Living in a foreign country can be wonderfully enriching and educational. By immersing yourself in another culture, you have the opportunity to interact with locals and learn about their customs, habits and traditions. During this time, you will probably experience some culture shock and hard-hitting homesickness, along with a tremendous amount of change. Most of the discomfort will subside as the months and years pass, but you will still have plenty of awkward, fumbling moments in which you feel like the least suave person on the planet.
For many of us, living abroad involves:
— Leaving the vast majority of your pride back in your home country. Accepting the fact that you will make mistakes, look foolish and get hopelessly lost. Relying on the patience & kindness of others far more than you had to back home.
— Smiling and nodding whenever a stranger unexpectedly engages you in conversation. Even though you’re not sure if “yes” is an appropriate response. Or if they even asked you a question.
— Being totally dependent on Googlemaps, especially in the early days. Spending the first ten minutes of every new bus route tracking every stop to check you are going the right way. Accepting that more than once, you’ll be on the right bus…. going in the wrong direction!
— Combining words and phrases from multiple languages into bewildering sentences, like some Jack of Several Languages (Master of None). It’s worse when you go somewhere outside of the country you live in or come from, and start speaking absolute gobbledygook. I’ve thrown around English, Italian and German phrases with reckless abandon and been on the receiving end of countless amused, perplexed and concerned looks. From time to time, I answer questions with a hybrid word like “Ja-si”. Only last year, I alarmed a tiny old Italian woman, who was asking for directions, by telling her “Entschuldigung! Yes, io parlo Italiano!”. I don’t think she quite believed me….
— Only knowing the names of the main streets, being rather foggy about which suburban neighbourhoods are next to each another and having nooo idea what all the side streets are called. When someone tells you where they live, immediately asking “What’s your nearest train station?”. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner and we have so many boroughs, neighbourhoods and zones. If you don’t specify a particular station I might have heard of, I will probably never understand where you live.
— Laboriously translating buttons, instructions and manuals word-by-word to understand how appliances work. Then being utterly baffled by the results. Why does my washing machine have twenty different settings for washing clothes? What does “fast forward” mean in dishwasher lingo?
— Wondering how many times a friend who speaks the local language fluently (or far better than you) can help you get out of a jam before you should start tipping them for their translation work. And whether they charge VAT….
Can you think of any more examples? Please share your ideas in the comments section below!
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow