Sometimes it sucks
I love travel and becoming an expat was one of the best decisions I think I have ever made for myself. Both are wonderful experiences that change the mind and outlook on life a lot. Travel helps broaden horizons and shows you how other people live. As an expat you not only see how other people live, but you live that way too. And yet sometimes it just sucks.
Sometimes nothing seems to go right and it seems like the society and culture is crushing. Sometimes I feel like breaking down and crying. Sometimes I wish I was not here. Although often wonderful, living as an expat somewhere, especially in a different language, does indeed suck.
Not a Pity Party
I am not writing this as a rant or searching for pity. I know I live a great life. I definitely choose to live here and really wouldn’t have it any other way. It is that sometimes I have a few days where everything gets to me, and I want to share that frustration to show that living as an expat is work. Life can be challenging anyway with a few bad days, but add another culture that takes energy to live in and the overwhelming factor can be high. Maybe others can see this and know that it is ok to be frustrated sometimes and it is normal to have bad days.
This week was a great example. Ali and I spent the past few weeks in Turkey and Italy. We had a great time, though it was tiring. Especially the trip home on Monday was pretty trying for me. In total six trains and a flight encompassing nearly 13 hours home. (We could have been better on the train, but whatever.) The flight was fairly smooth and yet I had a panic reaction. I’m fine, but exhausted. I still had to work on Tuesday, so no rest for me. By the end of the week everything seemed to be against us and it just felt overwhelming. Even for me with my years of experience here.
When Energy Runs Out
Living in another culture from that familiar one that you grew up with is energy intensive, especially at the beginning. You offer the brain no comfortable routine to fall into and yet change everything. Eventually you learn a pattern in your new home and things get easier. You build a home to take refuge in and perhaps a job or some friend to hang out with that all make it feel more like home. “Home” being that effortless state of being.
Yet that culture that takes energy is still out there. Especially when I am tired I definitely get annoyed at the Germans around me far easier. I’m sure this sort of annoyance at life happened in the US as well, but here it seems that the points that come through the most are cultural ones. It leads me to being annoyed at them in a way that I am normally not.
Missing Cheddar Cheese
Germany has pretty good food. The concept of freshness and eating local products is strong, especially around here in Freiburg. That means the veggies and meats are usually local and high quality. The flip side is that the selection of things that come from far away is lean to say the least.
After a long week of poor rest and readjusting to the routine, we just wanted to make our favorite “home-like” meal of Fajitas. We went to the store looking to buy cheddar cheese. Nope, they were out. Nothing even similar showed up in the case, only all kinds of things only labeled by the valley in the alps it was made in. Our tired brains had retired to American mode and we couldn’t recognize anything.
Normally we like the block to shred for the tex-mex-y goodness. Though they had nothing in the case we thought maybe slices down in the case. Again no, at this point the annoyance was getting going. “Why can’t I just find normal cheese?” the brain screams inside. “What is with all of these cheeses we don’t understand?” We know the cheese here is odd and have known it for a while, but in this state of mind the detail becomes so much worse. It somehow gets blown up into a symbol of annoyance for the culture.
I kind of just wanted to cry. “I just want a nice quiet evening with normal food and not have anything to do with Germany,” I was thinking. Was I really losing it over cheese?
The cheese thing was a “last straw,” not a reason in itself. The half annoyances of the week, the feelings coming down off of a vacation high and readjusting to a routine without a lot of rest all rolled up and got sparked off by the “one thing” that felt familiar that I was being denied. In the end with the cheese, we were disappointed, but it wasn’t tragic. They will restock the block of cheddar and we will buy more next week. We sat together watching TV and it was a good night anyway.
This Too Shall Pass
Most of these feelings are transient. Things get overwhelming and I just want to cry, but I don’t. I play video games or watch American TV with some popcorn and try to get some sleep. Things will look better in the morning.
This sort of frustration is normal. The brain gets overwhelmed and can’t handle it anymore every so often. It is to be expected when you ask it to rebuild an entire lifetime of cultural knowledge. The key is to be patient with yourself and with others, especially the host locals. They have no clue what you are going through.
Sometimes it DOES suck, but it will be awesome again soon too. Just try to be patient.
It is never about just the cheese.
Culture Shock is Sneaky | Ali's Adventures
May 14, 2012 @ 12:25 pm
[…] Then we went to the grocery store to stock up for the week. I can’t figure out the cheese here because most of it is just labeled with whatever Swiss valley it’s from. In the States, I mostly bought provolone. If it’s even available here, it would only be at some specialty cheese shop and I haven’t gone looking for one of those yet. But I also like cheddar, especially shredded in the fajitas we make once a week. They don’t sell it in the cheese aisle, we have to go to the dairy counter. Like the deli counter in the States, except they have an entire display of nothing but cheese. Not only is cheddar 16.90€ per kilo (US$22, and a kilo is 2.2 pounds) but they don’t even have it all the time. So on the same day as my bank irritation, the grocery store was out of cheddar cheese. […]
Cheryl @ handcraftedtravellers
May 1, 2012 @ 12:14 pm
Completely understand. As an expat living in Hungary for the last 6 years I have learned to let go of a lot. Cheese is a hard one, since I grew up eating Wisconsin cheeses, my uncle was even a dairy farmer! Hungarian cheese, don’t even mention the butter which has nothing to be desired. And coffee, oh the organic coffee of the west coast…and the sourness of coffee here. Good thing for online shopping!
May 3, 2012 @ 9:21 am
Thanks for the comment. We need to practice letting go, but it is hard. Somehow it is hard as there are teasers of things being available, but not quite. The cheese just being the trigger.
I have heard people mention online shopping for food a number of times. I really need to look into that,who do you use?
Cheryl @ handcraftedtravellers
May 3, 2012 @ 3:44 pm
Online shopping? Well, it depends, since not every company will ship to Hungary we usually “shop” through a friend or relative, less and less though. We are saving up to get our own cow, so I better like the cheese that I make 🙂
May 7, 2012 @ 9:04 pm
Wow, your own cow. That is pretty adventurous, but I am definitely a city person.
May 3, 2012 @ 4:27 pm
This might help… http://duisburgbunny.blogspot.com/2007/12/our-foods-in-germany.html
May 7, 2012 @ 9:03 pm
Thanks for the links. “thankfully” we didn’t see anything that would tempt us to pay the prices.
April 30, 2012 @ 11:08 pm
Andrew, what you are feeling is totally normal and truly never goes away. I would have moments even after living there six years in which I would cocoon into my little American oasis in the midst of Bonn, occasionally buying American groceries through an online ordering service (Arizona Green Tea! Welch’s Grape Juice! etc.). Now that I am back in the U.S. I still have moments of high and low when I miss Germany. It’s tough to be stuck between cultures, but life is so much richer for it.
May 3, 2012 @ 9:19 am
I like your phrase: “It’s tough to be stuck between cultures, but life is so much richer for it.”
That is very true. And once you launch out of one the stuck seems to be permanent. As you say, you miss Germany from the US and we miss things about there from here. I normally do really well, but in the last week or to been having one of my down cycles. It will pass, but it is good to talk about. Thanks for the comment and words of support.
April 30, 2012 @ 5:01 pm
When I’ve traveled for a month or so, my frustrations build. I know how you feel about little things. However, I can’t imagine having those moments where you can’t escape. Like you, I just need a little down time for myself – a place to escape. And that must be really hard to do when a place doesn’t even really feel like ‘home’.
April 30, 2012 @ 8:50 pm
It is weird. This place does feel like home. Well in here, not out there necessarily. A home as an island in a sea of chaos, although that makes it sound far more melodramatic and severe than it really is most days.
April 30, 2012 @ 12:42 pm
I can completely understand how you feel. Dealing with the system in a new country is never easy, and even after living in Australia for years and speaking the same language, sometimes things there would just really get me down.
We’re trying to be really patient in Norway at the moment with all the getting settled stuff. Some things have been pretty frustrating. I think if I hadn’t have already gone through it, I’d be a lot less zen.
April 30, 2012 @ 8:51 pm
Good to hear that it isn’t just the language thing. That, for me anyway, is just a symptom of the stress, when the language gets to me. Because most days and times I have no problem with it.
Patience is a good thing to learn. I keep trying, but learning patience takes too long.
April 29, 2012 @ 7:44 pm
No matter how long we’re on the road, the homesickness or challenges seem to come and go in cycles! We miss home, we adapt, we thrive, something happens to trigger missing aspects of your home culture, you settle into your new one again.
*BIG HUG* to you two! In my experience, it’s helpful to know that “this too shall pass” and you have the right mind set — but you still have to stick out the rough patches! And I know you will.
April 30, 2012 @ 8:52 pm
Thanks so much for your words. It is good to hear.
April 29, 2012 @ 9:48 am
Thanks so much for this post! My first month in Germany has been anything but easy and I’ve gone through all the feelings you’ve mentioned for sure. It is utterly exhausting constantly trying to use another language and adapt to another culture. Nothing comes easy….even the littlest thing like buying cold medicine when you’re sick. Thanks for this honest post….glad I’m not the only one out there feeling this! I have a friend who said that the thing about living abroad is that your highs are way better, but your lows are always way lower. So I guess that’s the deal with it. Thanks again! 🙂
April 30, 2012 @ 8:53 pm
Nope, this life isn’t easy at all. It is worth it in the end, but as you have found out pretty exhausting. You are definitely not alone in these feelings. I’ve not heard that about the magnification of things, both low and high, but it does make sense.
Michelle | Bleeding Espresso
April 29, 2012 @ 9:24 am
All so very true. I’ve been living in southern Italy for going on nine years, and although the “cheese” type of moments don’t come nearly as frequently, every now and again there’s just *something* that I wish were a little easier, or a little more like I used to be used to it being, or just, at its core, emotionally difficult — being away from loved ones, especially on important days in their lives, is by far the biggest suck factor for me at this point, though. A different kind of cheese, if you will 😉 Great post.
April 30, 2012 @ 8:55 pm
Good to hear confirmation from a longer term expat. I don’t get these moments as often either, but when they come they are a doozy. I definitely wish there was a way to call “timeout” and have everything be easy for a few days to recoup before going back in. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work like that.