Orange is the new Expat

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I just finished reading Orange is the New Black, a true story about a middle class white woman who ends up in jail for 15 months. As I was reading this I was thinking of how the prison life that Piper described seems a lot like expat life. Here are my musings.

**Yes, people don’t have a choice but to go to jail and we can choose to go abroad but this is just a fun piece of writing that came to me as I finished the book so let’s take it lightly, ok?**

1. Make use of what’s available.

In OTNB Piper and co use things they’re given to make delicious meals – like boiled eggs and mayo to make deviled eggs, and biscuits and liquid pudding to make cheesecake.

As an expat, especially in places very far away from home, it’s difficult to get home comforts and we have to make do with what’s available. In Japan this was very true of my expat friends and I. Although the range of things in the supermarkets was often very slim, we’d always find a way to whip up some mexican food, or some scones, or some carrot cake. When I say “we” with all of these things, I mean my amazing friends. (Ashley I miss your cake so bad…!!)

2. Small communities stick together.

Piper found herself stuck in small living spaces with lots of kinds of people she’d never even spoken to before. But being part of a community helped her grow as a person and she ended up missing those people a lot when she was out of prison.

In many countries, there are so few expats that the expat community is small and sticks together no matter who they are. In Japan I made friends with the jock-type American guys who I would have avoided otherwise, but now I’m out of Japan I do sometimes miss them and appreciate how we stuck together in the face of Japanese life. Here in Germany there is a slightly bigger pool of expats from which to make friends but again I do find myself being with people I wouldn’t necessarily call my “type” of people. Regardless, we are a team and we help each other out and I would still help a person if they needed it because sometimes expat life IS hard and we need to stick together.

3. There will be a Queen/King Bee.

Every tight community needs a queen or king bee. For the jail in the book, this was Pops, an older lady at the end of a very long sentence. She controlled the kitchen, meaning that she had a lot of access to things that could be traded.

Usually in an expat circle the queen/king bee is also someone who has been there the longest, since they know the ropes and can function in that new culture, and also have the most contacts thus having the most friends/followers.

4. Welcome/farewell parties are a thing.

Like prison, the expat life can feel like you’re stuck in some revolving doors sometimes. People come, people go. Some people stay for 20 years, some for 20 days. But in most communities there are people there ready to help through the culture shock and give you everything you need for your new life, and then of course there are farewell parties to wish you all the best wherever you’re going to.

5. You’ll find yourself waiting desperately for visitors.

When Piper talks about sitting around desperately waiting for her fiance and family to come and visit, I knew that feeling well. While we pretend to be off leading awesome lives, sometimes there’s nothing better than someone from home visiting and bringing a slice of normal life with them.

6. At mercy to jailers/locals.

Piper’s life was completely dictated by whether the staff at the jail were in a good mood that day or not. Getting on the wrong side of someone there could mean being locked up in a tiny room for a few weeks – or worse.

While no person is going to lock an expat into a tiny room (well…unless you want them to…), expat life can go really well or can go really crappy depending on how kind the locals are to you. For example, one time I went to pick up a package, only the sender had used a name for me that is different to the one on my passport. The woman at the post office gave me a lecture and made me feel like crap just because my middle name was missing on this package and it ruined my whole day. The other day the cashier at the supermarket got angry with me because I didn’t understand the German for “would you like cash back” right away, which made me stress out a bit which caused me to drop my eggs and smash them on the floor.

The people around expats can have very big influences on how our lives go!

 

When I thought up this post idea I was really excited to write it but was worried people would take it the wrong way and complain that I can choose to be an expat etc and that I’m just whinging. Hopefully this will be taken lightly and I won’t get too much hate mail ;)

And as for the book Orange is the New Black – I loves the series, but the book was a little too easy-reading for me. The story didn’t have so much structure and was like someone threw a load of anecdotes at the page. Still, if you want something quick and easy to read then I say give it a go!

Charlotte Answers!

I can see the majority of things that people search for when the find my blog. Most of the time it’s normal things…like “brunch in Frankfurt” or “what to do in Japan”. But sometimes I get the strangest search results…or questions that I know I’ve never answered on this blog so far. So I’d like to help these people, and perhaps next time someone googles that same term, they’d be able to find their answer!

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Hmm. This is a hard one. I guess it depends on WHERE abroad you live. Even then you live in a place where a certain language should be spoken, it’s sometimes hard to pick it up. In Frankfurt you really have to try hard to firstly find German people to be friends with and then get into the habit of speaking in German. One of my flatmates is really great and when I say that I want to practise German she’ll speak to me in German for the rest of the day. I have another German friend who pretended to not understand English when we first met so I was forced to use German. But mostly, German people here in Frankfurt are just amazing at English that it’s easier to speak in English – so it IS hard.

I suggest looking out for a language exchange. Are there people where you are who study your native language? Is there perhaps a language school with a noticeboard? These kinds of strategy are very useful in improving language skills.

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Again, a hard one. If you’re in a big city you should have lots of chances to make new friends. I used to go to the international centre in Nagoya and put little notices on the board to make new friends. In the countryside it was much harder. I had a rule that I wouldn’t turn down an event and so I went to everything that was offered to me. Sometimes it’s hard because even when you meet people who want to spend time with you, you can see that they want to hang out with you because you are a foreigner, not because they are interested in you. It’s best not to think too deeply about relationships like that, and just take every new person as they come and try to build a friendship with them.

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Good luck with that.

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Turkish food is a real problem these days.

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Uhm…

 

So in the end I wasn’t able to help so many people. BUT I’d really like to do some kind of Q&A session on here – but I need some real questions! If you have anything you’d like to know about Frankfurt, Japan, Germany, being an expat, or any of the places I’ve visited, then please either let me know in the comments box or send a tweet my way @Charlottesteggz

Things You Should Know about Germany

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You’d think that Germany wouldn’t be so different from living in, say, Britain. But actually, there are loads of little things that are quite unique to Germany that take some time getting used to.

A lot of these may be Frankfurt based, but some can be applied to all of Germany, so if you’re planning to come and visit or if you’re moving to Germany in the near future, these may be of use to you!

1. Shops shut on Sundays.

You may not think that this will affect you so much, but as someone who works full time, I’d love to be able to spread my shopping errands over Saturday and Sunday. Some handy info, though – shops that are in train stations and airports are still OK to be open on Sundays!

2. Germans are ok.

“Oh, you live in Germany? I bet those Germans get on your nerves!!”

Sigh. No, German people aren’t all humourless control freaks who throw towels everywhere to mark their territory.

German people have such dry, dark humour they’re hilarious. Anyone who thinks they take themselves too seriously should take a look at the German satire magazine Titanic. As for the towels…if anyone thought Brits they met abroad (especially in places like Mallorca or Ibiza) represented the average British person, I’d cry myself to sleep every night. But I think most people see Brits on holiday as one set of people, and British people in general as another. And so you should do the same with Germans. And perhaps Russians (for they are a pain when they’re on holiday too).

Take this from someone who lives with 4 very different German people – Germans are great.

3. Lots of pork.

Do you like pork? Awesome. You’ll get it with everything, even things which do not usually contain pork will have pork in.

4. Safe, on the whole.

One of the things that surprises me about Germany is how trusting they are of passers-by. When I lived in my old flat, there was some construction going nearby and the building materials were just left out in the open overnight. If that was England, they’d be stolen right away.

At the Christmas markets, goods for sale dangle dangerously close to the end of the stall, so that it would be very easy to just stand out of sight and take something. But no one does. I doubt the thought goes through the German mind that this is a thing that might happen.

Germans always say that Frankfurt is really dangerous, but mostly it’s drug or corporate crime that bumps up the stats. There was a guy who got shot near to my flat but that was just a rare thing.

Saying that, I have known of a few people who fell victim to pick pocketers, so if you do come to Frankfurt, don’t let your guard down. As long as you use common sense, you should be as safe as in any major city.

5. Buying things from outside Europe

You need to buy a certain thing. You look on Amazon, and find a seller selling that thing. Awesome. Only, they are not in Europe.

When that thing is sent to you, the chances are, it’ll be sent through the zollamt – customs office – and that will be nothing but a huge headache.

Anecdote 1 – I move from Japan to Germany, send two suitcases with heavy books and winter clothes to my new home by boat. I have to go to the zollamt to open the cases myself so they can check what’s inside them, then pay about 10 euros per case in taxes/fees before I can have my belongings.

Anecdote 2 – I can’t find anyone in Europe selling the game Apples to Apples so I bought one from America through ebay. It was sent to the zollamt and, when asked if this was something I’d bought or whether it was a gift, I gave the wrong answer and said that it was something I’d bought and so had to pay 20 euros in taxes. ALWAYS SAY IT WAS A GIFT.

It’s even worse because the zollamt in Frankfurt is really out of the way and not easy to get to. If the thing you’re picking up is heavy or difficult to carry, you’re going to struggle.

6. Rules in the contract

Whether it’s a job contract of a contract for your home, be sure to read – or have someone help you read – it all the way through. Germans take their contracts very seriously, and I almost got into trouble for not knowing my rental contract all the way through when I wanted to move.

7. Insurance

Germans love insurance – and you’ll need it! Home insurance as well as rental insurance are a must for expats!

8. Journeymen

You’re sat in a German restaurant, full from your mountain of pork and making your way through your 7th bucket of beer. When all of a sudden some young men dressed in a weird way enter and start Germaning really fast – maybe as a poem or a song? Then they come round to each table with their hand out, asking for money. What’s going on?!

They are most likely to be carpenters on their “waltz” - men wanting to go into these professions have to spend 2 or 3 years on the road traveling from town to town relying on the kindness of others. Some may be looking for a place to stay in exchange for them fixing broken things in the home, but most seem to be looking for extra euros.

In my 2.5 years in Frankfurt I’d say I’ve seen journeymen about 3 times now – and that’s from a person who rarely goes out eating in German places!

9. Religion

Are you Christian? If you say so when you register as living in Germany, then you will have to give a certain % of your salary to the church each month. It’s not a lot, but is something to think about just in case you put christianity down as your default reply.

10. Germany is awesome for expats

German people are awesome, it’s illegal for you to work more than 10 hours, workers’ rights are great…there are so many reasons why you can easily make a comfy life here in Germany. Plus, they’re the strongest economy in Europe – so that’s also reassuring!

Is there anything I’ve forgotten on my list? What do you think people should know about Germany? Let me know in the comments!

Reader Brittany has written a post about things you should know about living in Bavaria – it’s a really great post so check it out!

Expat Life = Neverland

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My first day in London. I sat down for lunch with 5 guys who were working in relation to the gaming business. When I’m not with my Nintendo colleagues, Crytek  is the next place I am likely to find good people to be friends with – gamers are awesome. So, I thought I’d be fitting right in with these 5 guys. I grabbed a gaming magazine from the table and flicked through it while they started talking. However, what they all wanted to talk about wasn’t games and geekery – the wanted to talk about their babies and toddlers! They’re not so much older than myself, but they have real lives, with houses and marriages and babies. I have StreetPass hits and an impressive collection of gifs.

I’m planning to move back to the UK in June. I’ve been feeling tired of the expat life for a little while now and my time in London has only made me even more sure that I need to go back home. A lot of expats move away because they are escaping something – I was purely bored of everything the UK had to offer, but now I am very much a foreigner in my own country. The lunch the runner boy brought us was from a place called Leon, which, apparently, is the new big thing as it does healthy fast food. I had no idea. I also have no idea about TV shows, music, fashion (I really stick out like a sore thumb on the streets here and had to do a mad shopping dash on my first night).

More than that, being an expat seems to hold people back. Of course, living abroad is amazing for your career – whether it’s that you have a great job in your expat country, or the experience gained abroad helping you bag that amazing job back home. But I’ve slowly realised that living abroad has hindered me in growing up; in progressing in life.

The truth is, expat life kinda is like living in Neverland. As much as you grow while living abroad, you also stunt your own growth as it’s kinda like you’re living a dumbed down version of life. Life lite, if you will. Allow me to explain.

1. People back home are getting married, having babies, doing grownup things while you’re derping around being an expat.

It’s hard to make friends abroad – and even harder to find someone to love. Sure, you have to find someone attractive and interesting as you would in your home country, but you have to find someone who matches your future plans as well – if you’re sick of life there and want to leave but they want to stay for 5 more years then things are going to get tricky. Put on top of that the fact that expats all have varying degrees of craziness…it’s no wonder the love life of an expat is a sorry affair.

But click onto facebook and…what’s that? Your best friend from school is engaged? That boy you once snogged on the football pitch now has a baby? That guy from your year 8 science class bought a house with his girlfriend?

Wow, all of that seem like very big steps. I can barely commit to which event to go to on a Friday night, let alone find someone to commit MYSELF to! I can’t imagine a life committed to one person, or a small person, or a pile of bricks. That’s just mental.

2. Speaking of family, since you’re never around, you lose contact with most family members.

My dad’s cousin is really close to the family. He’s been voted one of our favourite family members, and no Christmas day is complete without him sticking wine corks up his nose and running around like he’s 5 years old. But, he’s not exactly the kind of person I’d skype each week. My aunt and uncle are the same – some of my most favourite people in the world, but aside from the odd facebook comment, I never speak with them any more. In fact, my family life has been downgraded to an hour on skype to my mum (with probably 15 minutes with my dad) a week. My sisters, brother… I have no idea what’s going on in their life. I had no idea when older relatives were about to pass away. I missed their last moments, the chance to tell them how much they meant to me. Like I said recently, I missed my sisters becoming young women.

They say that you can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends, but I think as an expat it may even be the complete opposite. You can’t choose your friends as the pool from which to choose them is so small but you are easily able to choose which family members to keep in touch with. It just takes a lot of effort to make sure you stay in touch.

3. Since it’s a new language and a new culture, you pretty much feel like a teenager anyway.

You’re plonked in your new country but you don’t speak the language – but you want to! After learning how to order a beer and some food, the next step in your language journey is with children’s books. You learn basic words and pick up how to have basic conversations, so you decide to go out and use your language with real people – only, you can’t. I mean, you can say where you’re from and how old you are and whether you like dogs or cats, but real people like to talk about politics and tv and real life things.

So then you want to speak your native language. You try with those same local people but find that their English ability means that they can only talk about Scrubs (that’s how they learnt English).

So you speak with other expats. But they’ve lived in that foreign country for such a long time, their English is weird. You start mixing the local language with English and then the next time you speak on Skype with your family you find that you can’t English anymore. You’ve forgotten words for normal things because you’ve not used that word in over a year. You start to wonder if you can class yourself as fluent in your native language anymore. You decide to stick to talking about which animal you like and leave it at that.

4. And when you don’t like the rules, it’s often possible to “gaijin smash” them.

‘Gaijin smash’ is an awesome phrase. Gaijin means non-Japanese people in Japanese (and is often seen as a derogatory word). The term gaijin smash means when an expat knowingly breaks the rules and if they get caught, they play ignorant and pretend they just had no idea that the rule existed. I gaijin smashed in Japan when I kept a cat in my flat. The Korean students I studied with gaijin smashed when they found a great way to cheat the train ticket system.

Depending on the country, it may be a little difficult to gaijin smash. Asia is awesome. I can’t think of a way I’ve gaijin smashed in Germany.

But if you gaijin smash too much, you run the risk of forgetting what it’s like to have to follow rules in life…like a proper adult. You feel like a cheeky kid, like you can get away with anything you like.

5. Expat life is way more fun than home life.

My Japanese friends always used to laugh and say that all the expats know more about what’s going on in the town than the Japanese people there.

As an expat it’s often easy to lead a life where you do ALL THE THINGS. I don’t know if it’s because the salary may be better than locals’, or because you want to enjoy that country for as long as you’re there, but expats are often the ones who know about all the events, know all the new restaurants, go to all the new places.

Without tv in my life, I can easily fill my days with comedy, improv classes, meetups, events, restaurants…life is simply fun. So fun, in fact, that I wonder if I’ll be as satisfied with a life where I have a long term, loving relationship and small feet to chase around the pile of bricks I’ve used up all my savings on. Hmm.

As Wendy discovered in Neverland, sometimes it’s nice to be in a magical, exciting place for a little while. But, like Wendy, I feel it’s time to me to go back home and move out of the nursery.

Do you know any other ways in which expat life is like living in Neverland? I’d love to read about them in the comments!

Hair and Skincare Abroad

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Here’s one other thing no one tells you about living abroad – your skin and your hair will NOT thank you for it! Your skin and hair are both used to the water you’ve been using, so when you move abroad many people experience problems in these areas.

When I lived in Japan, my skin was pretty happy, but my hair was curly because it just couldn’t cope. Seeing my strong, straight hair today, it’s hard to imagine how my hair used to be, but it’s really surprising how much a change in water can change how you look. Like I said, my skin was happy and I didn’t have too much acne but in Japan it’s really hard to find a face soap that doesn’t contain skin whitener. Once I found a brand I could trust, everything was smooth sailing from there.

In Germany, my hair is a little worse than it should be but my skin isn’t happy at all. I have terrible acne here that I just can’t get rid of. I’ve been on the Nutregina course for about a month now and it’s made a littttle difference, but not cleared up the problem all together. I’m considering using bottled water to wash my face with…

With hair, it’s so much easier now I have short hair. When I had long hair I used to spend a great deal of money on expensive shampoos and conditoners. Now I use a lot of organic stuff, and it seems to work.

Even in the week that I was in Turkey, my skin wasn’t happy at all. I became more spotty than I’ve been in years while I was there (perhaps a sign that I shouldn’t move there after all???)

Fellow expats! When you’ve lived abroad, did you have trouble with your skin and hair? If so, how did you tackle the problems?

Holiday Season Tag!

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I’ve been sat watching various YouTubers do the “Sweater Weather” tag, thinking that that would be so much fun to do. But it’d be kinda weird to copy a YouTube tag onto a blog…SO I decided to make my own tag up! It’s called the Holiday Season Tag and I’ve made it so I can see how other expats (and home-pats!) spend November and December. It can be a really great time in an expat’s life…or it can be some of the lowest times. It’s always an important time of the year for me, too, so it’ll be nice to share it with you!

So let’s get the questions rolling! These are aimed at expats, but if non-expats want to do this too then please answer the questions for where you are! Here are my answers – find the questions once more at the bottom of the post.

1. Do people celebrate anything at this time of year where you are? Are there any special customs?

Yep, here in Germany they do Christmas HARDCORE. When I was in Japan I felt like I missed Christmas every year but Germany makes up for it. There are loads of Christmas markets about where we all drink gluhwein and eat sausages (also melted cheese stuffed in a bread roll OM NOM NOM).

Also, mostly towards New Year (called Silvester here) Germans like to fortune tell by melting lead and seeing what shape it makes. I’ve never done it myself but it looks like fun.

2. Do you feel that you are missing out on anything by not being in your home country around the holidays?

I did very much so when I was in Japan but not so much here in Germany. Things I do miss are the things that get me excited in the run-up to Christmas; Slade and Wizzard music in the shops, the British Christmas tv adverts on tv, turning on the Christmas lights in town…and being part of decorating the tree at home. But German Christmases are pretty magical so I don’t feel low like I did when I was in Japan.

3. Do you go back home at all?

Yup. Work always finished pretty late so I’ll be on my Christmas holidays from the 23rd this year. For once, I’m not flying with Ryanair since I’m sick of them always trying to trick people on their website. Let’s see if Lufthansa are worth the extra money!!

4. Back to your expat country! What’s the weather like during the holidays?

COLD. It’s not the actual temperature but the wind that gets you here. There was snow from the start of December last year and the public transport went crazy. NEVER let a German sit and tell you that they are organised with the weather every year!! The trains stopped running, trams were frozen to the tracks… I have to commute to the south side of the city and it’s SUCH a pain when the weather messes the transport up.

5. Is there anything you’d recommend a visitor do/see/have if they are visiting your expat country around this time?

Christmas markets are a must. They are even better than those fake ones in Britain. For me, they really are where Christmas magic is made. There’s a little German ornament shop near the Christmas market in Frankfurt and if you are in need of Christmas presents then they have gorgeous hand made tree ornaments.

BONUS! Post a photo that best shows what it’s like in your expat country around the holidays.

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AHHHH Feuerzangenbowle!!! My favourite Christmas tipple!

So, I’d love for you to join in with the tag so I tag YOU!!! Grab the badge below and add your link to the comments. I’m afraid I can’t do one of those fancy link collection things as WordPress doesn’t allow fancy things.

For actual tags of people, I choose -

Confuzzledon, Deecoded, Ami in Franken, Breaking Moulds (remind me about Japanese Christmases!!), German-American Abroad, and my new favourite blog Marielle Green.

Sherbet and Sparkles
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Here are the questions again, all together so you can easily copy & paste them:

1. Do people celebrate anything at this time of year where you are? Are there any special customs?

2. Do you feel that you are missing out on anything by not being in your home country around the holidays?

3. Do you go back home at all?

4. Back to your expat country! What’s the weather like during the holidays?

5. Is there anything you’d recommend a visitor do/see/have if they are visiting your expat country around this time?

BONUS! Post a photo that best shows what it’s like in your expat country around the holidays.

Transport in Frankfurt

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Last night on my way home from having some drinks with some friends, I planned out this blog post about transport. I feel I have to go through with it now or the tipsy me from last night would be sad. Besides, I rarely know what do write on the weekends since I always get a massive dip in the amount of people who come to read this blog. The numbers game doesn’t affect me much (ok, I lied) but I’d rather not put my heart and soul into a post to only have a fraction of the people I usually get reading it.

I’ve already posted a little about how trains work here in Germany, as well as some bad things that may happen when you ride them. But here’s a list of other things that you may like to know about traveling in Frankfurt.

1. There are weird people on trains.

I think that Frankfurt is just an open air funny farm because there are so many strange people around. Most of the time it just makes for interesting stories but occasionally it’s pretty annoying and/or scary. The other day I caught the S Bahn train from Niederrad to go back to the main station and I was stood by the door listening to some music. I noticed a man sat nearby who was waving his arms around…I took an earphone out to listen to see if he was in trouble or something but he was shouting at me! It was in German but I understood that he was explaining how much money he would pay to have me, and saying that I probably have lots of young men around me. It was pretty intimidating and the train ride seemed to go on for ever. There were people – including a train company worker and one of my colleagues – around but no one really did anything. It would have been nice for someone to at least come and stand by me or block the man’s view of me.

2. Beware of escalators.

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This escalator is special, because it goes both up and down! (You can tell by the triangle on the right.) You are basically in a race with the people at the other end because if they get on first you have to use the stairs. It happened to tipsy me last night only I was the winner and shouted an apology to the lads who had to take the stairs. HA. 

3. Sometimes trams don’t go where you thought they’d go.

Probably the most annoying thing about Frankfurt is when you get on a tram and think you’re going somewhere but then they take a different turn and you end up in a completely different part of town. 80% of the time the driver will “GERMAN GERMAN GERMAN” and you’ll see all the people groan and get off and so you’ll work it out. But the other day I didn’t hear the GERMAN GERMAN GERMAN over my earphones and no one grumbled and got out so I was stuck on there until I could get to a place with a train station.

4. If the tram is cancelled, taxis around you become free.

It’s only happened to me once. The trams were frozen to the tracks (don’t EVER let a German person tell you that in Germany they are sorted with the seasons and the public transport network never breaks down in the snow!!) and I was trying to get home from work. Suddenly loads of taxis turned up and they said they they’d take me to the nearest working tram stop for free. Awesome!

5. There is no logic to ticket checking.

There are machines upstairs in train stations and you’re expected to buy a ticket (or a monthly ticket) before you go down to the platform. There are random checks to see if people bought tickets or not but there is no easy way to cheat the system as the timing and placement of these people is completely random. On the way home last night a woman on the train told me she had no ticket and asked whether she could ride with me (you can take one person with you if you have a monthly ticket) but as I was getting off at the next stop, she asked whether I knew if the people would come check. I replied in better than normal German (thanks, beers) and told her that I don’t think they’d come around so late at night but it’s probably not worth risking it.

So that’s my funny little post about travel in Frankfurt. Are there funny quirks about traveling about where you are?

Expat Friends

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There’s a certain cycle that (I’m guessing) most people have with friendships when they live abroad. I’ve already written about how one can make friends when living in a different country, but actually once you’ve made those friends it’s still pretty tricky and probably not like making friends back home. (But I wouldn’t know…I’ve not been back home making friends since the start of uni…)

I’ve been fairly lucky here in Germany because my office has many strong social groups. It’s often a bubble that’s hard to break out of, but at the same time I feel I’m closest to my colleagues; both the ones from the UK team and ones from other language teams. We may be a little weird and geeky, but we’re good deep down ;)

So, here are the stages of expat friendship.

Stage 1 – BON VOYAGE!!!

The night before you leave for your foreign country, you gather up all your home friends and say goodbye to them. They know you inside out and backwards. But you’re so excited for your new adventure.

Stage 2 – OMG are you new here too?!

You get to your new home, and find other people in the same situation as you. For no other reason than you being in the same situation, you become friends – joined at the hip. You do everything together, and experience all the new things together.

Stage 3 – OMG why am I friends with you?!

Stage 2 lasts for a few weeks, then you look at your new friends and realise you have nothing at all in common. Why can’t they just be like your home friends?! Your home friends wouldn’t be idiots like them. They’d be so witty and clever and know exactly what to say. You Skype your home friends every day for a week.

Stage 4 – Where can I get more friends?

You start to venture out of the small comfort zone you’ve created. Perhaps you seek out new hobbies, go to meetups, take a language class. You dedicate a lot of time and effort into looking for new people to hang out with.

Stage 5 – This stage may be a repeat of the 2nd stage, where you find people who are equally bemused with their initial friends, but then after a while you realise that the only thing you had in common was your common bemusement. Either that, or friends you made that you were pretty fond of have finished their internship/course/marriage and have moved away.

Stage 6 – You spend months carefully pruning your garden of friends, weeding out ones you wonder what you ever saw in, saying sayonaya to ones leaving the country, and picking up lots of new ones on the way. Then, and only then, you may have a good, artificially made group of friends.

The above list may not be true for most expats. It’s been my experience here in Germany, and it’s similar to my experience in Japan (it’s just that in Japan I was a lot more limited to who I could make friends with). I’d say the hardest part is the end of stage 5, where you find someone you like but their timeline in that place differs from yours.

I found myself being really cynical and, when I met someone new, I assessed the amount of time and effort I would “invest” in that person. It’s a horrible way to think, I know. It’s just really hard when you meet someone and you really hit it off and you want to be BFFS with them, but they are at the end of the time they’d like to spend in the place because maybe they just can’t get over culture shock, or maybe they just don’t like their job. But at the same time, you love the country and love your job and don’t plan on leaving for a long time. It’s hard.

At the beginning of my time in Frankfurt I kept on getting attached to interns from the banking world. They are a really cool bunch, but they’d be gone in a few months.

There’s also something else you may want to take into account – why is this new friend an expat? You’d be really surprised to find how many people are apparently escaping from something back home. It’s not a bad thing. But it often means that the amount of crazies in the expat world is very, very high. Sometimes the crazy doesn’t show itself for weeks or months. But it’s often there. One day you look at your friend and think “my God, were you this crazy all along? We do I hang out with you?!” We need to find likeminded people so we can match our crazy and become good friends.

As always, I’ve love input from you all! Have any of you created strategies for making friends abroad?

Staring

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The other day I was on the bus going to work from my boyfriend’s place. Halfway through our journey, a woman stood at the door in front of us, ready to leave the bus. It was then that she noticed us – me with my ghostly white skin and him with his dark Indian skin. Her eyes went from my face to his face, to our hands that were interlocked on my lap, then back up to our faces.

After having lived in Japan, I know that a good way to deal with people staring at you is to look right back at them. Most of the time they will snap back to reality, be very embarrassed and then look away.

This woman did not do this. She just stared right back into my eyes as I glared right back into hers.

Like I said, there was a lot of staring in Japan. That was because I lived in the middle of nowhere, where people had genuinely not ever seen a non-Asian person before. Though it was by no means their own fault, they were some of the most culturally ignorant people I have met – I was asked if I had blind spots because of my “tall nose”, I was TOLD that brooms do not exist in Britain because we have carpets everywhere, and if I had 100 yen for every time I was asked if we have rice in Britain, I’d be able to buy a nice meal out somewhere by now.

So when I caught an old person (as it often was) staring at me, I just looked back, or just smiled at them. They don’t know any better, since I was one of a small handful of foreign people in our city.

But Germany, and especially Frankfurt is not backwater Japan.

One of the things my mum said when she came to Frankfurt was how lovely it was that there were so many different people and different cultures blending together. If (like myself) you don’t want to go with the cheap supermarket Rewe, you can go to any of the cultural shops – from Turkish, to Indian, and even a British shop to get all your British things. What I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to go very far before you see someone who is not a white German person. And it’s not beyond belief that in a city with lots of people with lots of different skin tones, there are some people who will fall for someone who is not the same colour.

Staring really does bother me, though. I get stared at quite a bit in Frankfurt. Men will stare at my boobs as I go by. Women will stare at my (perfectly normal) fashion choices as they walk past me. I’ve not really had this kind of staring in the UK before (British women are very adventurous with their fashion so I hardly stand out) but I do wonder what it would be like to be an interracial couple there.

And let me just also say that if I said I never stare, this would also be a lie. People stare because they see something unusual, something their brain needs to analyse a little more. Personally, I find myself doing a double take when I see parents who have obviously adopted a child of a different race to them. I do this because I am genuinely interested in this kind of thing – I love listening to stories from ethnically Korean friends who have been adopted by Western families.

But there is a difference between double taking because it’s something you don’t expect and full on staring because you can’t comprehend something as simple as a homosexual couple, or someone who looks different to you.

Are there times when you are stared at where you are? I’d love to hear other people’s stories!

5 Things No One Tells You About Living Abroad

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Preface – this is a long post. Make yourself a cup of tea.

Through looking up info on travelling to Turkey (one of the two places on my ‘must visit next’ list), I came across a really lovely blogger called Liz. I really love her blogging style and it kind of made me sad that I am a lot more swift and thoughtless with my posts. I am going to try to put as much detail into things as she does.

But anyway, she wrote this really great post on 5 things no one tells you about moving abroad, and I thought I’d quite like to write my own list. I agree with a lot of what she says, but I think our experiences are so different that I see things from a different angle as well. So, here is my list.

1. You will miss really stupid things.

A girlfriend recently took a trip to England and asked me if I wanted anything. You can get most things here in Frankfurt, but what I really fancied was a packet of Nik Naks. Now, I rarely eat junk food. I’ll eat a handful of organic corn chips from DM once in a while but I don’t really crave bad food any more. And when I was living in England I rarely ate Nik Naks. I can probably count the times I’ve eaten them on one hand. But right that moment, the thing that could bring me a slice of my home country was a packet of Nik Naks.

As an expat you suddenly really miss things that you’d never think you’d be missing. Those small things that you see every day but don’t pay attention to. A certain cereal, a certain tv show, a certain snack…things you rarely interacted with, but now you just miss the presence of that thing that makes you think of home.

I’m going back home this weekend to see my family but also because I really miss British shopping. With fashionable, bright sales staff with massive eyebrows. With sales that are not just 50 euro trousers brought down to 35 euros (come on Zara. Really?)

Sometimes, in all the excitement of leaving your home and going into something new, you forget to take in all these little things that you will miss as an expat.

2. You will feel like you’re in a bubble.

A friend said to me the other day “I’m really looking forward to getting back home and actually understanding everything that’s said around me”. I understand a small amount of German these days, but still not enough to catch snippets of passers by. And I am fully aware that, unlike in Japan, if I say something in English here, people will probably understand – I grumbled to a colleague on the bus this morning that people never use all the space in public transport which makes clumps of people near the doors while there is a lot of space in the back. The German lady next to me instantly clapped her hands and shouted loudly in German that people need to move down the bus to make room. I thanked her nicely.

Even in Japan, where I understand the language, I felt like I was in a bubble. It’s sort of like my brain is a radio – it’s main station is English, but unless it’s been tuned into other language stations, it’s not going to pick up on conversations around unless I pay attention to them. While some people don’t like this, I actually quite enjoy this feeling, since it gives me more peace and helps me focus on whatever I’m doing.

3. You will sometimes hate everything.

When I joined the JET Programme, they gave us extensive warning about the 4 stages of culture shock that we would go through;

1 Initial Euphoria (Honeymoon Period)

Anything new is intriguing and exciting.

2 Irritation and Hostility (Culture Shock)

JET participants often feel homesick and have negative attitudes towards the host culture.

3 Gradual Adjustment

JET participants start to adjust and the culture seems more familiar.

4 Adaptation and Biculturalism

JET participants are completely adjusted to the host culture and may even experience reverse culture shock upon returning to their home countries.

(Taken from HERE)

Since I had been in Japan for long periods of time before going on JET, I was already well aware of at least the first two stages. When I was 16 I spent a month in Japan travelling around with my Japanese class and staying in homestays. Everything was magical. Everything was just as I had imagined it. I came home with stars in my eyes and wouldn’t shut up about all the amazing things I had done, seen, tasted. It was very much the honeymoon phase.

Then when I was 20 I went to study at a Japanese university for a year as an exchange student. At the start everything was nice and I was really happy to be back in Japan. But then small things like waiters only addressing Asian people in our group when we ordered, or people treating me like an idiot, or things that I saw that I didn’t understand and disliked a lot all made me go through a really long period of the second stage. It wasn’t that I hated Japan (despite what the readers of my Lang-8 blog said), I just needed to vent and rant in order to arrange these feelings in my head.

It is TOTALLY normal to be super angry at your adopted country sometimes. Even if you understand the language, EVERYTHING you do will become 100x more difficult – from sending a letter, to registering as a foreigner. I am the type of person who just “gets on with it” when the “it” is something difficult, but I do often have panic attacks about really minor things. My little sister’s present was 3 days late for her birthday because, while finding something she likes and buying a card is easy, queuing up at the post office, asking for it to be sent the right way, asking for the correct box to send it in and getting all this kind of stuff correct really scares me. It’s so easy back home; I just go to the corner shop and ask the nice lady who knows my mum to post it for me, but here I have to deal with burly, grumpy German men with beards who will ram the nice bag I bought my sister into a box I don’t want and force me to use a sending option that doesn’t suit my needs.

No matter how much you love your new country – as I did Japan – there will be days when you want to scream at the top of your lungs WHY CAN’T THINGS JUST BE LIKE THEY ARE AT HOME????

3. You will sometimes feel very very lonely.

This also differs from experience to experience. I have been slowly writing a different post about expat friends and the troubles they can cause, but in general it can be very hard finding people you feel close to while abroad.

While studying and working in Japan it was easy for me to find people – aside from the fact that anyone non-Asian is suddenly your “comrade”, we had exchange student groups and JET Programme communities that helped group us together. However, that doesn’t always mean you’ll get along really well with these people. Sometimes you’ll wonder “if I was back at home, would I be friends with a person like this?”

Luckily, over time you do tend to weed out people you are perhaps not so fond of and bond better with people you think are really great – though we don’t talk as much as we used to since she’s in a far away country, I found a certain Canadian girl in Japan who I think will be one of those friends who last a lifetime.

When you do feel lonely as an expat, all you can do is artificially build your social circle, and this takes a lot of time and effort. When I found that, while my colleagues are wonderful people, we don’t share a whole lot of common hobbies, I made it my mission to go out and meet as many people as possible. Every. Single. Night. I was out doing something, going to an event, a meetup, going for drinks with that person I started talking to at that thing last week. For a solid 3 months I was doing this and I was exhausted, but I managed to make a social circle and meet people who I felt were a little bit more like me.

4. People back home just won’t understand.

One of the hardest things about reverse culture shock is that people just don’t understand what it’s like to be abroad. While your expat friends would LOVE to sit and listen to the funny thing that happened on the S Bahn on the way to work with the group of Portuguese buskers who annoy people with their saxophone playing, your family do not. Your friends and family back home cannot relate to the things you have been through, or the things you deal with on a daily basis.

An extreme example of this for me comes from the days after the tsunami in Japan. Every day for 2 weeks I skyped my family as soon as I got in from work, mostly crying because I was scared. I’ve not asked them about it, but I’m pretty sure they felt helpless. I was nowhere near in dire danger in Mie, but there were expats leaving anyway and people back home freaking out because the media was blowing everything out of proportion. Mum happened to say something negative about the Japanese government, and I suddenly felt so protective over the crappy government that was epic failing all over the place. Because they were MY government, and I was there, with the images on the tv all the time, and the earthquake warnings happening and living in constant fear. That government were the people looking out for me (or pretending to) and so I just felt so angry at my mum, who was sat in the British countryside safe and sound, for saying something negative. I just felt she didn’t understand, and I guess she really didn’t.

Since I’ve not really been back home for a long period of time since becoming a full time expat, I can’t really give advice in this section. But I imagine as you slowly settle back into your home country, this feeling of frustration will go away.

5. It will make you an infinitely better person.

I’m reading an awesome book by Caitlin Moran right now (if you are a woman, I urge you to read it) and there is one point in the book where Moran says that having a baby is an experience she thinks most people should go through because you just become a bigger, better person for it.

I have never had a child before so I wouldn’t know, but as I read that I scoffed and thought that living abroad does all of that and more. Living abroad shows that you can cope in high stress. You can adapt to new surroundings. You can make the most of confusing situations. You can live in a different language. It is simply amazing how much the simple (hahahahah) act of living abroad can change a person. You suddenly understand what’s important in life; you have to take with you only the belongings that are the most important but you also understand what abstract things are important to you, too. What kinds of friends you cherish the most. What you look for in a relationship. What you need in order to live a fulfilling and happy life.

 

…So that’s my list!

The original blog post that I read is here, so please do check it out and compare mine and hers with your own experiences (if you are a fellow expat!) If you have anything else to add to this topic, I’d love to hear from you so go ahead and comment away!