Today my little family and I have been in California for a year. We moved from the UK, which gave me culture shock and we moved from London which was probably the bigger shock.
I’m not sure if I have many insights into the whole expat thing. This last year has been a desperate muddle of getting settled and getting started, I think I need more perspective. In the meantime, here are some top expat tips.
1. If you own property in the country you’re moving from, then sell it before you move. There are no books about what order you should do things when you move country, there should be a such a book and Sell Your Property should be the title of the first chapter. I’m not going into details over this, because it’s disturbing and I try not to think about it. Just believe me, wait until you’ve sold your house and live somewhere rented before you move.
2. Just because you “know” them doesn’t mean you have to be their friend. You do get a bit desperate for friends when you first arrive somewhere new. Just try not to compromise on your own personality just to fit in with some contact that your sister’s husband went to college with. Go and volunteer somewhere, it doesn’t have to be through a church, that’s how I started reading to the toddlers in the bookstore. I’ve made some great friends through that. You don’t have to be “like them” for them to like you.
3. Culture envy. There are some cities in the world that it is hard to leave, there is nowhere else like New York, London, Tokyo…(there are others). And no matter how exciting you try to make your new home city it’s just not going to match up to that. In these cases you’re not just leaving a country, you’re leaving a city. Try to remember the overcrowding and the cliques, try to remember the pollution and the crime, that these are not good places for children. Try to remember that it’s all going to seem sluggish after you’ve lived in a city that never sleeps.
4. There are no equivalents. I’m particularly talking about shopping, for groceries, clothes or big ticket items. The shopping culture works differently in different countries. Britain has high streets, USA has malls. But it translates to something so totally different as to make comparisons ridiculous. Here’s an example. In Britain there’s a successful chain store named Marks & Spencer. They sell everything but most towns have an M&S Food. The food is a little overpriced, but always top quality and they have prepackaged ready made fresh meals. Such a national institution selling fresh ready made foods is impossible for America. America is too big, the brands of bread which span from coast to coast are not really bread, just a series of preservatives strung together with a bit of carbohydrate. Eat local is the key here.
5. Be proud of yourself. Very few people are ex-pats, you’re an adventurer. That’s cool.
Like I said, not sure if there’s much insight there. But if you’re a new expat, hang in there. It’s good. Really.