Expat Life

The unnamed second phase

When I stepped out of Victoria Station and caught my first glimpse of London during a 2006 vacation, I immediately decided I wanted to live there. A few days later, when I traveled to the quaint Shakespeare-happy town of Stratford-upon-Avon, I decided I wanted to live there. When I visited New England for the first time later that year, I decided I wanted to live there.

As the saying goes, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Being on vacation is like being in a perpetual honeymoon phase. But when you actually move, the honeymoon phase comes to an end eventually.

Just as there are said to be five stages of grieving, there must be a series of stages for people who move across the world to somewhere they’ve never been before, and where everything is different. If it’s not completely terrifying (and even sometimes when it is), we can refer to the first stage as the honeymoon phase; everything is exciting, passionate, and beautiful. Problems that are known to exist don’t manifest or are ignored. That feeling is still with me. Much of this blog is a testament to my affection for Australia, specifically Melbourne. I expect that my excitement, wonder, and desire for adventure and discovery will not fade anytime soon. After all, living 30+ years in the U.S. has not diminished my wonder for it. Yet, at the same time, as the honeymoon phase begins to fade, a new phase begins to overlap. It doesn’t have a name as far as I know, but I’m calling it the Everything Sucks Phase.

Yes, this is going to be one those entries. No doubt, some disclaimers are necessary.

There are starving children in Africa. Growing up, I heard this over the dinner table from my father every time I left food on the plate. I know that this post comes from a place of privilege. I know that there are people in this world, in this city even, that are in far worse shape than I. I know people are starving, living in squalor, subject to violence, and dying of disease. I’m still going to have my whinge, as the Aussies say.

This post comes from a dark place. I don’t feel like this all the time. I don’t even feel like this most of the time. But as a complex human being with a range of psychological phenomena, like other human beings, I experience a wide variety of feelings and moods. As I mentioned before, much of this blog is a testament to what excites me and what I love about Australia, but that’s only one side of the expat experience, and this is blog is a space for all my experiences, not just the positive ones.

It’s not all that rational. But sometimes, your brain and your feelings are at odds.

I know I’m not alone. That’s partly why I’ve written this. I know other expats have felt this way because I have heard their stories, but it’s an ugly side to our emotions and experiences that we seldom openly share because we know it will bring on criticism and contempt. And so I end my short list of disclaimers with a statement, a warning if you will.

This is my space. Comments are generally welcome, but this is my space. Let that be clear. Comments about how over-indulged I am, how I need to suck it up or get over it, about how I should love it or leave it, and those that express anti-American sentiments will be removed. I’m not in the mood for that today.

And so here we go.

The weather sucks. Right now, it’s cold. I’m cold. And I almost always feel cold despite that I’m wearing three layers of clothing. Every night, the bed is cold. We have no central heating (and we have no central cooling), which is pretty  normal in Australia not just for homes, but also businesses and public transport because Aussies are obsessed with energy conservation (read: conserving their dollars).

The restaurants suck. The portions are too big. The portions are too small. The food is mediocre. Why do you only give me one napkin? Why is my sandwich sitting on my one napkin? I need water. Cold water, not lukewarm water. Why do I have to fetch my own water? Where’s the damn server? Sprite is not lemonade. The hot chocolate is never, ever hot enough. This is the worst $17-dollar Cosmo I’ve ever had. How much?! Always too much.

The parking sucks. Hey, there’s a 15-minute parking spot! I can’t do all my shopping, get a haircut, and get an overpriced cup of coffee.

The market sucks. It’s not open every day, food is ridiculously expensive, the orange juice is concentrate, and hordes of people are shopping like everything is going to run out or like it’s a third-world country where food is rationed. Bring cash because none of these stalls accept cards. You can’t get everything you need in one place. A complete shopping requires going to about three places, not that I can afford to buy everything I want anyway. What I manage to buy, I haul in a heavy, rickety granny trolley that’s too small.

Being broke sucks. When all is said and done, it will have cost me nearly $10k to apply for residency with no guarantee of success and no refunds.

Being so far away sucks. My parents may be getting divorced. My sister and her family are undergoing a huge life change. My friends are celebrating birthdays, travelling, crafting new careers, and doing all sorts of amazing things.  I’m not there to witness it, share in it, or be supportive of any of it.

Being homesick sucks. I miss Cuban bread and pastelitos and my mother’s cooking. I miss warmth and bright skies and palm trees swaying in a gentle breeze and the faint smell of salt in the air from the not too distant ocean. I miss Spanish-language ballads on the radio and salsa in the streets and people dancing on their balconies. I miss the beats of the African drums and the chants under moonlight.

Everything sucks.