Tag: expatriate

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Where’s the “good” in goodbye?


For my first post of 2013, I will steer clear of New-Year’s-resolution-talk (not least because I’m having a hard time with mine) or speculation about what the New Year will bring. One thing that it will predictably bring – like every year – is more goodbyes. Saying goodbye is a process I go through several times a year. I have become quite good at it, but still dread it every single time.
So once again, starting the New Year meant for me, among others, saying goodbye to my hometown, my country, (the sun? J), my family and my friends, old and new. Once more, I wished I didn’t have to go through the torturous procedure, almost invariably the same every time: the tightness in my chest as I leave home converting rapidly into a mild depression during the trip, then two to four days of inconsolable sadness, followed by a gradual healing process that may take one to two weeks, as the routines are re-established and I get so absorbed by the rhythm of my daily life, that it is as if I never left. Even though every time I know that I will be ok in the end – when all that’s left of the sadness is a bittersweet aftertaste of being permanently away from something and someone –I still go through it every time. I wish I didn’t have to, but I also know that is the deal I have made – I and all those others with similar life choices – to live within the cycle of perpetual goodbyes. I’m not complaining.
As I was reading some of last week’s New-Year’s-resolutions-press, something caught my attention. It was the suggestion that, rather than coming up with a list of random resolutions, it makes more sense to think about what matters to me most – who do I want to be, what makes me happy – and make sure I have or do more of that.
One resolution that is always somewhere on my list, ever since I can remember writing them down, is to make a bigger effort to stay in contact with family and friends. Some years I do better and others I do worse; but I keep at it year after year. It is part of who I am and it makes me truly happy.
I want more of that this year as well. More goodbyes, but also more hellos.

Home for Christmas


I have always loved Christmas – the atmosphere, the lights, the smells, the presents, the food (the food, the food…); it’s just that the last few years I got side tracked. I had children and a home of my own and suddenly became responsible not only for my Christmas, but also for that of a few other (mostly little) people – for whom everything had to be perfect. So somehow Christmas progressively transformed from a relaxed and carefree family holiday, to a stressful and hardly enjoyable one. Trying to get everything
right – and on time! – led to a hectic craziness of Christmas shopping, Christmas cards, Christmas decorations and double- (sometimes triple-) booked Christmas events. Every year I promised myself that next year I would do things differently and every year I broke my own promise.
Except this year. This year, we are doing things differently. This year we’re staying home.
We need to. This move gave us the perfect opportunity to stop the madness. The transition to our new life has had its ups and downs. My children are still struggling to find their place here, especially to build a new circle of friends, while they still miss their
friends and their life back in Vienna very much. I can’t do much to help them with that, but what I can do is at least make sure they have a safe place where they can go when things get tough; a refuge. I want to create a little corner where they can be themselves and feel accepted and loved. I want them to feel secure and comfortable there. Creating a home has always been important for me, but the kids have made it essential.
And it’s not just for them. We are far from settled. We all need to find our bearings. But for that, we need to take a deep breath and give ourselves the time to feel at home. The holidays should be the perfect opportunity to do that. Being relatively new to this place helps too. So this Christmas there will be no big plans, no party invitations (obviously, given the current size of our social circle) and no trips. We will stay away from traffic jams, stress and last minute shopping on Christmas Eve. It will be just us, hanging out at home, listening to Christmas songs, decorating the tree, baking cookies and sticking glittery stars on the living room windows. There will be board games and hot chocolate, popcorn and favourite movies, singing and the smell of the beeswax candles on the tree.
Yes, I know it’s cheesy, maybe even a bit boring for some, but it will be just perfect.
expat, home

The Return of the Grumpy


“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”
Winston Churchill

I am reaching that fragile stage in the foreigner’s journey where the honeymoon is ending and reality starts to sink in. It is the phase where you wake up one morning and realize that you have not seen the sun for weeks, because it is hidden somewhere behind that impenetrable grey curtain; or that getting to the nearest Starbucks for your favourite coffee – the one you need so badly to be able to function in the morning – takes you an hour round-trip, when it used to be just a few minutes’ walk.
For me, the worst part of that phase is disillusionment with the people: realising that not everything is rosy and not everyone is nice. That’s particularly relevant in this move, since so far, with very few exceptions, everything has been rosy and everyone has been nice. We have been treated with extreme friendliness from day one. It is delightful – and almost unreal. The eternal realist in me has been dreading the moment when I recognise that not everyone is on their best behaviour here and that there are grumpy people in Switzerland, too.
In the past few weeks, there have been a couple of incidents – funny enough, all of them on the road and all involving impatient men in large vehicles, who I suspect noticed my gender as well as my foreign license plates – but nothing major yet. The more recent one was this morning and it involved a significant amount of unprovoked unfriendliness. A few months ago, I might have let it taint my beautiful Monday morning, but today I chose not to. I decided that it is time to take matters into my own hands. I have a lovely image of the people here and am not going to let a couple of grumpy
ones spoil that.
We can choose to be unhappy just like we can choose to be happy. We can allow ourselves to complain about everything around us or we can decide to appreciate the positives and tolerate the not-so-positives. At the same time, I believe that we both absorb and reflect friendliness and crankiness; positive and negative energy. I have found it easier to complain and be cranky in some places, while in others I have felt compelled to look for the positive side of things.
I feel that I have been much less grumpy since we moved here, simply because I encounter less grumpiness in my daily interactions. I choose to be nice to people here, even the ones who are not as well disposed towards me as I would have wished them to be. I am more tolerant and patient and more inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt, because I feel grateful that they do the same with me. I choose to be happy here.
Attitude is half the battle, right?