Expat Life: I’ve Had Enough

by Miss Footloose

Dear reader:  This is the story of a day of epic expat life frustration, and if you’re living abroad no doubt you will identify. If not, you can’t be my friend, so there. I wrote this tale of misery some time ago while living abroad in Moldova, which is actually a rather nice, easy country to live in, but you know how it goes: Sometimes, no matter where you are, stuff piles up. Fate tests you and your Higher Self deserts you. So get yourself a glass of wine and suffer with me.

Expat Life Frustration

Sadly, this is not my suitcase.

Epic expat life frustration

I’m done. I’m suffering from ELF (Expat Life Frustrations) and I’ve had it with my expat life. I’m ready to call my prince at his office and tell him I’m leaving Moldova. I can’t take this anymore, I’m getting a plane ticket out of here. I don’t care what Leo Babauta says in his post How to Be Happy Anytime. I read it earlier this morning and, true, I was duly impressed, encouraged and fortified by his wisdom.

That was before I started cutting up the chicken

It’s Friday and tomorrow we’re having a dinner party. It’s going to be 93 F (34 C) this afternoon and 97 F (36 C) tomorrow. The living-room-dining-room-kitchen area is not air-conditioned. Our landlord, who now resides in cool Vancouver, Canada, assured us that air-conditioning on the ground floor was not necessary. He was wrong.

My kitchen looks like a slaughterhouse

I started getting ready to make a Moroccan chicken tagine early this morning to avoid cooking in sauna conditions later in the day. So here I am trying to cut four leg quarters into pieces. Only my knife is as dull as a rubber spatula and all the others are serrated affairs. (The Italian designer guest washroom sports a bidet and urinal to keep the toilet from being lonely, but the kitchen is not equipped with a single sharp knife or a sharpener.) I’m sawing and shredding and cursing, while a fly on steroids is dive bombing me in a manic frenzy.

Fly attack

Leo said in his post, and I quote, “There’s nothing I’m ever doing that isn’t the most incredible thing on Earth.” Well, he ought to try cutting up chicken with a blunt knife.

If you deem me spoiled, impatient and ungrateful, you would be right

But allow me to tell you this in my defense:

The day before yesterday I got ready to make some appetizers that wouldn’t mind sitting in the fridge for a couple of days. Then the water stopped flowing.

For five hours I had no water

Did I lose my temper? Of course not! Being a seasoned expat having lived under waterless conditions in other foreign countries (for days sometimes), I shelved my plans and read a book. It was great. I love reading.

Yesterday I started anew, made the appetizers and then got ready to craft my dessert.

But then the electricity went off

For two and a half hours I had no electricity which made grinding almonds and whipping egg whites an impossibility because I’m not doing it by hand. Being a seasoned expat, I shelved my plans and read a book. It was great. I love reading.

When the power came back on I ground some almonds in my new coffee grinder, only the crappy thing was not up to the job. I’d bought the cheap variety and I should have known better. So I chopped most of them by hand, and chopped and chopped because they had to be very fine for the chocolate tort-ish dessert I was making. Being a seasoned expat, I applied my patience and decided to consider it upper-body exercise. Really, I know how to deal.

The end of Zen

Now, Friday morning, I’ve thoroughly hacked and butchered the leg quarters and my good humor has completely disintegrated because this dinner party is getting to be a bloody struggle. And I’m not finished butchering.

This is fun? This is happiness?

This is the most incredible thing on Earth? How Zen can I be? I yank open the fridge and retrieve the chicken breast that also has to be cut up.

Food shopping: The joy of expat life. Is this humongous thing chicken? Duck?

It’s a huge sucker that I just bought yesterday and it doesn’t really look like a package with chicken breast the way I buy it in my native Holland or the US. I was in a hurry. I eye it suspiciously and see the word gâinâ on the label. Gâinâ? Chicken is piu in Romanian.

Oh my god, this is not chicken

Then what? Duck? It must be a duck breast, skinless, naked and pale. Google Translate, you ask? The wifi is not working.

This is so not what I need right now

I give up. I’ve had enough. I am so done with this. My store of expat life patience is exhausted. It’s not only the chicken, the water, the electricity, the tiny fridge, the heat, the dull knife, the lack of kitchen drawers, the dead rat in the garden this morning, and the four eggs that cracked open when I boiled them and made a mess, also this morning. No.

For weeks now I’ve struggled with my Internet connection, computer problems, printer problems, Nook reader problems. My tolerance is depleted, my sense of humor shot. I’m calling my man and tell him to cancel the dinner and drive me to the airport.

I jam the mystery breast in the minuscule freezer and shove the hacked-up chicken parts in the tiny fridge. Gathering purse and keys I leave the house and schlepp my frustrated self to the nearest grocery store to find some normal sized chicken breasts. I cannot avoid the squashed mulberries on the pavement and my shoes are getting filthy. Great.

Omens of things to come

It is sunny but not too hot yet this morning, and I think of what I read earlier about How to Be Happy Anytime. Okay, I need to be in the moment now. This moment. This moment is nice, actually. Walking feels good. The sun is good for my vitamin D dose today. Breathing in, breathing out.

In the store I find raspberries, which will go well with my chocolaty dessert. A good sign. I like good signs. I put the raspberries in my cart. Turning away I search for cilantro, but have no luck there. I turn back to my cart only to find someone has stolen it and my raspberries are perched on top of some cans of tomatoes.

Moldova Raspberries

Raspberries by the pound. If this doesn’t cheer you up, there is no hope


Breathing in, breathing out

I get another cart and go in search of chicken. Only to discover that both piu and gâinâ are on varying packages of chicken parts. So my duck breast at home is not duck breast. I feel like an idiot. Surely I should know the difference by looking. What kind of a foodie am I? And besides, I should have recognized the word gâinâ because it appears on every box of eggs I’ve bought here. It means hen. Hen eggs. Hen breast.

Clearly, this is not one of my brighter mornings.

But hey, I can now take that huge naked hen breast out of the tiny freezer and have room again for that bottle of vodka. Another good sign. A little icy shot might temporarily ease the agony of ELF (Expat Life Frustrations).

I briefly consider treating myself to one of the yummy looking pastries. I scan the case, noticing there are small cakes decorated with happy faces. Another sign! An omen! But seeing them is enough; I don’t need to buy one.

How to be happy, sometimes

I skip home and make myself some iced coffee. I’m sure you’ll agree that I can use a good dose of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, so I break off half a bar of dark chocolate with hazelnuts in it. Before butchering the duck hen breast I’ll have a break and read a chapter in Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools, written by Victoria Twead. It’s a fun book about the adventures of two Brits buying a dilapidated village house in Spain and settling into village life. I admire these two enormously, taking all their problems in stride, never whining and whinging, like me, Miss Whine and Whinge. I should be ashamed of myself. I settle in my chair and read, enjoying Victoria’s sense of humor, her way with words, and her upbeat tone.

So, thanks to coffee, chocolate, Victoria Twead and Leo Babauta’s wisdom, my mood returns to a more healthy state.

Let’s try being Zen again

I go back to the kitchen and by the sweat of my brow I chop up the humongous hen breast, which is not just the breast but the entire fowl’s midsection, ribs, back and all. (No wonder it looked so big). Again my dull knife causes carnage. I will spare you a photo of the abattoir-ish look of my kitchen. Suffice it to say the monster fly, still there, is ecstatic. My efforts at killing it are not successful, but rest assured I kept the meat to be used covered.

And finally I start the happy job of actually cooking the chicken. With garlic and onions and cinnamon and ginger and saffron and paprika and a bit of cayenne and wedges of lemon and the kitchen fills up with heavenly scents.

Chicken Tagine

Aroma therapy! Really, you should be here!

Tomorrow I will add dried apricots and almonds and apologize to our guests for the funny chicken pieces. You know, just in case they’re thinking the meat might have come from . . . well, one of those other creatures.

While the chicken simmers away, I sanitize and sterilize the kitchen while promising myself to go hunting for a good meat knife tomorrow. Ah, those expat life frustrations — they come, they go. Then my phone rings. My man, wanting to know how my day is going.

“Oh, fine,” I say cheerily, wiping sweat out of my eyes. (Tell me this is not true love.)

“Is it hot enough for you?”

“Yes,” I say truthfully, but without whine in my voice. The thermometer outside on the patio registers 97 F (36 C) in the shade.

“I bought a fan,” he says.


And then it’s Saturday

The friends arrive, bearing flowers and chocolates and wine. It’s hot, but the fan helps, and it cools off enough to eat out on our little patio. The food is enjoyed and we all have a good expat time. Right there, in the present moment, in Moldova. How Zen is that?

* * *

Share your whinings and whinges with me, please! Just so I don’t feel so ungrateful and guilty. I live in France now, and still suffer from un-Zen moments at times. I need to know I am not the only one.

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Ms Footloose – wondering if you will remember me – Karen – and my husband Phil. We knew you and Gary when we also lived in Palestine… I wondered if I could find you guys and there is your face – exactly as I remember it which is very annoying since that was 20 years ago!! We are coming to France in October – don’t know if we can arrange to meet up but really just wants to say hi again after so many years.

I’m an American living in Mexico and I can totally relate to this post. Life is mostly really awesome in Mexico and I love it, but every once in awhile, there is a day that just makes me cry. I cried in the middle of the mall once. As embarrassed as I was, I know I’m not the first person to cry there nor will I be the last. Thankfully, one thing I don’t have to worry about are dull knives. However, I’ve bought spoiled meat and sour milk more than once!

Mary Whitsell

So funny, and with a satisfying happy ending!

Polyn Bungalay-Helwend

I have loved reading this. We moved to Valencia,Spain last November and I have many a non-Zen moment and have wanted to just stabbed my hubby to death with one of your blunt knives, when he just doesn’t get it. Don’t I have a beautiful home? Aren’t I living the Dream. Well it’s only been less than a year and I am sure that things will be brighter.
Again thanks for sharing this story

You have/had the best attitude ever, Miss Footloose! An expat once gave me a word — actually, three words — that have helped me nail that overwhelming unfamiliar tipping point to which life in foreign lands sometimes brings us: similar to “bad hair days,” she called them “bad expat days.” The words have been especially useful as a mantra when food shopping in countries in which I am illiterate and have to guess (especially at canned goods) what I’m going to eat (instead of DECIDING what I’m going to eat).

Balanced Melting Pot

I have thus far avoided entertaining anyone here in Caracas for those same exact reasons. I’m too much of a planner when it comes to parties and I can’t imagine the back and forth (and patience) that would be needed to pull it off. Your post proved one thing though, things always have a way of working themselves out. Looks delish!

Well it must be normal for electricity to turn off and water to stop running. Did they not tell you about this before? Sounds like dinner turned out aftet all.

Oh, the expat whines… from immigration queues, to missed flights, down to finding an apartment, buying a car, and just losing it. Make for great stories like this one though.
Good luck!

Janet | expatsisterhood.com

I like your streak of consciousness from frustration to acceptance. If I remember correctly, you moved in April. Seems like the culture shock of month 4 is the worst.

As I’m in Spain, I keep thinking about your post mentioning the 3 bidets – I still can’t get use to seeing bidets.

For nine years, we lived in an unairconditioned house in Japan. The heat during the summer was horrendous, and the kitchen window was so tiny that we could never get a through breeze. To make it worse, the place always filled up with mosquitos; I used to dance around when I cooked to try and knock them off my legs, sweat pouring off me, half fainting from the heat. I NEVER felt Zen when I was cooking during the summer.

Your food looks fabulous!

Very Zen and I did enjoy your account!

Sarah Has Moxie

Oh I loved this story so much as I continue to struggle with Brussels and its 5-week-every-store-is-closed for holidays. Thank you for reminding me to take a deep breath, put that bottle of vodka in the freezer and pick up a good book. 🙂

I nodded sympathetically and chuckled all the way through this post. Thanks for the laugh and thanks for mentioning ‘Chickens, Mules & Two Old Fools’. And you say we never whine or whinge? I’m glad you didn’t witness Joe dropping his mobile phone down a gully outside our village recently. Or the time he broke his tooth on the Baby Jesus hidden in a slice of cake…
Keep up the blog posts, love them!
Victoria 🙂

Oh yes – I recognize moments like these. Except I would have ended up chopping my finger, blood would be spurting, tears flying and maybe then I would find the zen (or not) of the moment.

**smiling and nodding**

p.s. it sure was fun reading this though 🙂

You could live in Guyana! I swear, while reading, I thought all this was happening to me, it seems all so familiar.

Share my whinges? Phew. I’d need a whole blog 🙂

Who says you have to be happy WHILE doing hard tasks? It’s AFTER you’re done, that’s when you’re supposed to be happy, enjoying the fruits of your labour. [I speak from experience, living in a similar place].

…cutting up chicken with a blunt knife in a hot kitchen with a fly dashing all over the place is a miserable task! Add a couple of mosquitoes grrrrrrrrr…

now lemme continue reading the rest of this post

You should experience the heat and humidity of Mumbai and you will immediately feel a hell lot better!!!
Have a fabulous weekend:)

If you could bottle that fabulous attitude and sell it to stressed-out expats around the globe, you’d make a billion. Just saying. I’d have ditched the whole enterprise at the first sign of trouble and served vodka and sandwiches instead!

Recipe, recipe … you can’t leave us hanging and not give us the recipe!!!

Here’s my whine: I’m not there to eat that Moroccan tagine! I LOVE THAT STUFF. Oh, I wish I could. You sound like an amazing cook and the picture – yum!

Sounds like something I am going to have to get used to!!

By the way – is the gâinâ similar to Portuguese galinha? Being based on the same language it might be. Portuguese galinha is old chicken, whereas frango is normal chicken. I suppose I could ask my other half – he’s Romania so he should know!

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