I’ve gotten some feedback recently that many of my readers enjoy the articles filled with anecdotes about some of the troubles in living abroad. Therefore, I have decided to create a little series of blogs called the Overseas Series, in which I will explore various aspects of life as an expat in humorous and poignant ways. This will be the debut article in that series.
It’s the little things, most of the time, that make living abroad difficult. Likewise, it’s an entirely different set of little things that help create a home away from home. What do I mean? Let me share a few stories with you so you can see for yourself.
When hopping from country to country, one also hops from apartment to apartment. In so doing, you’re forced to abandon and then re–buy items that make you feel comfortable in your new surroundings. Simple household items such as curtains, coffee pots, and holiday decorations can turn a drab and empty flat into a cozy place you can return to at the end of a work day for R&R. However, finding these items (and then affording them) can be quite difficult.
For example, most recently Easter came and went and Jen and I had a tough time dying our eggs. Why? Because in Spain (as in many of the other nations across the globe) white eggs are difficult if not impossible to come by. America is one of the few countries whose dairy industry pressure washes the eggs (additionally, only in America is it necessary to refrigerate your eggs – while abroad, we leave ours out on the counter and they’re perfectly fine).
Another example is Christmas decorations. In Turkiye and China (two cultures in which Christmas is foreign), decorations are put up for the New Year celebration and those decorations look strikingly similar to what we would use for Christmas (ie twinkling lights, glittery wall-hangings, even a fully-trimmed tree). So it wasn’t that hard to find, but again, there were little differences. In the Basque region of Spain, only about 20-30% of the population knows anything about Santa Claus. The other 70-80% either get their gifts from the Tres Reyes (or Three Kings) during the Feast of the Epiphany, or from a Santa “knock–off” who wears blue and sweeps chimneys: Olentzero (and many of the decorations are him or the kings).
Which quickly swings me around to my next point. Many of the customs and traditions are similar to ours in the West, but are slightly different. For instance, Spanish people celebrate their birthdays not by being taken out to dinner (or drinks), but by taking their friends and family out. Needless to say, they can get quite expensive, especially if you’re a popular guy. In Turkiye, when a couple gets engaged, they are expected – yes, expected – to bring in little sweet treats to share with their coworkers (even the ones who weren’t invited to the party).
Sometimes, our holiday traditions are so foreign to those we befriend, we find ourselves explaining them in gross detail. Like the time I had to call a restaurant to make dinner reservations for Jen’s birthday in China, and the concierge didn’t exactly understand what I meant by having a birthday cake with candles (that phone call lasted way longer than it needed to). Or the occasion that Jen taught her class about Halloween and Trick or Treating. She invited them to knock on our apartment door to get some candy (they didn’t have costumes so I wanted to “trick” them, but she wouldn’t let me).
As you can see, there is a lot to learn on both sides of the proverbial aisle when it comes to living in a foreign land. We are constantly learning about other cultures and teaching the people we meet about ours (at least the ones they don’t pick up from American films and television shows). These are just a few of the ways in which it’s possible to create a home away from home.
Hasta La Proxima…