Cultural differences

Being an Expat

9:42 AM

Expatriating yourself doesn’t come without a price, there are many perks, and a few pitfalls on the road, no matter what culture you belong to, and which country you plan to relocate to. There are several steps in the adjustment process as described in this article
And having been part of some world wide expat communities online, I can say that we ALL went through a variation of these phases in the order they have been described. For some the phases are shorter or longer, but this is a journey we all had to go through, and it’s hard even if it is worth it.
For me Stage one, the Honeymoon stage did last a bit longer, though only in appearance if I really dare to introspect, the first few weeks in India were indeed exiting, everything was new, I was embarking on a journey, a brave new world, a new life to figure out. You are amazed at the world around you because it is different, you want to embrace it all, and in my case do as the local do to prove to myself and to my then BF now DH that I am Indian material. The dress the food, the habits, I changed it all, and as I said at first it was fun, but about 7-8 months in the new life I really started hitting the wall, but deluded myself into thinking it was just me not trying hard enough, so I went on sugar coating the cultural shock to get the initial feeling of glee and excitement that carried me through, and maybe because my move was a more permanent affair I felt I had to just suck it up and try harder, as mentioned in my identity post, that wasn’t exactly a smart idea. But I was young, optimistic and DH and I were adjusting to life as a couple, we had challenges ahead of us, I had future in-laws to please. The point is while my excitement was indeed genuine the first few months in India, it became a big fake later on, and I clearly deluded myself into thinking there was only one way to adjust: embracing it all, no matter how absurd it is.
The Culture shock phase, that stage does indeed hit right after the Honeymoon phase, and that is the one I was in denial about. In my case that involved being so seriously fed up with dal/sabzi at every meal and craving a big fat juicy steak despite not being a fan of red meat in the first place, but reasoning that dal was nutritious and that I was living a better life, and yes not ashamed of saying that I had that period of kidding myself into despising continental food, and those spending more money to get it in India (and yes juicy steaks are available here). Or wanting to wear a pair of shorts with my kurta, but deciding it was too westernized and therefore not good, sticking to salwaar suits exclusively in an effort to blend in reasoning that it was better, more colourful, light weight more suited to the climate, and never mind that I sweat excessively in humid weather leading to ugly wet patches all over (including the back) transforming my long kurta into something that looks more like a wet mop.
The delusion however started wearing off in 2005 when I was working in a call center, as mentioned in my identity post, my colleagues were dressing as they please, I was dressing to please, and that hit me, slowly I admit, but still hit me. I think that is when I started cooking continental food again, and more importantly the stage I started questioning things, which is pretty much the end of the that phase and the beginning of the next one:

Adjusting, after excitement, shock, denial, you finally get to see into perspective, your own culture isn’t bad, it’s part of who you are, and India isn’t all pure greatness and superiority, dal at every meal SUCKS, and you don’t have to suck it up and pretend it is the way to go, roasted chicken isn’t silly bland and crappy. You come up with fusion dishes too, your wardrobe starts embracing who you have become with an equal mix of western and desi outfit, you now know that contrary to what you believed not all Indian women were wearing ethnic all the time, and you feel more comfortable in your own skin and less need of wanting to blend in, you are also more comfy with your surrounding, the culture and the language to just know what to expect and how to behave. That is the stage you separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak. That one came in 2006 after we got married, as said after realising that no matter how hard I tried my MIL was dead set on disliking me, and that therefore she might as well dislike the true me rather than the phoney desi wannabe I turned into. And yes both my culture and and desi culture are equally great and bad at the same time, the beauty of living multicultural is that you get to mix and match to suit you and your family needs, it’s like getting a box of green lego and a box of red lego, they are both great, in themselves, but when you blend them together you can create something wonderful you couldn’t do with just one box of green or one box of red. And to the purist who say you should not mix colour…well let them be, they don’t know what they are missing.
The last step is Mastery, according to the article it takes 5-7 years to reach it, and yes that is Exactly that amount of time it took me, mastery doesn’t mean you have to be totally fluent in one language, it actually means you are completely confortable in your new world, and move forward with it rather than feeling dragged along the way.
For me it actually started sinking in when I was pregnant, I was bringing a new life into this world, and I started getting really clear about what I wanted for my baby. I moved to India went through adjusting to a new place, living in with a boyfriend, getting married, realising you can’t please everybody, moved across the country numerous time, went through a miscarriage, a successful pregnancy, child birth, dealing with nasty neighbours, sweet warm welcoming people, dealing with a dog, regular couple issues, dog issues, and yes I earned my stripes, I have as much right to exist the way I am as anybody else on this planet.

One thing though that those expat articles don’t tell, you go through phases right, but there is one constant that remains: Loneliness. A thing discussed with my expat lady friends online, the one thing that is hard to kick. You get to know wonderful people along the way, don’t get me wrong, but there is something that gets to miss longer than it takes for you to reach mastery level of the expat stages, it is to form one true deep meaningful genuine friendship. And it gets even tougher to form when you are married to an IT consultant that has relocated as often if not more than my own DH has.
I still do think of all my high school friends back home, how we used to just go out on Saturdays for a shopping lunch, coffee expedition, or a movie we would go to together, or rent and watch at one’s home with snacks. Growing up together forms bonds that are though to replicate we new people the later you get to go in life. And yes most of my high school friends have kids that are around my daughter’s age, and I can’t help wondering what kind of things we would do together.
I have great friends in the online community, don’t get me wrong, they are for the most amazing friends, but they don’t get you out of the house, well unless you take your laptop outside with you, but you get the point. There are times I like many expats still feel trapped inside, with very few escapes. I had great friends in Bangalore, got to meet nice ladies in my old building, and things were falling into place again, only to get shattered once more by one more move across the country, new neighbourhood, new building, new faces, new playground and a lot to figure out again, and that never gets any easier with each moves.

If you want to expatriate yourself, be mindful of the fact that you will have moments of despair, that confusion and amazement lives side by side, and that there will be a lot of loneliness on the path.

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