Tag Archives: expat

There Are Only Four Valid Reasons for Moving Country Aged 25+

When you’re young, you get away with pretty much anything. You can wear your pants below the ankle, collapse, pissed as a fart, over a receptacle designed to hold doggie doo dahs, and you can move to any old country in the world without anyone batting an eyelid.

There are several popular ways of approaching the latter: you can sign up for an organised student binge drinking expedition (the infamous Erasmus programme), you can bum about on a beach while your hair slowly corrodes into dreadlocks (“gap year”), you can opt to cook, clean and be pelted with snot balls by vicious whelps for a pittance (au-pairing) or you can inflict permanent damage on your vocal chords explaining the present continuous to a classroom full of hormone-crazed teenagers who don’t give a rat’s arse (Teaching English as a Foreign Language).

But be warned: Once you officially enter into adult life, say, aged 25+, it’s an entirely different kettle of fish. From then on, to avoid social disgrace, you need ‘legitimate’ reasons to justify taking up sticks, and there are only four that count.

1. You’re fleeing an evil regime
If you’re at risk of having your head lopped off or your genitals torched, you’ve got to get yourself outta there, no question. And good luck to you.

2. You move for a job
But watch out! One of the following criteria must be met if you don’t want to go raising eyebrows:

  • You are unemployed and can’t, for the life of you, find a job in your country. In fact, you’re so overqualified that not even a charity shop will have you
  • You’ll be earning considerably more dosh abroad
  • The move presents a major career advancement. [So, instead of a non-descript admin bod at home, you’ll be Head of Office Supplies in your company’s Mongolian outpost (or rather, four posts, as these will be holding up your “office”), and in charge of a whole stationery cupboard all by yourself. In a country where staples count as an official currency!]

3. You move because of your husband’s job.
Blogspace is packed with expat wifies suffering it out with their exiled petrochemical engineer spouses.
After much initial wailing and chest beating, she has not only come round to the idea, but she’s positively excited about the whole thing. Needless to say, hubby’s company has organised the whole translocation affair, from packing up every last ceramic figurine she won’t be able to live without, to air conditioned accommodation in a hermetically sealed compound and free leisure club membership for the entire tribe.

Once the moving stress is over and the last doily has been lovingly laid out by the live-in maid, wifie can finally relax and get on with her own new job: sending hourly updates back to the civilised world on how the well the little darlings are settling into international school (aw, they are so adaptable at that age!), which  – just imagine!! – is attended by two bona fide natives.

Imagine the sheer thrill when the freshly baked expat couple is invited over for dinner by one of hubby’s local work colleagues! Finally, she gets a chance to experience, at first hand, what life is really like on Mars. She takes reams of snaps of every dish from four different angles, so that she can extoll to her friends back home on how much fun it was to scoop up every morsel with her bare hands. And it was all delicious, of course. This makes a delightful change from endless photo coverage of camel/yak/llama rides. And the day after, she’ll be posting the recipes, instead of pics of bruised body parts.

[Strangely enough, expat blogs written by guys whose other halves have landed a job in foreign climes are about as common a sight on the interwebs as giraffes strolling through Greenland. I mean, just imagine the scenario… resigned to twiddling his thumbs to the beat of economic dependency on the missus, and his career prospects reduced to a smoking stack of ruins for all eternity, his balls would drop off in an instant.]

4. Retirement
Aaah, finally, after four gruelling decades,  you stand liberated from the shackles of your 9-5 existence. There’s nothing stopping you now from making a new home in an idyllic land, where the sun appears in the sky for longer than twenty five consecutive minutes at three-week intervals. Yes, UK readers, I can hear your collective sigh…

Needless to say, you wont have to bother yourself learning the language of your destination country – everybody there speaks English – and you’ll just “pick up”  the necessary pleasantries to flatter the locals with. Also, your native country’s laws and social norms will continue to apply to you wherever you are.

If you believe any of the statements in the previous paragraph to be accurate, you may want to consider relocating to a nice care home near Chichester instead.

So, now you know all there is to know about legit rationales for deserting your country of birth. As for the number of whimsical ones (“och, because… I just fancy a change” or “to see what a proper curry really tastes like”), which are guaranteed to induce looks ranging from mild incredulity to outright horror on the faces of your born-here-and-shall-die-here compatriots, the sky is the limit. If you happen to have any good ones, I’d love to hear them. The more frivolous and idiosyncratic, the better.

Toledo Tales: The Cockroach Wars – Round I

If you’re planning to read this over breakfast, don’t.

So, one sunny morning in May, while getting dressed, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a dead beetle at the foot of the wardrobe. I went to my desk, got a piece of paper and scooped it up. I looked at it. I looked at it closely. It was quite big, almost two inches in length, with a pair of long, delicate feelers and tiny, vestigial wings. And then it dawned on me.

This was no beetle.

But at least it was dead.

A quick google confirmed my worst suspicions.

I’d never actually seen a cockroach before. In real life, I mean. Oh, what a sheltered life I’d once led in Europe’s sanitised northern parts. But this were its nether regions. This was Spain.

Maybe it was a lost lone ranger, blown by a gust of wind through the little bathroom window I kept open at all times for ventilation (a well-documented German compulsion), and it had then popped its clogs in the adjoining dressing room due to a lack of food. That was my theory. A.k.a. denial.

My bubble burst the very next morning, when, with my senses primed, I saw a live one flitting across the dressing room floor. We both stopped in our tracks, the beastly creature and I, we stared at each other for a few seconds, before it slid underneath the wardrobe in a huff.

We did have a problem. Dammit!

Cockroach Poison

I flew out the door like grease lightning to get bug killer in both spray and powder form, and I sprinkled the latter all along the skirting boards (they move like mice, you see).  Not a pretty sight. The flat looked like it had a bad case of dandruff, and I kept stepping in the damn stuff with my bare feet. I expect to come down with brain cancer any day now.

I read everything I could about cockroaches. It became a mini obsession. I learned all about the different kinds. Apparently, ‘mine’ were Blatta orientalis, or Oriental cockroaches, which, I learned to my great relief, were incapable of scaling up smooth surfaces. But then, I also read that they are regarded as the ‘dirtiest’ kind. Yeuch….

I interrogated my local friends about their roach slaying techniques. One of them, who has a bit of a phobia, told me she had found a dead one under her guest bed a couple of weeks ago. She sprayed her entire house in a frenzy, and ended up in casualty for the night with severe breathing difficulties.

Brimming with all this newfound expertise, I went on another mission to acquire traps laced with poison bait to add to my extermination arsenal. I was in luck: it was buy-four-get-two-free at my local supermarket. Clearly, ’tis was the season. I had calculated that I needed around ten to fifteen traps. I bought forty.

I was ready for war. Over the next three weeks, my morning routine included traipsing around the flat in disgust-laden anticipation, scanning the floor for black bodies and clutching a can of insecticide like a Jedi Knight his lightsaber. (Darth Vader was inspired by a cockroach, of that I am convinced). Some of the ones I encountered, you see, weren’t quite dead yet but far too sick to run, and a blast would finish them off.

Next, I would send an email entitled ‘The Daily Body Count: [Insert Number]’ to my landlady, and also to a friend of mine for moral support.

A battle is not a proper battle unless somebody bears witness to your outstanding bravery, right?!

The Bugtoria Cross must still be in the post.

All the way through this, I was a nervous wreck. I compulsively checked every item of clothing before putting it on, as well as every inch of my bed before I dared to get in. I was even afraid to get up in the middle of the night for a wee, in case I stepped on one of these ghastly beasties in the dark.

Nothing could be left out in the kitchen, no unwashed plates, no rubbish in the bin, no crumbs anywhere. And yet, I knew that it was impossible to starve them out – roaches will eat soap or glue from book bindings if they have to. I had read that they could survive for an entire week after their heads had been chopped off! And then they die of thirst, apparently, not hunger.

After three long and fretful weeks, there were no more bodies. Also, I had figured out their point of entry: the bathtub plughole, which I’ve been keeping hermetically sealed ever since when not in use.

All that remains of this unappetising episode, fingers crossed(!), is a brand new paranoia and a bladder with the same holding capacity as a bloke’s. I’m also keeping the traps in place, just in case, and there are several cans of insecticide in strategic positions dotted around the flat.

Project Trilingual: The Intercambios

In pursuit of fulfilling my primary directive, which is to become trilingual, I engage in “intercambios”. These entail meeting up with local people who want to practice either English or German and who, in exchange, don’t flinch when I torture them with my abysmal Spanish.

Fuelled by the economic crisis, and the fact that foreign language teaching in Spanish secondary schools is just as crap as it is in the UK, demand is huge. The facts that Toledo is small and foreigners scarce on the ground are a total boon for me.

Predictably, most Spaniards want to learn English, but there is also quite a bit of interest in German, because Germany is where the jobs are right now. There’s a tidal wave young and eager jobseekers rolling northwards, aided, in some miniscule part, by me. Good luck to them, I say!

How do I go about ensnaring my victims? Well, the majority I bait with an internet ad, some are driven into my outstretched tentacles by a local language school, and the rest are referred on by my carefully brainwashed stock of active disciples.

The brief email exchange, which preludes every first meeting, routinely confuses people. This is because my written Spanish is apparently so perfect, that my prospective clientele is fooled into thinking that I’m the one wanting to learn English or German from them. As soon as we meet face-to-face, though, they realise that they were grossly mistaken. On email, I can waste hours brooding over every word, deliberating whether the dreaded subjunctive is required or not, and I dither for absolutely aeons before picking the appropriate verb tense – all of which would be too much to bear for a conversation partner with a pulse.

To avoid being inundated by applicants, I’m becoming ever more picky. In my three-liner advertisement, I specify that I’m looking for people who speak their target language to at least upper intermediate level. This is because I enjoy conversation, and I like to switch from one language to the other without throttling the flow or purposely having to change the topic. Going from a stimulating disparagement of faith healers to naming pieces of cutlery just doesn’t do it for me.

Apart from language level, another thing I’ve specified in my “wanted” ad is a minimum age of 25, but I’m finding now that this is still far too low. It turns out that it is commonplace for Spanish people to be living with their parents well into their thirties. Youth unemployment stands at a staggering 50%, making it impossible for youngsters to fly the nest. At times, though, I cannot help but wonder whether the reluctance to strive for independence is not a major contributing factor to this sad statistic, rather than the consequence.

Anyway, the upshot is this: I find start-up conversations featuring sentences like “how many bedrooms are there in your parents’ house” less than thrilling. I’m currently toying with the idea of revising the minimum age upwards to 30+, making it implicit that some life experience in the adult realm wouldn’t go amiss. I really don’t mind if people are screwed up and hopeless in all sorts of other ways. We’d have even more in common then!