Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Elephant in the room...


The topic that all expats avoid.  The one taboo.  I’m about to break it and point to the rather large elephant sat in the corner.  This is a post I wasn’t going to write, then decided it would be cathartic to.  And so it has proven.  I’m feeling much perkier and have my spring back in my step.  I believe writing this and acknowledging it has helped.

Mum, if you are reading, you may want to look away now.  I know how upset you get reading about anything where I suggest I am anything but happy.  But I am happy, yet have fluctuating emotions.

Homesickness.  Why am I still having such bouts of homesickness after being here almost 7 months?  How can I be?  Surely I am living the dream.  In the promised land.  Sun, sea and endless throwing of shrimps onto never ending BBQs.  Great hats with corks to keep all the flies at bay.  Where men wear thongs with pride.  No snow.  No need to put my favourite North Face coat and boots on for a weekend walk.  Am I insane?  

And because I thought I was odd, having such thoughts curiosity drove me to the web site, www.pomsinoz.com to read of others experiences.

And what did I find?  It was like reading my mind.  My jumble of thoughts and emotions all laid out.  But written by other people.  Lots of other people, all feeling the same.  In fact, many feeling a lot worse than me.  I can’t recount how many posts I read where people were going home within the first 12 months.  Not that I am in a state of mind that I want to return home.  Just yet.  But reading about the experience of others just reaffirmed that I wasn’t in fact going mad. 

I am just going through what lots of expats before me have, and continue to go through.  Especially expats from the UK.  Reading a lot of posts from people who returned to the UK, saying how they finally felt at home.  How you realise what an amazing country we have, given the experience of living elsewhere for a period.

For a lot of people, home will always be home, no matter where you live in the world.  And home is a lot of different things to different people.  For some, it’s family life.  Others it’s the history and culture of the UK.  Some even claim to miss the weather (yes, I’m in that camp).  One of my happiest days last week was spent playing football in the pouring rain.  But for me, it is based on a lot of intangible feelings that lurk around in the pit of your stomach and start infiltrating your brain.  Things that wouldn’t make a lot of sense to people if you said them out loud.  Which I’ve tried.

Football.  There, my number 1 of “things I miss”.  And not just going to football, which I always knew would be like a large hole that I would never fill, but living in a culture where football is so ingrained.  Like a religion.  Countries in Europe, and through Central and South America are like this.  People live and breathe football.  With a passion.  Stadiums are their temples, places of worship.  Football here is little more than a 3rd rate sport, with genuine attempts to raise its profile such as the signing by Sydney FC of Allesandro del Piero.  But even del Piero can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear.  

I did go and watch a game, and vowed never to return due to the laughable standard of football and the terribly plastic atmosphere.  We have yet to see whether the great man himself will renew his contract for a second year or whether the lure of home, and Italia, will draw him back.
Surely, you can watch the football from England people ask.  Not if I want to hold down a job.  As a result of the 11 hour time difference, most of the games are on at between 2am and 4am.  I’ve watched a couple of “early” kick offs, specifically the victories against Liverpool and City, but to function at work, I do need slightly longer sleep time.  I’m not getting any younger you know.

The homogeneity.  One that will surely raise the rankles of any Australian readers, but Australia all looks the same.  Within reason of course.  I could write a whole post about how different the Great Barrier Reef is to the Red Centre of Uluru.  Spill hundreds of words about the contrast between the Blue Mountains (when you can see them through the mist) and the glorious coastline around Sydney.

But, in general, transport me to a high street in Cairns, or a street in Perth, or drive through a suburb anywhere, and it all looks the same.  Which gets kinda dreary.  The beaches are glorious.  But aren’t 90% of all beaches, anywhere in the world?  Have you travelled around the beaches of Cornwall through a glorious English summer?  A beach is a beach, is a beach, is a beach.   

Not that I want to sound ungrateful, although I probably do, but when you have crappy beaches like we do in the UK (aforementioned Cornwall aside), going to a good beach, usually on holiday is a highlight that usually gives you months of subsequent smiles, just thinking about sitting there, listening to the waves, sipping your cocktails, listening to the strains of “bolinhas”, from the local Portuguese doughnut seller.

When you can go to the beach everyday, it loses a lot of its allure, its sparkle, it ability to invigorate.  How many of you would like to celebrate Christmas every week?  Aside from the fact that I would be about 383 years old.  Think it would feel as magical not having waited the whole year for it and endured the endless Christmas carols played in Next since September?

I started this post ruminating on homesickness.  I have slightly digressed but hopefully given you an insight into my feelings in the meantime.  I am not jumping on Expedia to book a flight.  I am not packing up the apartment.  I am not checking out the Lloyds Banking Group job site.  But I am sharing this with you so I can try to better understand how I feel.  And to let myself know that there is no right and wrong decisions per se, just decisions that are right for me at the time I make them.

I often read about the mythical “2 year rule”, in that you should give yourself 2 years before deciding what to do as an expat.  I don’t buy this.  

Firstly, who came up with such an arbitrary number?  What is this based on?  Maybe on the old immigration rules that you had to be here 2 years before applying for citizenship.  That’s now 4 years, so blows that out of the water.  

And secondly, for people who really do decide to go home, why should they sit out their time here being unhappy, counting down the days, ticking them off the calendar until all 730 have passed?  If their gut tells them it is time to go home, then home they should go.

Me, I still have 537 days to go.

Until the next time folks in the life of an expat.

8 comments:

  1. Very well written Fran. Perhaps successfully living in Australia is about losing a sense of urgency and letting things go their own way. Get ripped off in the shops, pay the stupidly high bank fees, rejoice when Commonwealth bank makes double the profit of UK banks quadruple in size, laugh when the train goes on the wrong track and gets delayed, enjoy the insane superannuation schemes, pay the highest relative property prices in the *world*. All that, for a beach. Maybe, may be not.

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