Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Domestic Enemies of the Ex-Pat Mom

This awesome post was submitted to us by our friend Jay. She is a (somewhat voluntary) stay-at-home-mother to two (mostly) darling little boys, almost 4 years old and 15 months old. Once a professional with an interesting paying job, she now spends her days payless, begging interesting small people to pee and poop and scanning the skies for potentially laundry-soaking rain clouds in an English speaking country that is not the US.

We proudly present the:

Domestic Enemies of the Ex-Pat Mom
or, International Enemies of the Ex-Pat Mum

I am an American who met and married a foreign national while he was working in America. We made the move back to my Husband’s Home Country [HHC] last year with our two kids, now a pre-schooler and a toddler. Let me say from the outset that most of the people here in my adopted country are wonderful and really cool. Sometimes they’re even delighted to meet an American. Thus the following list, with perhaps the exception of evil Laundry, involves a tiny but very annoying fraction of what I deal with on a regular basis.

#1 The Accent: Like most Americans abroad, the accent gives me away every time. When I’m alone and silent I can sometimes blend in, but I have to talk to/at the kids when I have them around which is, like, always, so I might as well have an American flag tattooed on my forehead. This can cause “The Look” whereby everything about me, my kids, my possible purchases, etc. are summarily judged and found to be American and, thus, inappropriate and wasteful. My cart is full because I have a family of 4; my 3-year-old is halfway down the next aisle because I’m still trying to find the peanut butter; and I have no backlog of staples such as flour and coffee because I just moved here, Judgy McJudgersen. I’m also not in your local store to spread Truth, Justice, and the American Way (well, not today, anyway), I just want to get my groceries and get out with my kids and my sanity intact.

#2 Perceptions of American weight: If one more person brings up the “American obesity epidemic” while pointedly looking at my *skinny* children, I’m totally gonna square up, international incident-style.

#3 Cultural differences: These can range from tiny to thorny, peculiar to profound. Oh, the weirdness that is discovering baffling behavior like going barefoot on the playground is being *encouraged* at preschool. Things like paper towels have only recently become cheaper so most hostesses still only buy paper napkins on special occasions and then only the really nice, expensive kind, thus ensuring that they will get twitchy when seeing my 3-year-old with one.

#4 Laundry: I’ve stepped back into the mid-20th century. I don’t have a dryer. Anyone here who does won’t admit to using it, probably because local TV commercials equate using a dryer to being a baby-seal-hating environmental terrorist. So, it’s a clothesline for me -- a clothesline on the edge of a rock cliff that leads to the backyard. Now, it is pretty standard here for the laundry room be outside only access, but, through a weird quirk of taste, our landlord decided that a spa bathtub was more important than a laundry room, so we don’t have one at all.

Yep, our washing machine is ON THE BACK DECK. It is, at least, convenient to the cliffy clothes line. So, to do laundry I have to a) wait for naptime b) strap the toddler in the stroller on the back deck and/or c) wait until my husband comes home. No laundry room also means no safe, away-from-curious-toddler place to put a clothes rack, so if it rains for more than a day or two my family runs out of clean, or at least dry, clothes. And one random rain shower can ruin an entire day’s work. At least I can take comfort in the image of Randy freezing his backside off trying to steal my socks…

#5 Shopping: As a kid myself, they were a mere inconvenience; now dealing with them as an adult I’ve become convinced blue laws were written by men who didn’t have to shop and certainly didn’t have to shop with children. Where I live, most stores on most days close at 6 pm. Let’s let that sink in. No more popping out to Target alone after the kids go to bed, because the stores are closed before my husband even gets home from work. On top of this, most significant stores occur in large shopping centers with large, multi-level parking structures.

On top of THAT, there is a curious and arbitrary division of what stores sell which items. I cannot seem buy deodorant, toilet paper, and [reasonably-priced] diapers in the same store. I have to go to three different stores, with two kids in tow. Inevitably we’re out long enough that everyone needs to be feed and/or be watered and/or pee and/or play. At least the shopping centers have parents’ rooms. Using the teensy outdoor restrooms at “downtown” stores with a toddler and a preschooler involves contortions, swearing, indecent exposure, and a bucket of hand sanitizer.

Also, stores seem to have not mastered the art of ordering enough of basics such as mittens or pajamas or oatmeal. So I have to go to multiple stores on multiple days with multiple kids jabbering at them with my American accent to for-the-love-of-pete-just-stay-with-me-while-I-figure-out-if-they-have-deordorant-here-don’t-put-that-in-your-mouth-where-did-you-go-no-we’re-not-going-to-play-now-get-back-here-put-that-down...

#6 Visas: In America, my husband needs a visa. Here in HHC, I need a visa. The kids are dual citizens. There are mountains of paperwork, copious fees, and ridiculously long phone calls with voice-recognition software that does not, in fact, recognize a single word that comes out of my American mouth but loves to register random choices at the sound of my children squabbling. The crux of all this, is, however, that it doesn’t matter which side of the stay-at-home/working mother debate I’m on, I’m not allowed by HHC government to work yet. I can’t even volunteer because I can’t afford childcare because I don’t work.

#7 International moving [or, how to replace all your stuff while still paying for your old stuff]:
Take a look around your children’s bedrooms and imagine paring down their possessions, including clothes, to 2 suitcases each. How do you explain to your two-year-old that they will have to live without most of their beloved toys, stuffed animals, and books for many months? By the time our stuff actually arrives, I doubt my older son will remember half of it and will be too old for the rest.

Of course, he’s already been traumatized by having to leave it behind in the first place. Meanwhile all the possible hand-me-downs I carefully laundered and boxed for my younger son are now inaccessible, so I’ve had to buy the toddler all new clothes anyway. And while we’re waiting for our stuff we still need “luxuries” like dishes, highchairs, tables, towels… I have no idea where I’m going to put our old stuff once we finally get it!

#8 Regional DVD coding:
Between us we have a TV, 1 new DVD player, 3 computers, and lots of kid DVDs. The old, comforting DVDs from America that my 3-year-old loves won’t work on our TV or the grandparents’ TV because local DVD players won’t play American region DVDs. DVDs from our local library won’t play on our computers without intimidating warnings that we have X number of times to change our minds before a region will be selected FOREVER. Trying to watch DVDs becomes a crapshoot of which screen to use at which time in whose house, and someone is bound to end up in tears [usually me.]

All in all, it’s an adventure that I probably wouldn’t trade, and my husband is happy to have his children immersed in his culture for a change. Now if I could just get the local Target to sell T-boxes…

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2011

42 comments:

  1. I feel her pain as I am in a similar situation. She didn't mention trying to cook...nevermind the freaking ingrediants that are COMPLETELY different my stove does not have tempatures on it. Nope it has gas marks. So I get to guess how hot gas mark 7 is. Yes I bought an oven thermometer but it is only accurate in that single spot. Joy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. As Americans living in Spain, I sympathize completely!!! Banking and bills are the MOST FUN!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yay, Finally =) My domestic enemies are featured =)
    Except, we didn't get most things shipped to Turkey, just brought whatever we could fit in 8 suitcases.
    Also, apparently in Turkish culture "sharing" is NOT caring, it's being irresponsible of your property. Try explaining THAT to a 3year old.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I was hoping for this one to come up! LOVE IT. We're living in a country that just looking at me and my blond haired blue/brown eyed children gives us away.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Just a word of advice to the author: remortgage your house to pay for the petrol(gas) and go to an out-of-town Tesco. Very, very nearly as good as a Target, and probably has enough T-boxes to build your own castle...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great post.......scotland austrailia tasmania i'd love to know where you are.... In a curious sort of way, not a creepy way that you might misconstrue over the Internet.... Anyway DVDs who knew!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Living overseas for 8 years now and it can be challenging but I love the experience my children are getting. I had to laugh about the dryer because we have been there. While in Italy we never used it but here in Germany, I do. I can't stand hanging my clothes out. They become stiff and uncomfortable to wear. Where are you located?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I understand your pain. I've been an ex-pat twice now - once as a newly wed and once with 2 young children. I'm now back in my homeland and wishing we'd never moved back!! Who'd have thought I'd be a stranger in the place I grew up in. There is hope though, multi-regional DVD players do exist. Do a search for a company called Richer Sounds - we bought one from them for only £25 and it works beautifully. Stay away from the other high street places!!! And definitely go to Tesco, or Asda - this is all assuming that I've got your country of residence correct :-)

    ReplyDelete
  9. As an FYI, there are many DVD players have a way to remove the region encoding - you just have to Google it and find which models do. My hubby is from the UK and brought a vast DVD collection with him, so we didn't want it to be for naught because of the coding.

    ReplyDelete
  10. soulds like Australia ...you can get multiregion DVD players or get someone to "chip" the player to play DVDs from around the world . Try find something local listed as a "modshop" or similar . If it is Australia , then yep..only liquor stores are allowed to sell alcohol . Liquor stores are however allowed to be open later at night than other stores. Ask at the childcare centers again as you should be eligible for "child care benefits" (CCB..depends on family income) or special child care benefits (SCCB=free childcare if you write a letter explaining hardship , upset household through international move, chance of a breakdown..this is authorized by the childcare center ) if you are doing study or volunteer work . Also look around for playgroups in your area ,you may find one just for expats and some friends to share the local version of the T-box with (we call it a goonbag or cask)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Same boat, different country... Totally agree with everything! We found some DVD players for the car are zone free and come with a TV hookup!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Definitely sounds like Jamaica.. UGH I feel your pain

    ReplyDelete
  13. I'd add:

    #9 Metric Conversion--God only knows how many cookies were incinerated and how many soups ruined due to failure to recalculate properly (or at all).

    #10 Pediatricians--"What do you mean you didn't know that the baby's immunization appointment was not the same as the well-child check? What is wrong with you woman?"

    #11 HHC Moms of the kids in your son's class-- (said behind your back) "Clearly you don't care about your child. You didn't hand make his book bag and put lion-shaped mini-sausages and rabbit-shaped apple slices in his lunch. And, (gasp!) is that a microwavable/prepackaged food item in his lunch? How could you?!?"(Okay, so maybe this only happens in Japan, but...)

    and

    #12 The Mother-in-law -- I wrote a bit about this one here: http://www.momintwocultures.com/2011/06/my-secret-life-as-japanese-housewife.html

    Good news on the DVD region issue--apparently if the DVD player is old/cheap enough, the region coder will eventually break making it "region free." I'm still basking in all the money we saved from not buying a region-free player.

    ReplyDelete
  14. It's gotta be Australia. I lived over there for over a year; the shops all close at 6, you can't find "normal" items in a collective type store, and they think clothes dryers are from the devil himself. My one saving grace after I'd opened my mouth and been accused of being American was that I'm Canadian, so they didn't hate me. However, I then had to explain why I wasn't an avid skier and why I hadn't been to Whistler. Sigh.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Finally something my bf can relate to...He is an US citizen living in Buenos Aires, Argentina and he complains about that ALL the time. We went to the embassy to make our 4 month old twins US citizens...were should I start...the mountain of paper work, the fact that they took your bottles away for "security reasons" (try to explain that to 2 crying 4 months old babies while EVERYONE is staring at you)...
    oh, the joys of living in another country...he will be glad to read this

    ReplyDelete
  16. I'm guessing Australia. When I was on vacation at the beach in SE asia (from another asian country where I lived as an american expat, experiencing much of what you describe - mostly from Aussies and Germans), I observed that Australians are not really in any position to be making remarks about American obesity... Some of my best friends are Aussies, but... just sayin'...

    ReplyDelete
  17. Sounds like Germany to me!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thanks for this entry! Just inspired me to write another in my "Japanese Housewife" series. "Top 10 Signs You'll Never be a Japanese Housewife."
    http://www.momintwocultures.com/2011/09/top-10-signs-youll-never-really-be.html

    ReplyDelete
  19. I'm also an expat. We moved to London 6 months ago today. It's been an experience to say the least. Add in a hormonal pre-teen daughter, one son with emotional "issues", and another son with a physical disability and we make quite the statement when out and about. I've had many of the same experience as the author. Including stores closing at ridiculously early times. But what I wouldn't give to even have a Target.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Bless your heart!

    This post made me laugh (with you, I promise) but also nearly made me break out in hives!!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Voice recognition software is the bane of my life! It never understands my accent. I do love being able to use my dryer here in the US and that the shops are open longer here than at home :)

    ReplyDelete
  22. Your laundry story makes me twitch.... I think I'll go give my laundry-room-located washer AND dryer a hug right now.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Tip for Jay-- when you can't find deoderant at the store, try making your own! It really works and I love it so much better than store-bought.

    http://shelookslikeamom.blogspot.com/2011/05/living-smarter-homemade-deodorant-q.html

    ReplyDelete
  24. It's not Germany - or where is there a Target? The rest is like Germany, though.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I have a big enough screen on my computer that I can watch DVDs on it. I bought a cheap DVD player and made it my Region 2 DVD player. Any American DVDs go in the internal drive; any Region 2s go in the external. Works for me.

    When I still had a TV, I bought a cheapo DVD player and did what a previous person said. I googled "hack" and the model number, and got an arcane set of steps that turned it into a multi-region player.

    I've lived 20 years overseas. It's lovely but it ain't "home".

    ReplyDelete
  26. I'm a Brit living in the States now, and it drives me crazy that our stupid HOA won't let us have a clothesline. Virginia is ridiculously hot compared to England, but we have to turn on the air conditioning and then go downstairs to put our wet clothes in an artificially heated dryer and the sheer waste of the whole thing is enough to make me cry. Clotheslines, people! What in the world is wrong with clothes hanging out to dry? In the summer here, they'd dry in an hour! (And don't get me started on the amount of rubbish people put out here - I'd estimate that it's literally six times as much as in England, where you're allowed one trash bin full every two weeks...)

    This is also the fourth country I've lived in, and the only country where the local grocery store deli is incapable of weighing anything in metric. Everything else seems to be packaged or labelled in both metric and American ounces, but not the deli meat (half of which has been imported from Europe, anyway!) Drives me potty.

    I'd also give up Target in a heartbeat to be able to wander with the kids down to the little thatched village pub on a lazy Sunday afternoon and watch them playing in the meadow out back with all the other village children while the parents sit and sip their beers... Sigh.

    ReplyDelete
  27. It is so true about the boxes!

    I recently returned to the US after ten years abroad, two kids, two contential moves, one husband & a foreign national dog.

    We said good bye to our boxes on June 1st, and were just told this week that they still can't give us an estimated arrival date. Apparently our container-o-crap is currently being subjected to the highest level of sercurity AND we have to pay customs for the privilege of allowing them a good nose 'round our stuff.

    So even though we packed up exactly 2.6 million boxes of children's toys, books & clothes, my kids spend their days playing with old amazon boxes, measuring spoons & string.

    All while wearing the same two shirts & some pants hastily borrowed from a generous neighbor.

    On the plus side- we have one of few clotheslines found stateside and I love it!

    It helps we are in one of the hottest states with massive electrical bills.....




    So even th

    ReplyDelete
  28. Love this! Very curious to know what country you're in... sounds similar to mine :) I've been here 4 years now and it feels very much like home, but we're talking about moving back to the states where houses are actually affordable... but I'm really torn about moving back and worry that I'll miss every single thing about my overseas land if I do go 'home'... Sigh...

    ReplyDelete
  29. I'm an expat living across the pond. Been here couple of years now. Region free DVD players are fairly inexpensive. And there are washer/dryer combos - though some are better than others. Still can't get used to the tiny roads, too much rain, and stores closing too early! And the fact finding Jalapeño peppers are like next to impossible, lol!

    ReplyDelete
  30. I pretty much love you. I live in a place where there are an unusually high number of hippie-type people and I'm constantly catching flack for not extended breastfeeding or cloth diapering.

    It's rough to keep the USDA plate in mid when you JUST WANT THE SCREAMING TO STOP PLEASE while enclosed in a tiny car with a little girl who seems hell bent on breaking windows with her tiny vocal cords.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I can totally relate as we lived abroad when my children were babies (they were born abroad) and I could have written the same about many of your experiences.

    We are back in the US now and while life is much more convenient, I kind of miss some of the hassles...

    ReplyDelete
  32. Target?! I'd love to have a Target. I hate the random changes in item name so even though we all speak English I can't ask where anything is...and who hides the bags of ice? And how about trash being picked up once every two weeks and limited to one can...oh yeah I had two in diapers with this policy too. Then there's the nice kerchunk sound of turning on the power converter box that then buzzes to remind you it's on. There's dh's job paying him in dollars so we get a nice currency exchange fee All The Time. Window screens..I miss 'em.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Thanks to everyone for the great and helpful comments. I will be looking into some of the fabulous suggestions. It’s fun reading the guesses about HHC. After learning a hilarious lesson from what Mommy Shorts describes as the “fancypants party dress saga” that started with her guest post to Rants from Mommyland [http://www.rantsfrommommyland.com/2010/11/gift-of-awkwardness-sgw.html ], I decided not to reveal where I actually am. The funny thing is, some of my laundry problems are actually house-specific, i.e., the clothesline on a cliff-edge: my in-laws have a nice, relatively flat grassy yard in which the children play happily while my mother-in-law hangs clothes. And, yes, people in HHC are incredulous when I tell them that hanging clothes is against local ordinances in some parts of the US. :’) Long live Rants from Mommyland, and love to all the expat and other mommies out there.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Lol, window screens! I miss them too! I cannot stand insects, and having to live with windows open, I never had so many spiders in the house before. Now I'm a bit used to them I guess, since I don't scream like a banshee every time I see them. Ok, except when it's a big one!

    ReplyDelete
  35. It's funny. I felt very similar when I first moved to the US (I am originally from Europe) when marrying my American husband. Americans do things differently and after almost 10 years in the US I still miss certain things from back home. So I guess it goes both ways. :)

    Stores being open late - definitely a plus. But I miss the brands. Plus most foods taste so much better over there.
    People will forever have trouble pronouncing my name.
    Ah, visas... I start twitching just thinking about going through the US immigration process and the amount of money spent on it. But I have my citizenship now. :)
    I do love my dryer and do not miss the tiny euro washing machines.
    I am getting ready to be a mom and I do think schools are better over there. Plus free college! Oh well.
    I can also sympathize with the DVD regional coding...

    Anyway, great post!

    ReplyDelete
  36. I read all of the comments and everything I was going to say has been said but one-- the lack of Cheerios (unless you find them someplace for 5x the usual price). Kid 1 lived on them. Having trouble replacing them for kid 2...

    ReplyDelete
  37. Washing machines on the back porch and stores closing at 6pm?! You must be in Australia!! I've been an expat here for 7 years and a mommy too. I love it but I never mind when people presume I'm Canadian! Makes things way easier!! I heart my countries!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  38. Definitely sounds like Australia to me! I was only there for eight months (flew over at 30 weeks pregnant, gave birth there, came back to the US when my son was six months old) and it just about killed me. The homesickness was horrible. Being isolated as a new mother sucked, especially when I had a very difficult birth and was very sickly and depressed for a long while afterward. Throw in that we were also a blended family...

    ReplyDelete
  39. Been there too many times and I must say that I agree 100%. Germany has so many differences like these, so I just learner to read and speak German, and test my tiny oven over and over again...lol

    ReplyDelete
  40. Oh. My. Gawd. So true. Lived overseas for 3 years with a small child and my daughter, who was born there. I loved the experience, generally, but all of these things sound sooooo familiar. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  41. Even after 20 years overseas, I still get ALL of this. Just last night at the local super market, I was asked where iwas from and how long i was here for!

    I wouldn't trade it though.

    ReplyDelete

ShareThis

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Popular Posts