Little Black Book (Moving Abroad Pt. 9)

It’s back from hiatus! Bewildered expats out there can rejoice!

(My) Expat Guide to sticking it out (beta v 1.2)

The ninth of my series of 10 ( + 2) nuggets of wisdom gleaned from more than half a decade of trial and (sometimes very humiliating) error.

Guidebooks are heavy and a dead give-away. There is a better way for getting around in foreign surroundings. Are you writing this down?

9. Keep your eyes open and take notes.

Being in a foreign country is sensory overload. So much more information is going in than normal, you are not going to retain it all as well as you’d think. German words, for example, are long and street names can be hard to remember. Hopefully you’re going to learn the language, but you can’t do it all in one day.

Keep it easy. Cheat.

Make a cheat sheet and keep it with you. I personally prefer a Moleskin notebook, but – whatever medium you prefer (PDA, notecards, etc) – start writing things down that you need.

During our visit to China to prep for the move, we started keeping a notebook with phrases and addresses written by the hotel concierge in Chinese with the translation right next to it, creating our own sort of custom pocket translator.

It was more useful than any tour book.

We could quickly point and direct our cab driver or ask our waitress for chilled white wine (without ice…ok well we tried anyway). We flew home with plans to get a Chinese colleague to work on an extended stack of flash cards. We’d found our China hack.

Our move to China fell through but the book was a good idea that stuck. When my parents next came to visit I gave them one for phone numbers, instructions for riding the Sbahn and buying a ticket… notes on pretty much everything including a “If found wandering please return to” page in German (what?). Next time we’re going to add simple phrases so that they can order in German. Depending on what city you’re moving to, Moleskin might have a City notebook you can use for such a purpose.

And we’re still walking the walk , or talk, or whatever, by the way.  As evidenced by this photo taken from our last move to Nürnberg…

Duly Noted: Wine is good and antipasti is tasty.

The countdown is getting thin, we’re getting close to the end of this dragged out line of advice. Any thoughts on what I might still be missing? Expat lurkers, what are your thoughts on Surviving The Big Transition? Tell me.  I’m curious.

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4 responses to “Little Black Book (Moving Abroad Pt. 9)

  1. Back in Munich for a bit after 15 yrs in California, I realize the only way to halfway survive this winter is to make like the locals and to travel as much as you can. Rome in Jan, Paris this month, more Italy on the horizon etc, taking advantage of the vicinity to everything.
    Other winter expat tip: cooking a lot of soup with vegetables I’ve forgotten or never known…

    • You’re right about that. Munich is a great location for travel within Europe. I don’t take advantage as often as I should.

  2. Even as I write this cment imto my iPod touch (just got it a couple weeks ago) I am sure my Moleskine will continue to accompany me to new places.  In fact, I expect its effect on restaurant staff to grow as more and more people begin to carry PDAs or Smartphones or whatever.  When the service is slow, I sigh, take out the Moleskine and begin jotting notes down.  That usually gets the staff’s attention, no matter what I’m actually writing about.  

    • Nice one Cliff, but you’d better get a stack of Moleskins, service in Germany isn’t exactly swift is it? 😉

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