…I see you!”) I saw my expat friends.
See, the column is entitled “Exploring the joys of expatriate life.” Quit yer snickering, you know who you are.
I was once a sucker for the fantasy of expat living. It was all those damn movies. An American in Paris. That wacky 60s movie with Shirley MacLaine in it. The Year of Living Dangerously (though Mel is not invited for Passover) and Seven Years in Tibet and A Passage to India and and and. Some displaced Brit or Yank has awesome experiences and evolves, or some crap like that. Are there any movies that show what being an expat is REALLY like?
Lest you think I am totally off on expat living, well, that’s not entirely true. It’s just that expat living is nothing like I’d expected it would be.
I think the expat fantasy needs a pie chart. One slice for the hot 20 somethings off to teach English and/or study abroad. Maybe one for the kibbutz volunteer. One slice for the trailing spouses. One slice for the financially well off bugging out for a year or two. One slice for oh my god I fell in love with a foreigner and now I live in the stupidest place ever. I think the advice for each sector of my pie chart would vary wildly. Because it’s easy to tell the 20 something to chill and enjoy herself, but the trailing spouse?
The confession that I’d always wanted to live abroad as a younger, more ridiculous person met with some confusion at my house. If I’d always wanted to and now I had the chance, why wasn’t I living abroad full time? “Not like THIS,” I explained.
In my expat fantasy, I always lived in some crappy yet romantic apartment with a view of the city. Also, I could wear heels as though I was born to it, had the perfect part time job, and was on first name basis with the handsome barrista who made my coffee. I think I also had some breathtaking talent and was, of course, drop dead gorgeous. My expat fantasy was not the cow-filled somewhat solitary country existence I ended up with. My expat fantasy was also not the stunning beauty of snowcovered meadows or the spectacular calorie count of Austrian desserts.
I don’t exactly feel ripped off, but I don’t feel like I got what I ordered, either. I suppose that is an excellent piece of advice for potential intentional expats. No matter how much you prepare, it will be nothing like you imagined it would be.
The Cynic’s Advice for Expats by Slice:
- You are so getting laid. Be safe and carpe diem, baby.
- See above. Also, all that attention seems flattering at first, but it really gets to be a nuisance.
- No one will talk to you. I hope you have a hobby.
- You are the luckiest people alive.
- Ho ho ho. Boy are you in for it. We should talk.
Cross posted to Lost in Transit.