Catching up with our Travel Editor, Jen Price, and the quirks of living abroad.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “expat,” let me enlighten you. An expat, or expatriate, is simply someone who resides in a country other than the one of their citizenship. My name is Jen, andI’m an expat. My family and I reside in South Africa, and it wasn’t until this last trip to the USA that I realized just how weird the expat life can be.
Although I will never be South African, I have settled in quite nicely to the culture. It is home. So is America, and yet, I find myself having to make mental shifts every time I return to my home country. If you’re an expat, have ever been an expat, or travel extensively, then you will know what I mean. It’s just weird. To get a glimpse into the life of an expat, read the weird challenges I face when I return to the country of my birth.
- Driving takes total concentration. Not only driving, but getting into the car takes mental energy, because we drive on the opposite side in South Africa. I hate it when I’m in a busy shopping area in America and blissfully get into the passenger’s side of the car. The walk of shame to the other side is so embarrassing! Turns are my least favorite when I hop between my two “homes.”
- My wallet contains currency from about four different countries. No lie. I have American dollars, South African rand, British pounds, and Ugandan shillings. I hate going to Target and paying cash. Worst.decision.ever. One time I accidentally gave the clerk rupees. She was so excited she asked to keep it.
- I pull up to the gas station and wait for the attendant that never comes. No one pumps their own gas, or petrol, in South Africa. It’s quite nice.
- My language changes as I country hop. I don’t mean changing actual languages. I mean my English word choices. As I asked my kids if they needed a serviette when we were in transit in Heathrow, my son reminded me that I needed to switch from my South African English to my American English. It’s funny the words you get used to saying. I’ve replaced napkin, call me, and bathroom with serviette, phone me, and toilet, respectively,to name a few.
- Restaurant menus are overwhelming. On our recent trip, we drove through the drive thru to a particular restaurant. I used to know how to do this, but as an expat I’d completely forgotten. We made the mistake of showing up not knowing what to order. Let’s just say we did an amazing job holding up the line. When you’re not used to so many choices, your mind starts to blank out and not know what to do.
Any expats out there? What is the hardest thing hopping between countries?
It is a bitter-sweet thing, knowing two cultures. Once you leave your birthplace nothing is ever the same. –Sarah Turnbull