Guest Post by Brandi N. Grays
I never really decided to live overseas. There was no well-laid plan, no dream destination. I didn’t do any research. When I first got off the airplane in Ankara, Turkey I had no idea what life had in store for me. My boyfriend had been working in Turkey for a little over a year and he asked me to marry him. He was already in Turkey (and it seemed that I had been awaiting this proposal forever), so we decided that I would go there and we would get married right away. I found a tenant for my apartment, packed my bags, and hopped on a plane to Ankara.
Because I hadn’t done any research, I arrived a few days before the start of Ramadan. We had to wait through closed offices and holiday observances; but, we were finally able to get married about three weeks later. So many people ask me, “How did you manage to get married in another country?” It was a challenge, but this experience is what helped shape my perspective about life overseas; take it all in stride.
I have lived all over the world; Turkey, Belgium, Bosnia, Israel, and now Mexico. I am thoroughly enjoying myself. However, I believe that in order to take full advantage of your expat life you have to relax a bit and understand that you don’t have the same amount of control as you do in your home country. I have had many opportunities to work myself into fits of frenzy; however, my outlook on this uncommon life has saved me.
What Do You Mean, I Can’t Buy Groceries Here?
I can remember standing in the checkout line at a grocery store in Belgium. I had a basket full of groceries and was at least 7 months pregnant. I handed the cashier my credit card and my passport and began bagging my groceries. However, I was alerted to the fact that there was some sort of problem with my identification. The cashier explained that my middle name was not on my credit card as it appeared on my passport and therefore, I couldn’t pay for my basket full of groceries. I tried to explain to her that it was just my middle name and didn’t have to be on my credit card, but my explanation was not sufficient. I speak enough French to get through my daily life; but, I can’t go head to head in a verbal battle with a native French speaker.
So, here I was holding up the check-out line in Carrefour and getting angrier by the minute. Had I been in the states, I would have demanded to speak to the manager, asked for the number to corporate headquarters and called them while I sat in the car. In this case, however, I pushed my basket to the front of the store, bought a hot waffle on my way out, and went back later with my husband and his credit card.
These sorts of experiences will happen, especially when you first arrive in a new country. If you don’t fluently speak the language, you will encounter them much more often. But they will give you opportunities to laugh later on. They are simply part of the adventure. There is no sense in getting upset and angry. Take it all in stride.
I could tell you stories about rogue taxi drivers, hostile sports fans, ridiculous apartment deficiencies, and the worst McDonald’s on Earth. Of course, when you are standing face to face with a cashier and can’t buy your groceries, it can be disheartening. If you have to demand that a taxi driver take you back home because he doesn’t know where he is going (and you don’t really either), it can be a bit overwhelming. But when you stick it out and get past these little bumps in the road, the journey is a blast.
Brandi N. Grays is the owner of Eleven Twenty-Three Creative Group, a small business marketing firm. She blogs about starting and growing your small business. She will be launching her own blog dedicated to expat moms in the spring of 2010. You can reach Brandi at firstname.lastname@example.org.