Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Things are OK here. Alas, I am too busy to go to Serbia this time, I've got projects to finish before The Cap and I shove off to the states for our holiday. :(

I just read this great post on Miss Expatria's fabulous blog and am reposting it here, not only because it pretty much hits the nail on the head, but also in light of all the people who've told me they would be moving out of America if McCain wins the election.

Update on Expat Life

“What’s it like?” is a question I often get from people about being an expat freelance writer living in the South of France. “Wanna trade lives?” is another one. I’m living many people’s dream; hell, I’m living my own (albeit one country west of where my dream waits patiently for my return). I wish everyone who truly longs for expat life could experience it; but, to be honest, it’s not for everyone.

Although I’ve lived an expat life for years, this is the first time I’ve been involved in any kind of expat community - not only here in Montpellier among the usual suspects, but in the greater online expat community as well. In learning about everyone’s reasons for following a path similar to mine, and in watching the comings and goings of their daily lives, I’ve often wondered what it is that we have in common.

I have yet to come up with an answer, but I do think there are some realities all expats face that put one’s dream into stark perspective - and that send some of us packing. I’d like to talk about some of them, and I’d like to hear from my expat peeps in the comments about some of theirs.

1. You have to earn a living. Whether it’s an American corporate environment overseas, working virtually from your home in a variety of professions or bartending at a beachside watering hole, a portion of your daily life will involve some kind of work. Every single job on the planet has its drawbacks, its bad days and its ability to make you dread getting out of bed in the morning, no matter where you live.

2. You have to run errands. Sure, your errands may include a trip to a stunningly beautiful farmer’s market where luscious produce is sold for a song. You might adore lengthy consultations with your local butcher about tonight’s dinner choices. But for the most part, errands are errands. All over the world dry cleaners lose clothes, people in front of you pay for a week’s groceries with spare change, other drivers suck, public transportation attracts screaming babies and store employees would rather talk on the phone than help you.

3. You’re a long way from home, part one.
While this may be a win/win for some, most people have decent relationships with family and friends they would take a bullet for. Sometimes, it can be hard to reconcile this closeness with whatever it is that makes an expat head off to unknown lands. It can be a rude awakening when, even in this connected world, you find yourself longing for a little quality face time with those you love.

4. You’re a long way from home, part two. Going back for a visit can be another rude awakening. Many people say they’re heading “home,” when home is where you live now. The people you love, and who love you, have no frame of reference for the new life you live; what you thought was going to be a heartfelt reunion of kindred souls can become a polite chat with strangers who don’t understand your new fascination with ice cubes, car sizes and noise levels. It’s called reverse culture shock, and it’s a very real part of expat life.

5. You’re living in a different culture. Honestly, I don’t think there are words to describe how fundamentally this affects the expat experience, but I’ll try.

I’ve never felt more like myself - like the person I was meant to be - than when I lived in Rome. Everything made sense to me, even the stupid, bad stuff, even on my worst days. I might have had the least amount of culture shock in the history of expatriation.

But there is always a point at which I hit a wall that divides me from the Italian culture I want with every fiber of my being to understand. My best friends - my Gay Mafia, whom I am convinced were sent to me directly from God - and I don’t share the same childhood memories, the same pop culture icons and references, the same moments in a nation’s history that define a generation.

Music is a good example. For Americans my age, John Cusack blasting In Your Eyes from a boom box into Ione Skye’s window made us all believe in true love. For Italians, Peter Gabriel is famous for Shock the Monkey.

I mean, really. What are you supposed to do with that kind of cultural divide?

We had Watergate; they had the Red Brigades. We have the Superbowl (even though Italians are better at Roman numerals!); they have San Remo (even though I have come to hate Pippo Baudo with the fury of a thousand suns). It’s being the only one in a Paris movie theater laughing at Fargo; it’s my Italian friends taking note of Marcello Mastroianni’s accent in a scene featuring other distractions.

In trying to explain the cultural divide, I am reminded of something Marco said to me once during a misunderstanding long since forgotten: “Christine, we lost the war.”

While the cultural divide surely attracts expats to foreign shores, it can wear a person down to have to explain themselves constantly; or, worse, to adjust one’s framework of references to such an extent that an undeniable part of who they are becomes secreted away.


Miss Expatria said...

I'm so glad you liked it! I'm posting one of my favorite stories for you today, in honor of your language frustration - hope it inspires you!

Lisa said...

So true. The part about pop culture references the most! Remember when we met? I think it was a relief for us to have someone else with North American references to talk to, if only for an evening. I didn't generally crave that type of interaction or know that I was missing it, but not having to explain yourself can be like a mini-holiday. Especially from "so...why are you in Slovenia?"(cue disbelieving look) :)

I think I am made for living elsewhere than my home country, but no matter how 'expat' oriented one is, it's never a cakewalk!

sachab28 said...

I'm will be living as an expat in October and I'm so looking forward to it. I just got back to the US last week after spending 4 months in the UK. I loved it. I had the best time and met so many people.

Camille Acey said...

@lisa - Ha ha. Definitely a mini-holiday. I was totally soaking up the rays of talking to you and Jay. I felt lightheaded with glee on the ride home!

Oh dear, I had one of those nights last night where I just looked at Grega and was like "Oh dear, how many times am I am going to have to answer Od kod si ti? and nod and smile when people say Kako lepo govoriš Slovensko Ay yi yi.

Anyway looking forward to seeing you back on this side of the world, čimprej!

Camille Acey said...

@sachab28 - Well in my humble opinion US to UK is a cakewalk compared to coming from US to somewhere like Slovenia, which has no diversity and a totally different language. I know being an expat in UK definitely has it's struggles but I think it is a whole different (and much easier) ball o wax.

Rachel said...

miss expatria is one of my favs too! and i loved this post.