If you’re living the serial expat life you’d better learn to be happy anywhere, which is easier said than done in some cases. Being in transition from one world to another is almost never easy. Your heart may still linger in one place, while your body is on the other side of the world.
This past Thursday my expat friends gathered as usual for a drink or two, some food and lots of talk and laughter. They met in a restaurant bar in Chisinau, Moldova, a small country in Eastern Europe, the place I called home for a year and a half.
I was not there with them. I wanted to be. But I am a continent and an ocean away because, well, the expat thing happened: I moved. I am now living in the US, where the supermarkets are fabulous, the roads are great, and the TV commercials make you want to put your head in the oven.
Federal and local election commercials will warn you that you’ll be doomed if you choose this politician over the other. Pharmaceutical commercials tell you this miracle medicine will cure you unless the side effects render you blind, paralyzed or give you a stroke. I tell you, it’s nerve racking just to watch a little television in this country. Here’s a parody of one of these commercials in case you are curious.
My welcome present on arrival in the US was a cold virus from hell, but I’m mostly over that now. So how happy am I?
Okay, I love my little house in the woods. Every window has a view of trees and birds and squirrels. Very restorative for the troubled soul. But it takes a 20-minute drive to get to any kind of commercial life. I can’t walk to restaurants or shops. No sidewalk cafes in my neighborhood. Now that I think of it though, there is a Gentleman’s Club about a 45 minutes’ walk down the road. I don’t think I can go there, at least not as a customer, and my stripping days are over.
I now live more than an hour’s drive away from family and old friends. But I do love the birds and the deer and the squirrels in the woods behind the house. You can’t have it all, can you?
In spite of the horror stories about the disastrous American diet, the supermarkets in my general area – some the size of small banana republics — are a foodie’s dream, stocking organic produce and dairy, seafood fresh from the fishing boats, wine and cheese from all over the world. Of course 95 percent of the stores’ contents I could do without: mile-long aisles with soft drinks, junk food, and fake factory food in boxes and cans. Reading the ingredient labels is a jaw-dropping exercise.
Just a little candy.
What do I miss in my new life? Most importantly, my friends in Moldova — our Thursday evening drinks, our book club, our impromptu gatherings for coffee or wine on a sunny afternoon, our wanderings through town, Chisinau.
I miss not understanding commercials, not understanding all the chit chat around me in public places. Living in a foreign land where you don’t speak the language, most of what you hear around you is white noise. Which is not the case for me in my native Holland or here in the USA. I hear and understand every miserable little word. Just yesterday I was in a store and overheard two beer-bellied guys discussing their trials with losing weight. It was not pretty. In the dressing rooms in clothing stores I am now privy to women lamenting how gross their butts look and discussing everything from toe nail fungus to their problems with Slow Intestinal Transit. You need an antibiotic just to listen to some of the things you hear.
I miss the fabulous Moldovan kefir that I learned to love. It comes in cartons there, just like milk. It’s available here in my corner of the US only at astronomical cost and only in flavored “gourmet” varieties, not plain the way I like it. (Americans don’t like plain anything; everything needs to be flavored or enhanced one way or another. Or deep-fried.)
So I ordered kefir grains online to make my own. What was I thinking?
Problem is these rubbery clumps of bacteria and yeast need to be fed every 24 hours with fresh milk and they multiply like, well, rabbits. Within days you’re producing enough kefir to go into business and supply China. Feeding kefir grains is like having a pet in the house: You can’t stick it in a closet and forget about it for a few days. So I’m not sure how this kefir addiction of mine is going to work out for me here.
What else? I miss my Moldovan cleaning lady. Yes, I can be shallow with the best of them. I’m so not the queen of spit and polish, and it was a real joy to find my house sparkling after she’d spent a long morning scrubbing and wiping while I toiled away at my keyboard. All that and she ironed my mate’s business shirts, too.
But we can’t have it all, can we? Then again, hope springs eternal and I’m still foolishly in search of the Perfect Life. Where will I be next year? The future will tell, and wherever it is, I’ll learn to be happy. Because I have my prince, and I’ll make friends again and there will probably be wine.
I know this is quite a shallow ramble, but then I’m rather scatterbrained and discombobulated these days since all my deep thoughts and profound wisdom have been stolen by the nasty virus. So I’ll have mercy on you: I’ll stop here, and go feed the kefir.
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Are you able to be happy anywhere? What does it take for you to feel at home in a place?