When you move overseas the “to be taken” list seems endless. But the list of things to be left behind is non-existent. It never gets made. In your frenzy to reduce the cost of shipping you jettison as much as you can. You tell yourself, “we’ll buy it again over there”. Inevitably you don’t make a list, or the making of said list falls somewhere below #83 on the big list.
Then you arrive in your new country and hit the ground living a life. It’s not just any life. It’s your “new life”. And, like most of us, you want your new life to be just like your old life, but different. You feel out of place and want some comforts from home to make you feel less like you’re in over your head. But you left the hot sauce and the first aid kit back at home. Worse yet, you didn’t write down the name of the hot sauce.
While the “big things” like work permits, friends/family, social security, and health insurance are critical, it’s often the little things you miss most. You never realize how much “your” brand of bread meant to you. It sounds petty, but cranky and unhappy because breakfast sucked for a week is no way to make friends in a new country. These are all fixable problems, but they take time, flexibility, and a willingness to engage local sources. Eventually, you start to understand how/why they do things differently here (wherever here is).
Over time you figure out that there’s no ibuprofen on the shelf because they use something called Nurofen that is largely the same thing. It may take a few months for you to really stop being such a refrigerator size queen and realize that tiny fridges and freezers aren’t there just to piss you off. They are a function of smaller sized portions across the board. It’s a bit of a chicken and the egg question as to which came first: small refrigerators to match smaller food containers, or the smaller containers to maximize fridge usability. Rest assured, the student-sized fridge in your hideously over market rental is there for a reason. What you have to figure out is the reason for it, and, more importantly, what other things it will affect.
The faster you start turning your mind to “how are things done differently here”, and, “how can I pre-think what I need, and where to get it”, the faster you’ll realize nobody gets their spatulas from the overpriced home goods store, they get them from the tiny local hardware/ source of all good things store, or the tyre store which inexplicably also sells kitchen gadgets, etc.
The real trouble starts when you face the reality of being a “guest” somewhere. Back at home (wherever that was) you were a local, probably born there and entitled to all manner of things. Now, not only did you leave your favorite mop at home, but you also left your right to work and your right to collect social protection right next to it. Again, they can be replaced, but how, when, and where? Did you think to bring the right paperwork from home? Naturally you’ll need your childhood vaccination records when you report to the Department of Silly Names to get your “right to be left-handed in exile” card signed so you can apply for an immigration stamp to take to the Transportation Minister to get medical insurance (but only on Thursdays between 10 and 2). But these “large” issues are not the end of the story either.
I think there’s something deeper at work here. The bits of home that we miss are either issues of ease and comfort or they are moments of flavor and pleasure.
Ease and comfort issues are the things that are done differently in your new home. It’s the doctor’s office that wants payment up front before you file with the insurance company. Or it may be the fact that nobody takes a check. It’s all cash, card, or electronic transfer. None of these are “wrong”. Life would be easier and more comfortable for you if “here” were more like “home”. And that, right there, is the enemy of assimilation. It’s natural to have that feeling. It may never leave you. But you’ve got to bind, gag, and throw it in the closet so you can get on with living life with flavor and pleasure.
Moments of flavor and pleasure are far more challenging, and need never be banished. Smell and taste are powerful things. The smell of home and the taste of comfort food are enough to make one weep. Moments of flavor and pleasure are memories of a happy life that was. In these instances you realize that one of your favorite dishes from “the old country” is made differently in your new home. There is a flash fire of excitement when you see it on the menu. This is followed by a heady ten minutes of blissful, super-galactic anticipation, followed by utter devastation. That first underseasoned bite is like realizing your new girlfriend is a lousy kisser compared to your last.
Life is not as sweet. But in the abject desolation of that moment there is an ember of remembrance. That glimpse of home is a reminder of how lucky you are to have tasted life in two places.
Here’s an abbreviated list of things we miss from home:
- good duct tape (there is a difference)
- hot sauce
- family-sized bottles of ibuprofen
- hydrogen peroxide
- extra long shoelaces
- a shoe repair shop that does good orthopedic work
- good pizza delivery
- good Chinese food
- not needing a work permit
- decent sized bags of chocolate chips
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
Looking Back On the First Year