Thursday, November 22, 2012

Expats: The Most Confused People on Earth

Expat Thanksgiving is already over. It was last weekend.
The Frau sometimes misses the United States. She misses family. Especially on Thanksgiving Day. And it’s hard to raise a child when you are 5,000 miles from home even when you have friends that masquerade as aunts and uncles, other expats you eat turkey with the weekend before.
And there are other American things the Frau misses, things that are so hard to come by in Switzerland like affordable housing, non-smoking outdoor space, English, and cheap Chinese food.

In these moments, the Frau could move home again. But a moment later, the Frau thinks, wait! If she’s in Chicago, she won’t be able to grocery shop in another country on a whim. Or bike over a border. Or hike in the woods without driving to a forest preserve first.

And then her friends in the U.S. add to her angst, e-mailing her things like, “I have to fly back on Christmas Day because I have to work on the 26th

Work on December 26th? What kind of heartless company makes people work on the 26th? Oh yeah, an American one.

Excuse the Frau, but after being in Europe for six years, where everything shuts down between Christmas and New Years, the thought of being thrown back into the American Rat Race, where stores now open even on Thanksgiving, is one of the biggest reasons to stay in Europe. 

But then again, there's always that pesky long-haul flight just so Baby M can visit grandparents…

Oh help.

The only conclusion the Frau can come to this Thanksgiving is this: The idea of living in the U.S. again scares her. She wants to. She wants to not. She wants to. She wants to not.

But then again, staying in Switzerland scares her too. Does she want her daughter to be Swiss? Does she want her daughter to always be treated as a foreigner even if she grows up here? Does the Frau want to continue live her life as a foreigner? Does the Frau want her daughter to speak a secret language while she continues to feel like a two-year-old when it comes to Swiss German?

The Frau has become like many expats: stuck somewhere between two worlds. And because she knows them both so well now, neither one of them will be ever perfect.

What the heck was she thinking when she moved abroad?

She was thinking of adventure. Not of being ruined for life no matter what country she lives in.

Everyone knows it takes guts to move abroad. But no one talks about the fact that it might end up taking even bigger guts to move home again.

Does anyone else have these issues? What makes you want to move abroad? What makes you want to move home? And what makes you scared of ever doing either?  


Dominik said...

I'm Swiss and I moved to Tokyo to live there for two years. Actually when I moved there I didn't really think too much about it. Just an adventure, and learn the language I thought.
Initially I just wanted to stay 6 months and then return back to Switzerland. Well, it lasted two years in the end. I found a job there, went to school, made friends etc.
But the months before I moved back home were quite horrible to me. I had to work Japanese-style working hours. Usually being stuck at work until 11 p.m. - and the salary still sucked. I could hardly pay my rent and food. Traveling? Forget it. Weekends? Usually worked.
During that time I thought how great I actually I have it in Switzerland. "Normal" working hours, a decent salary, plenty of vacations which allow me to travel the world and see different places. Also the work pace in Switzerland is pretty laid back compared to Japan. Even though I wanted to move back really badly at this time, I thought about things I might be missing after I leave Japan. There are the quirky people dressing up as Manga characters, the fantastic and cheap food etc.
After long thinking I still thought that in the end I have it so much better in Switzerland. With the money I make here and the vacations I have here I can always go back to Japan for vacations and actually enjoy my time there instead of working 10-11 hours a day.

Cris said...

I understand you.

One thing only: Your daughter won't be treated as a foreigner her whole life. She will be speaking perfect Swiss German and she will be speaking perfect English and she will be very very grateful and proud to have two worlds to live in.

Susan said...

I have also been here 6 years, Frau. I have adult children back in Chicago. I can relate a bit to what you are sharing. I have had many friends repatriate back to their home countries and the common thread is that it takes a good 2 years to adjust back. at least.

I don't want to contradict Cris, above, but I have friends with children here in Switzerland, who speak excellent Swiss German, and who are still treated unfairly by other children because their Mother is an auslander. I'm sure it's a case by case thing - it's not fair to make generalities.

I'm thankful that I came to Zurich without school-aged children. I'm thankful for a lovely life here. But I keep reminding myself that it will surely end some day, probably not the day of my choosing.

Therefore I try to appreciate each and every day, no matter what sort of look I received at the Coop, or how much I missed the familiarity of home. This is a blessed time, and I plan to enjoy it to the full, for as long as I can.

LaCanadienne said...

Hallo Frau,

I'm Canadian (anglophone) living in Paris (and married to a German), and I hear you. We recently got our income tax assessment, so between kissing goodbye to nearly half our salaries, the high cost of living in Paris (esp relative to salary), and the myriad frustrations of working for a French company, I too have been asking myself "should I stay or should I go?".

The main fear I have of returning to Canada is that in no time our French life will seem like a dream, and getting another posting abroad won't be easy.

Other fears: the lack of work/life balance. The driving culture. The distances you must cover to travel somewhere really different. The provincialism (face it, even if France is no longer the world power it was 300 years ago, it still has a more wordly outlook than Canada). Expensive wine! Far, far fewer cultural options.

Fear of staying in France: financial suicide considering salaries, taxation and cost of living; career dead-end; losing touch with friends. Not being as physically fit (I lived in Vancouver, where people outdoor sports is like a religion people adamantly follow )

I don't have children, but I was raised by a mom who looked & sounded different. While as a child, all I wanted to do was blend in, it's true. But as an adult, I do wish my mom had taught me more about her culture and me how to speak Spanish or Tagalog!

So while the situation is reversed in your case, I think Baby M would be very grateful for the bi-cultural upbringing (and bilingualism) she would get if you stayed longer. You just need to be understanding while she's going through "I hate being so different!" phases as she grows up, but it sounds like you already "get it".

Marco Derdiyok said...

A classic case of to be or not to be from the lines of William Shakespeare, One one hand you have the privacy and luxury of the openness & on the other you have the world which depends on itself to sustain.

All said & done living where our heart calls out & yes where VFM (Value for Money)along with the sentimental upbringing is done properly will help a lot.

However we all have seem to forgotten an issue here over the ethnicity surrounding the child & that's the PVV (present value of money) & other deductibles the family has to keep in mind for the expenses of the child & themselves.

No doubt, consultants are aplenty & suggestions are open but searching for plans , ideas through finance/saving/tax aggregators will help the most & based upon that the family can decide on relocation.

Herspective said...

Gosh, this post couldn't come at a better time and I'm glad to see I'm not alone. I've been abroad for almost 4 years, granted in two places: Germany and South Korea, and at the moment we're planning our move back to the US and applying for husband's green card/visa here in Seoul. Every step of the process, I've had to really ask myself, "why, why do I want to go back?". I guess family would be the strongest reason, to be near aging parents. I have so many doubts and I'm wondering if I'm making the wrong choice. And with the economy... oy. The lifestyle in Europe is much more relaxed than the US, and I hope husband (he's German) can adapt there for the first time and me readapt after being away for quite some time. I guess we will always leave that door open to go back if we ever decide we want to.

Good luck to you Frau, and to all the other expats out there. Two worlds, while difficult to be in at once, is indeed a blessing in disguise.

Kimberly said...

We have been grappling with this issue as well, only our girls are on the other end of the schooling sprectrum - do we want them to do high school here or in the US? Then that leads possibly to college. There are plenty of pros and cons. The biggest thing I would miss, lifestyle wise, is the freedom my children have here. No matter everything else - it is a great place to raise kids.

Chantal said...

Hi everyone,
Thanks for the comments, they are much appreciated. All being perfect, I think we'd love to just move our entire extended family to Switzerland as the lifestyle is definitely more relaxed and the work/life balance is perfect. But since this is not really an option, it gets you thinking.
And Susan, yes, I too have heard similar things regarding "secondos" here. That's why I worry. I'm sure it's not with all people here, but I do think it's a reality.

kooki said...

It is entirely disconcerting to have children whose are a nationality different from your own. My two daughters say they are Swiss. Technically I have a Swiss passport as well and depending on the occasion I say I'm Swiss but I don't actually mean it. Now we're a Swiss American family living in the Middle East with children attending a German school. Christmas doesn't exist here. And of course Thanksgiving doesn't either. But that doesn't mean my Swiss kids can't enjoy an American pumpkin pie in the Middle East on a hot November day.

Herspective said...

Hey Chantal--I saw this article posted and it made me think of your post. Where is the best country for babies to be born in 2013? According to The Economist-- Switzerland! Thought it might be an interesting read for you if you haven't seen it already.

Chantal said...

Thanks for the link! Very interesting. I guess Baby M won the life lottery!

Rob on the Sunshine Coast said...

Hi Chantal

We have been back in Oz almost five months. We honestly miss our Friday night grocery shopping excursions over to France. And our holiday destinations cannot be easily replicated from Australia. But we have our fruitful and meaningful lives back in full and never tire of our ocean swims and being accepted by every one that we meet.

Best wishes

Rob (on the Sunshine Coast)

Chantal said...

Hi Rob,

Thanks for the update and glad you are doing well. I guess it just goes to show there are goods and bads no matter where you live.

Hattie said...

One thing we experienced as a family was one child being wholly accepted as Swiss while the other one was not. The older one was becoming alienated from us and getting quite aggressive at home as she found it harder and harder to switch between Swiss expectations and our expectations and way of doing things, so we put her in the Intercommunity School (the international school) for a while. We found the balance, and then she returned to the Swiss schools where she was an academic star. The other daughter never attended Swiss schools (She had already been singled out as the neighborhood scapegoat) and by the time she was strong enough to deal with the Swiss kids and we were ready to switch her into the Swiss schools we had to return to the U.S.
What I wish is that, since we did eventually return, we had returned earlier, say after five years, instead of the 13 years it turned out to be. The career sacrifice to me was very bad. Or my so-called career, as I refer to it.
I do appreciate that Swiss pension I get for my stay-at-home years bringing up children and having only part time and marginal work but would still have preferred a better professional life.

Chantal said...

Hi Hattie,
Thanks for sharing your experiences. It sounds like it was difficult but you overcame it. It's not easy being an expat!

Hattie said...

Thanks, Chanel. I thought I'd share because it is so difficult to figure these things out as you are going through them. I hope my hindsight helps. You have to keep a close eye on your own emotional state and that of your children, because you will be told over and over that your instincts are wrong.

Caitie said...

Yep, going through the same thing. Once our LB was born I had an overwhelming feeling that we can't be here anymore. Of course home has its downfalls, but really, as an expat, so does CH. Home is where family is, we're lucky to have good family relationships, and right now I just keep thinking that will be most important to LB's upbringing.

It's hard, isn't it?

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