“But that’s not reality, is it?”
Being an expat you get many responses after you answer the question, “What is it like to live there?”
And the one above, is pretty common, in it’s many different forms:
“Oh, but you’ll come back home and it will be back to normal…”
“It sounds like a dream”
“It can’t last forever.”
“That can’t possibly be good for your sense of what’s right in the world”
“Aren’t you worried your kids will become like ‘them’?”
Whoever ‘them’ are.
And so on.
The ‘but it’s not reality’ comment came from a teacher of a New Zealand school my daughter attended when we were in between ‘moves’ in the Middle East, i.e. moving from one country to another with a different project and contract for my husband, but with the complication of cats (long story for another time).
She had asked what it was like to live in the Middle East, and I could tell from the way she asked she couldn’t even begin to comprehend why anyone would want to. So I thought I would have a little fun with her and tell her the following story:
Summers tend to be long and hot, and if you don’t go back to your ‘country of origin’ to endure the delights of couch surfing with your immediate family, and in-laws, you need to find something to amuse the children, and get time for yourself to continue to work or play.
And like many countries, there are plenty of summer camps – not necessarily residential ones, but day-time activities in a school or in this case, a 5-star hotel in a 6-star country (not where I’m currently living BTW).
And this was definitely a 6-star summer camp…
The hotel boasted an indoor tennis court, indoor soccer pitch, gymnasium, beach front, Olympic pool, water slide park and so forth.
The kids didn’t have to walk between activities, or between locations, or in fact, anywhere, they were ferried around in golf carts by hotel staff.
Lunch wasn’t just sandwiches brought from home. Oh no. Lunch was a buffet in a private dining room, with exquisitely prepared ‘kiddie’ canapés, freshly squeezed fruit juices and tiny deserts prepared by a renowned pastry chef.
To say it was gold-plated is understating it.
I would’ve signed myself up for it, except for the age limit.
So on the final day,
“Wow, why?” I asked.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
(Usual reply from my then-8-going-on-14 -year-old.)
“OMG, what happened?” I asked, wondering if she’d had a falling-out with one of her friends there, or had been harassed by ‘The Boys’ (a group of younger boys who liked to do what young boys do and annoy older girls).
“Well we had a sandcastle-building competition.”
“OK”. This didn’t’ sound too bad, although I hate sand so could imagine I would find it a bit traumatic too.
“What was wrong with the sandcastle competition? Sounds like loads of fun”, putting on my motivational mummy voice.
“Well it was rubbish. We couldn’t build them properly.”
“We had nothing to build them with except…”
Wait for it…
I’m was barely able to control my laughter.
My daughter was not amused and began to tell me how bad champagne buckets are for compressing the sand, and creating shapes, etc. Her father, the engineer, coming out of her mouth.
This is our reality.
Actually, this is her reality, I didn’t even know what a champagne bucket was when I was 8 years old.
And as I told this story to the teacher, I could see her eyes get bigger and more incredulous, as if I had confirmed her belief I really was living in a fantasy world.
But, as I will say again, this is our reality.
Building sandcastles with champagne buckets.
Riding horses belonging to royalty.
Drinking cappuccinos with gold shavings.
Employing household staff who iron your underwear and colour code it in your drawers.
This is the reality of where I live. This is my reality.
It’s what I choose to do with the benefits of my reality that make me the person I am. And I hope make the right choices, for my daughter to see that our reality is just what we experience.
Better than some, not as good as others.
Certainly not wrong, just a fact of life.
And when we move from our adopted country, which will happen sometime in the future, we will embrace the reality of another country.
It’s just how it is.
Along with the benefits we also experiences the challenges of our reality. Challenges a teacher in New Zealand would never experience, or believe were even possible, champagne-bucket sandcastles aside. There is always the bad with the good.
Expat life is not all rainbows and unicorns.
But it can make for a great story.
Tell us your stories. What have you experienced that you find impossible to tell your friends back home, because you just know how it’s going to be received.
Love, Kat xxx
P.S. I didn’t grow up with what my daughter has now. I have worked very hard to get were we are. And what I’ve learned is definitely something I pass on to her. In the world where we live there’s a great risk of ‘entitlement syndrome’ (and that’s in any country by the way, and yes I did just make that syndrome up), and something I’ll be discussing in a future post. But for now, stories are what makes us humans the superior mammals. Tell us yours below.