I found out recently that like grief, there are expatriate stages. They are: honeymoon, culture shock, adjustment, and enthusiasm.
“Within a month or so of arrival, the honeymoon phase ends and expatriates quickly begin to comprehend the magnitude of the barriers they face to doing their jobs. They discover that methods used successfully over their entire careers are either worthless or even destructive in another cultural environment. The result is expatriates who are severely emotionally distressed and ineffective at their jobs.”
I don’t know what happened yesterday but I think my honeymoon with Quebec ended quite swiftly and even shockingly. Sure, it’s not a developing nation and it’s not even THAT far from my hometown of Chicago. But it’s a completely different country with a different language and a winter that lasts forever.
The Day the ‘Musique’ Stopped
I went to French class and we had our big field trip to the museum. I ate a cookie for breakfast and a chocolate bar for lunch. I came home and finished an article I was working on. I was content.
And then my husband called from balmy San Francisco where he traveled to for work (ok, maybe it’s not balmy but I’m quite certain there’s no snow). His flight was canceled. He’s been gone for almost a week, leaving me to watch endless hours of mostly French TV. An hour after we spoke, I started checking Facebook status updates and remembering that for a period of time in my life, I lived near family (Chicago: years 0-24). And for another period of time in my life, I lived near friends (Seattle: years 24-30).
Then I started crying because I couldn’t call anyone without using a stupid phone card and dialing five different numbers. And I can’t go outside because the weather sucks and ordering a hot chocolate makes me feel stupid.
Friday nights spent alone on the couch are no good for anyone.
It gets even worse.
“When expatriates arrive home from their hard days at the office, they are usually faced with family members who are even more traumatized than they are. And, each one is expecting to be saved by the person who was responsible for bringing them to the strange country.”
I called The Husband, sobbing and distraught, saying things like “why did we ever move here?” and “I hate this place.” He tried his best to comfort me from thousands of miles away.
I even considered calling a crisis hotline. I’m a bit dramatic.
After an extensive Google search, I realize that it’s completely normal. And it makes sense. At first, all I saw were the good things about my new home: the historic French architecture, the amazing Euro-Canadian culture, the snow-globe-like city lined with cobblestone streets.
What I didn’t realize is that I had to LIVE there. It’s not study abroad. You have to find a job, register your car, go to the dentist, and do all of those regular, pain-in-the-ass tasks. Only you have to do them with a language barrier.
The snow turned to slush and after two months of cleaning it off my car, I’m throwing in my scraper. I slipped on the cobblestones and avoid walking on them now. The blend of Euro-Canadian culture makes me feel like an outsider because I still don’t know the customs. And I barely notice the stone walls and iron balconies because I see them everyday.
I miss having a dishwasher, I miss happy hour and Target. I miss walking outside of my house, getting in the car and driving. I miss Seattle’s rainy winters, silvery skies, and rocky beaches.
I’m sure one day, when I’m back in the States, I will miss this place too. For all the tears, I do know that this experience has left me feeling more confident. The small successes like ordering a sandwich or asking someone for a pen in French will stay with me forever.
A few words of advice to new expats: when the honeymoon is over, call someone. And no one is as happy as they seem on Facebook.