(My) Expat Guide to walking the walk (beta v 1.2)
The eighth of 10 ( + 2) bits of advice on how to “Go West Young (Wo)Man” and keep going until you’re somewhere East-ish.
So you’re moving abroad, trying new things and getting to know a new culture? The proof is in the pudding and, if that’s Jello Brand I see in your cupboard, I think you might benefit from expanding your horizons a wee bit further.
8. Enjoy the adventure and embrace your surroundings. Try new stuff! Don’t try to completely recreate America-away-from-home.
There’s German stuff and American stuff and all the stuff in between. Everyone can argue whether one is better than the other, in the end I think preference is 98% convenience. You like the stuff you’re used to. Period.
Anyone who’s moved abroad can tell you their list of Stuff They Could Not Leave Without. The Stuff that – even if everything else goes wrong – as long as we have that it will all Be OK.
When a friend of mine was moving to South Korea to teach, I helped her pack her ginormous backpack. Several hours were invested in trying to get trim her gear to an allowable weight. The sticking points for her? Red Whips, TEA (what none in Korea? Really?), chunky peanut butter and a chipped coffee mug that weighed a ton. She had to sacrifice a LOT of underwear and socks to keep them, but when push came to shove she was NOT GOING TO FLY WITHOUT THE RED WHIPS.
As for me, I used to get a lot of questions from security about mysterious shadows in xrays that turned out to be bottles of rice vinegar, peanut butter, curly hair gel and deodorant (especially right after 9/11).
Everyone has their Must Have Stuff and this can be really good to have during the first few months. By all means, bring your security blankets, whatever they may be. This will help keep you sane when the other shit goes all pear-shaped. You’ll be able to draw comfort from the thought that you’re not breaking a sweat, the proper tea is in your favorite coffee mug and your hair looks fabulous.
The point of this is post about what happens when the deodorant runs out.
Some are lucky enough to find local sources of their favorite essentials. It’s probably more expensive with a massive carbon footprint but, hey, everyone has their vices and indulgences. But in most cases when you change location, availability (and cash flow) will demand that you change some other things too. The transition will be a hell of a lot easier if you go into it knowing full well that you’re going to have to learn to love another brand of roll-on and that the Coco Pebbles will need to be phased out.
Don’t fight it. Embrace the fact that you’re abroad and try things out with the goal of weaning yourself off dependency on products from home. Free yourself from evaluating whether a houseguest is “salsa-worthy” or not, or having to keep an eye on a dwindling supply of Pirate Bootey.
Along with language, I see this as one of the defining differences between really living in a country and being a long-term tourist. In this case I think you should drink the cool-aid. If you’re in Germany, go out and try some German stuff.
I’m not saying local = good, American = bad. I’m saying freaking out over the last bag of non-fat microwave popcorn is bad. Express shipping over a new supply of hair gel is not ideal either. Find ways to settle in and that includes finding your way around a grocery store that isn’t amazon.com (or Mom).
Having to go out and find your new ideal hair gel, also forces you to get to know your surroundings. It is entirely possible to survive on express international orders from Amazon.com and the Subway sandwhiches at the train station and in two years still have no clue that in Germany you can’t buy make-up at the drugstore and there’s no aspirin at the grocery store.
But is that really how you want to live if you made the effort to get over here?
Keeping your Must Have From Home List to a practical size also just makes good sense. Another practical tip is coming your way next, especially for those fresh off the plane.