Twenty Things I Didn’t Know About Living Overseas (Twenty Things I’ve Learned in the Past Ten Days)

I flew across the world about ten days ago. A few days ago I wrote about things I had forgotten about living in another culture but was bumping into like old friends as I adjust to this new place. Today I am writing about twenty things I had no idea about before I came. It’s been fun to keep a list and begin to grow in unexpected ways. The growth I see in me and my family is likely one of the biggest gifts I receive as an expat and one of the important reasons I wanted to transplant a semi-large (for an American) family to another culture.

I didn’t know…I have been learning about…

1. How to use Uber. This is my main means of transport right now as it’s very hot (for walking) and my language is at zero (for giving directions in regular taxis or on a bus). I had never used an Uber and I’m terrible at getting the pick-up spot nailed down. Still, I’m getting better.

2. The volatility of emotions in jet-lagged, culture-stressed kids. I’ll leave the examples to your imagination.

3. Life in a world with a non-Roman script. Learning how to read and write and decipher numbers in a completely “other” writing system is taxing my brain. I do better with spoken language, apparently.

4. How my children make me braver than I am. I explore more because I want to show them that exploring is a gift.

5. How many different kinds of feta there are.

6. That one buys baby formula at the pharmacy. Cue rising panic when neither my husband nor I could find formula at the most Western of grocery stores. Thankfully Facebook groups exist and are full of good advice. (Also, one buys dental floss at the pharmacy.)

7. How overwhelming it is to pick a “neighborhood” in a city of 20-30 million people. If you are a praying person, you could pray for us to be wise and to find a home that fits us as a family and fits us in terms of budget. In the words of a dear friend, I might have “champagne taste on a beer budget” (really, I just want a tiny bit of dirt or grass but that comes with a hefty price tag).

8. How rude some expats can be to their hosts. I had my groceries delivered (it’s a thing here!). I wrote my address as best as I knew it but left off the apartment number. There are three apartments on my floor and as I waited for my groceries to arrive, I heard a loud and ugly, “NO!” screamed out in the hall. I opened the door and another expat was slamming the door in the grocery man’s face. I tipped him times three and learned where that “ugly expat” stereotype comes from.

9. How consistent electricity makes all the difference. It’s hot here. But since I lived in “the hottest inhabited country in the world” for four years, I thought I knew what I was getting into. We haven’t reached the highest temperatures that will come our way this summer but life with consistent electricity in a hot, hot place is really different than life without consistent electricity in a hot, hot, hot place.

10. How hot places make afternoon naps seem like the best possible thing.

11. How glad I am that I allowed my boys to buy a Nintendo before they came here. Sometimes.

12. How much green living things restore the soul. (Okay, I probably did know that but I had forgotten.)

13. That I could fall asleep sitting up, fully clothed, holding a baby and consider that a good nap.

14. How at home and brand new I could feel at the same time.

15. That stationary stores would be my happy place in a big city. So many pens.

16. That public libraries count as some of the many official buildings I am not allowed to photograph. Sorry, Mr. Guard at the library. I know I didn’t make your day happy. The unhappiness was mutual.

17. How crazy my stir-crazy kids can make me. If only “go outside” worked here. Instead we are going on lots of errands.

18. That pickled lemon is a thing. A very good thing.

19. How awesome fourth babies are. Maybe I’m just ready for the awesomeness as a mom. Maybe I pay more attention. Maybe I’m more aware. Maybe he’s just a super amazing baby. Whatever the reason, we are enjoying this kid more than we knew we could.

20. How much I hate ironing. Okay, I knew it. But still. Six people and no dryer leaves a lot of wrinkled clothes to iron. Ugh.

21. Bonus. How cute it would be to hear a three year old say, “I’m so tired of walking. Call me an Uber!!!” I don’t know why but this cracked me up and made me feel grateful for this completely difference growing up experience my daughter is having, even if I would like her to ask more politely.

Twenty Things I Had Forgotten About Living Overseas

Moving across the world with four kids last week has made me reflect a lot. Thankfully this isn’t my first time living overseas (I say thankfully because otherwise I would be freaking out right now). I am in a new-to-me country but this feels a little like having a third or fourth baby: I have a general idea of what to expect and a general idea of my own skills and limitations. I don’t mean by any stretch that I know the specifics of what to expect; I’m being delighted and frustrated by new things in a new place with new people speaking a new language. A lot of new things. But I do have an idea of what might be different and how I can respond to these differences with a sense of humor and at times, a sense of skill. To that end, I’ve been making a list of things I had forgotten over the past six years of living in my home culture.

I had forgotten about:

1. Carrying my own toilet paper, just in case. “Just in case” happens a lot.

2. Not flushing toilet paper in the toilet.

3. How long/how many trips to the same store basic errands can take.

4. How my back feels after sleeping on a mattress on the floor for four days.

5. What jet lag feels like. (It’s way worse with four kids.)

6. How impossibly confusing washing machine symbols are. (I’ve read a manual for a household appliance TWICE in four days.)

7. Needing to do mental math all the time (currency, temperature, distance, volume and weight are all measured differently here).

8. All the meaningful letters, affirmations and gifts I would receive upon leaving. I also literally forgot about these items until our second or third day, and finding them in my purse was such a gift.

9. The hot kitchen conundrum: no fan because of a gas stove but so hot without a fan.

10. Cold showers.

11. How bravery begets bravery (more on that later, but I’m learning this from my kids who are doing new things with courage every day and then are trying old things with new bravery).

12. How often I boil the kettle.

13. The taste of boxed/UHT milk.

14. How to pour out of a box without spilling.

15. Using charades when I don’t share a language with someone.

16. How glad I am to have my husband doing this with me.

17. How fun it can be to make a home in a new place, with radically different “raw materials.”

18. The incredible privilege of being a guest in another culture.

19. How much more I ask for help in a host culture, even in the little things. Maybe especially in a host culture where I am a guest.

20. Gas stoves. (How I love them!)

I’m sure I will keep bumping into things I had forgotten about. These forgotten-now remembered parts of life feel like old friends. It’s been a while and I’m not certain how well we will get along these days but I feel hopeful and happy to see.