How to Be Happy Overseas – Part 2

Basic Rule of Culture: Everyone loves to be multi-cultural until someone else’s culture is shown to be different than their own culture. I do love those moments of (other people’s) meltdowns – listening to a person warble on about how the French eat so healthily, until the moment they see a petit French child smear a baguette with butter, then add on a thick layer of Nutella. “No,” they shriek, “NO! You can’t put butter AND Nutella on a baguette.” Oh yes, you are full of love, patience and understanding for a foreign culture until you run into a cultural convention that you don’t like.

Corollaries to the Basic Rule:

  • “Oh I am so interested to learn all about X” means “I am so interested to learn all about X as long it agrees with all my preconceived notions of X.”
  • When you move to a new country, do not burble to old-hands. We will remember your burbles and might (if you burbled excessively and refused to listen to good advice) repeat it back to you during one of your forth-coming breakdowns. Burble to people at home and other new-comers.

Basic Rule of Money and Culture: No amount of salary or square-footage in your new home will make you happy in a foreign country, unless you 1) want to be there and 2) want to be happy there.

“Exotic” does not mean what you think it means

What’s “exotic” changes over time. You move overseas and gradually it’s not weird that the grocery store will be out Diet Coke (the staff of life) for weeks at a time or that a sighting of raisin bread causes a frenzy of calling from the grocery aisle – you adopt, you adapt and one day you realize you have a new perspective.

Exotic is not that

  • the airline doesn’t change you if your bags are over-weight if you cry (all the more reason for water-proof mascara while traveling!)
  • you can drop a painting off to be framed at 1am.
  • to prevent the waiter from bringing everyone’s soup, appetizer, soup, main course and dessert to the table at the same time, you learn to order appetizer and when it arrives, order the soup etc.

Exotic is:

  • the Oxford University Press bookstore in Oxford closes at 5:30pm because no one wants to buy a book in the evening.
  • discovering that bathrooms in the UK are always up or down a flight of stairs, are tiny and are sometimes carpeted
  • being called ‘my love’ or ‘petal’ or ‘duck’ by random women
  • someone trying to give you white sugar with coffee
  • when you can have a discussion which brings up a statement which is disputed, yet the people (not Americans!) can simply stay in the state of not knowing; they don’t need to instantly turn to an electronic device to get the answer, even if two people strongly disagree
  • concierges in the UK who are utterly stumped at the question of ‘how much is a postcard stamp’ and, bewildered to the point of immobility, have no idea how you might answer that question except to walk to nearest post office which is 6 blocks away and currently closed