There are days when I wake up, and I am so damn grateful to have this expat life. Living abroad means days are full of surprises and new experiences, delicious foods and castles (yes castles!) just sitting there on the side of the road. But there are other days when nothing seems to go right, and you’re reminded that while Facebook says that living overseas is awesome, it’s actually—for you living it—sometimes really really hard. This post is a composite of bad experiences that didn’t actually happen all in one day, but every one of these first-world, regressive, expat problems did happen to me over the course of the last two and a half years here. Which…let me just say… Thank god for the castles.
The Worst Parts of Being an Expat
You wake up early to get to the doctor for the mildly inconvenient task of picking up a prescription. You can’t get the office to call a pharmacy here—you have to physically pick it up yourself and then go to the pharmacy. Would have been nice to know before you picked a doctor that was quite so far away, but no matter. It’s enough that you have expat health insurance. After successfully negotiating which bus to take, you sink into the nice, clean seats and think to yourself, “Look at that! You made it. It’s going to be a good day.”
You get to the doctor’s office. Despite knowing that they can, you find that the receptionists stubbornly refuse to switch from German to English. After several tortured minutes, you come to understand that your insurance company has misspelled your name on the card. It doesn’t matter that you’ve been going to this doctor for five months with them never minding this error, they will not give you your prescription. You have to call the health insurance company to change the card, which will arrive by mail, and then you can make another appointment to take the bus out here and have this whole conversation again. You’ll be out of pills by the end of the week? Not their problem. They don’t make the rules. Basic gist: Shouldn’t have such a difficult name to spell.
Before taking the bus back, you stop to get a pastry. You pick a beautiful little roll with thick dark filling, thinking the chocolate will cheer you up. Whoops. Turns out it’s poppyseed.
On the bus on way to the office, you get controlled for your ticket. Thank god for your monthly pass. Despite flashing the prepaid ticket, the official asks to see your passport. He holds it just a little too long, reminding you that you’re an outsider.
Get to the office and overhear your colleagues talking about free drinks. Turns out there was a work-sponsored happy hour the evening before but you didn’t know about it because it was shared in the German status meeting you weren’t invited to. You accept this news bravely. Looking over the shoulder of your colleague you see the office manager heap half a can of Tchibo coffee into the pot and realize this is why your teeth are always hurting.
HR, who apparently aren’t used to having expatriate workers at all, asks to see your visa. You hand it over. Turns out the visa you have is not an actual work visa but a transition visa that should have been exchanged a few months ago. Upsi! Their bad. “You should get that taken care of right away.”
You go to lunch, taking your dog with you. The perks of living in a dog-friendly country! After playing fetch in the park for a bit, you stop at café, where you respectfully tie your dog up outside. Waiting in line, you see a middle-aged man stoop to untie your dog’s lead. Stepping out, you ask what’s going on. He begins to loudly berate you that dogs shouldn’t be tied up in the sun, that she should be in the shadow with lots of water. In a loud voice, he asserts that you are a bad dog-owner and should be ashamed of yourself for treating animals so badly. Everyone is staring. Shrugging it off doesn’t quite seem to be working.
In the afternoon, you have a status review with your boss. He says that he would be happy to promote you—but he can’t because you don’t speak German fluently enough. He recommends taking a German class for a year and then looking at it again. You bite your tongue against pointing out that it’s hard to learn German (let alone make friends, acclimatize, go to the gym, or take care of basic errands) when you work 60 hours a week. Instead, you ask for the morning for tomorrow morning off to fix the visa snafu, as, predictably, the visa office is only open from 10:00-1:00, with an hour pause for lunch. Your boss sighs and complains about the missing hours. (But if he’s lucky, you’ll soon be deported anyway!)
You take the subway home. You’d parked your bike at the station a day ago, and go to pick it up. You notice that it’s looking a little worse for wear—and turns out that a bunch of bikes at the station were stolen. When the hoodlums couldn’t get yours free, they trashed it instead! Slashed tires, broken bell, ripped seat, bent wheels. You acknowledge that this could happen anywhere (so it’s not an expat problem per se), but the financial toll it takes on your international-move-depleted bank account stings hard nonetheless.
You have to stop for groceries, so you pop into the equivalent of the local supermarket. You nail most of your list pretty quickly, which raises your spirits. But you cannot, for the life of you, find the hummus in this store. You know they sell it. But where would they put it? In the fine foods? In the international foods? At the deli? In front, by the chips? The store is closing, the manager barks at you to hurry up. You explain at checkout the situation, and he stares at you like the idiot you must be. The hummus, it’s explained, is in the vegan section.
You’re feeling pretty down at this point and pick up the phone to call your friends. Calculating the time difference, you realize it’s 10:30 am in your home state, and all of your friends, family, and general support network are going to be in the middle of their Tuesday morning.
You gently set the phone back down and decide to indulge the mini-meltdown that’s been brewing all day. You let yourself have a good cry while eating your dry, hummus-free carrot sticks.
Then, with a renewed focus on the positives, you pour yourself a tall glass of 2-euro red wine—a price which at least makes it easy to see the glass as (more than) half full—and open the Easyjet site in a new browser tab. It’s not escapism. It’s called self-care.