When moving abroad, either for a short period or for a dramatic life-changing turn of events, it’s good to get prepared for all the things that await you at your destination. So you start arranging formalities: visas, savings, finding a place to live, maybe a job, getting the scoop on all the important details about the country of your choice. And that’s great! But then… surprise! Reality happens! Life has a weird sense of humor, so you’re bound to encounter some issues and situations, that you’d never anticipate. How do I know? It happened to me as well. Hi, I’m Marta and I’m not living in the country matching my nationality. I shall be your guide through the everyday expat problems nobody told me about before I moved.
Answering a lot of random questions
And I mean A LOT. I understand, that when you’re the new kid, everyone is interested in your story and you become a bit of a “show and tell” attraction. That’s cool. But sometimes…
Why are you here? Why is anyone of us here, really. How’s Poland? I have no idea how to answer that. Ever. Is it cold there? Hey, the border is just 100 km from here, what do you think? Do you have polar bears? Yes, in zoos. You’re Polish, so why don’t you speak Russian? Maybe because I’m Polish, not Russian. Do you have Internet in Poland? No, we still send messages via pigeons. You get the story.
Bureaucracy… in your home country
Even though the word in the streets is that we live in the XXI century, my homeland still requires its citizen to do a lot of official arranging in person. I thought German bureaucracy is bad (and it is!) and complicated (it REALLY is!) but when it hit me, that I need to appear in the flesh at an official office not once, but twice – to submit an ID renewal form and then to pick up the said ID – I realized that Polish is not much better.
Unexpected language mixups
The worst are when in your mind you’re 100% convinced that you’re speaking in the language you share with your current conversation partner. One time a friend of mine said something to me in Italian. Not knowing the language, I asked her what she said in English. She gave me a surprised look and repeated the previous sentence again in Italian. Only to facepalm, realise what language she was speaking, and apologise 3 seconds later. I caught myself speaking Polish to Germans or English to Poles many times. Or speaking to other Poles in our mother tongue… and completely blanking out on a word. It’s really embarrassing when you can’t remember how something is called in your native language, but you can name it in 1 or more foreign languages. Not cool brain, not cool.
Technology is against you.
Things like doing the laundry should be simple, right? You open the washing machine, put dirty things in, add detergent, close the washing machine, press a few buttons, and take out clean things. Guess again. It becomes a serious operation when a foreign language, that you’re not fluent in, gets involved. And I’m not talking about the mystery of disappearing socks or accidentally turning all your clothes pink from that one sexy bra you have. Nope. I mean programming the damn thing when it’s in German and the shortest word in the washing menu is about 30 letter long and full of umlauts. Will it do my laundry? Will it launch a nuclear missile? Let’s find out!
Your family thinks you’re a millionaire
This is true when you move to a “richer” country. In my case, the local currency is quite a bit stronger than my home one, so according to my extended family, I must be filthy rich, drinking champagne for breakfast, eating caviar and fanning myself with euro bills when chilling on my private yacht on the weekends. Whenever I unreasonably slipped up and commented that I wouldn’t buy something or I won’t come to visit because I have other expenses, I got hit on the head with a “But you work in the west. You can afford it.” comment. The truth is, that yes, I do earn in € but I also spend in it. My rent, utilities and groceries are all more expensive than back home. It would be really nice to earn euro or dollars and spend in PLN but unfortunately, that’s not the case.
You’re suddenly super popular…
…among people, who haven’t spoken to you for the past 10 years. People, who you have last seen in elementary school, somehow connect the dots and realise you live in another country. So, since you’re such a successful bastard, why don’t you host them for an indefinite period or find them a job. A preferred one would a CEO position with 0 job experience, education or foreign language knowledge needed. And try to politely explain, that that’s beyond your superpowers – suddenly you switch from BFF title to worst human being ever, who is obviously lying about their lives and in reality obviously is either washing dishes or got their current job by sleeping around, cause there is no way you could have achieved something on your own. Surprisingly such requests and accusations never come from people, who actually know you and make the effort to stay in touch. Great friend filter, 10/10, Marta approves.
Your mother thinks there is no food where you live
Each and every single time when I go back to Poland my mom makes it her number one priority to not only feed me PROPERLY when I’m at my family home, but also to fill my suitcase with very necessary products like cookies, snacks or sausage. And not even the local ones from our homeland. Try explaining to a Polish mom, that they do in fact have proper bread in Germany. I dare you.
Things you took for granted are not available
It’s really easy to get used to the food, treats and products, that you basically grew up with and that are readily available, staring at you from every supermarket shelf. When moving to another country though, you might discover that not only are those things missing in every single store you search, but also that the local community has never even heard about such things. Then you become “that girl asking weird questions” in your local corner shop. And even when you find a relatively OK substitute, it’s never as good as the thing you really want. There will come a day when I will finally find proper sour cucumbers. Somewhere. If not, see number 7.
Planning. Lots of planning.
Being an expat/non-committal immigrant/confused pigeon means eventually the people, who matter to you will be scattered around literally everywhere. Same creatures like you, who once came to a country and left after a while, locals who decided to move elsewhere, friends, who are still at home, people who you left behind when moving from a different place. Arranging calls, Skype chats and visits is an exhausting task. Surprisingly, even when it’s in the same time zone! So one day you might find yourself with a calendar with pages scribbled all over or a very filled up Google Calendar if you’re fancy. Then you can be like me, sitting around and planning ahead along the lines of “If I take 1 day off here, I might be able to book this plane at 6 am, so I need to be at the airport at 4, leave the house at 3, but I have to work later the evening before and pack, so I guess there is no point going to bed… but then I get to see Anna on Friday, then have a family dinner on Saturday, and, if I get back early on Sunday, I might still be able to catch Mark in Berlin and then still chat with the US, cause they’re a few hours behind… so I will sleep in August.” But hey, it’s worth it. Most of the time.
Holidays don’t match
Friends and family expect you to come around when everybody has a day off because of one holiday or another. What do you mean you’re working on the 3rd of May?! It’s a long weekend, come home! Hey, pssst, hey… it’s Constitution Day in Poland and ONLY in Poland. My current base country doesn’t really give a damn. May I interest you in German Unity Day instead?
Those are just a few things, that surprised me and that I did not take into consideration when planning to move in the first place. After all, who’d spent days worrying about doing laundry in Portuguese, German or French, right? Then again, those little everyday things are what makes living abroad an exciting new adventure every single day.