Thursday, September 18, 2008

Home Sick Aloof

One of my favorite bloggers has up and moved from Brighton to San Francisco and is just now beginning to unravel. She'll roll herself back up soon, of course, but in the meantime it makes for excellent reading.

Today's post finds her wailing about Squash, a particularly foul-sounding beverage that she can't find in the US. But it digressed into something I think expats anywhere can relate to:

I wept for not knowing how things worked, and not understanding a different culture and its different priorities - not worse, just different. I wept at the overwhelmingness of new sounds and smells and not knowing what brand of coffee bean I liked anymore, but having 500 to choose from. I wept because there is a deluge of wonderful new experiences and I am scared that I am too cautious and shy to enjoy or appreciate them. I wept because I didn’t know when the bin goes out and I don’t know where the bus stops or where it goes. >more
It's the last bit that really struck me this morning. After four years in Paris, I still don't know when the bins go out. There are a whole lot of things, in fact, that I have simply tuned out because the weight of not knowing so much was overwhelming.

Moving abroad does explode the head a little bit. I used to take pleasure in the mastery of small tasks, from checking boxes on a To-Do list. Routines were comforting and made me feel like I was the captain of my own little boat. The first years in France, while fun in so many ways, also completely kicked my ass. Faced with the sheer illogic and unfamiliarity of the place, I surrendered the sailor's cap and resigned myself to floating.

Homesickness, for me, was never acute in relation to products (although I did profess to miss, of all things, Kraft Mac & Cheese). The sickness came instead from feeling nearly-always confused, and from longing for a place where I was more in control.

Life in a foreign country brings hundreds of daily situations in which the answer is not at hand. I'm not sure how other people deal with this, but I seem to have adapted by becoming completely aloof.
Self: Can I recycle this?
Self: I dunno... yes... why not.

Self: What's my equivalent bra size?
Self: I dunno... just take that one.

Self: Is my green card still valid?
Self: I dunno... don't think about it.

Self: Glass of wine?
Self: I dunno... why you are even asking.
I know some expats who rise to the challenge and manage to organize themselves and even the natives around them. As for me, I've chosen to protect my sanity by not letting any new questions in. Sure, I may be evading the law and wearing an erroneous 42 DD bra, but at least my mind is clear.

1 comment:

Casey said...

i loved this post! i know how you feel. i've been here a year and i've learned a lot but i think back to the beginning and how clueless i was about most things, and too scared to ask anybody. but it's still true now. especially about recycling. and my green card. and, well, a lot of things.