I have two distinct groups of readers; those who enjoy watching and hearing about my expat disasters from a safe distance, and those who are listening carefully, trying to avoid making the same ones themselves. Some are happy to stay exactly where they are and enjoy the fun, and some of you have a thirst, a career or a spouse leading you to life as a global nomad.
You all fall into one of two categories: those who hold the information, and those who desperately need it. I mentally think of you as The Knowers, and the Growers.
The Knowers (aka Locals & Expert Expats) are those of you who have lived in a place for long enough that you know where everything lives, know how to get the information and help you need, and understand the unspoken rules that make every community unique. You know which teachers inspire children, how much to spend on birthday gifts and which children have nut allergies. You know where to go to get your legs waxed, where to get your car serviced, and where to get the best deals on everything from food to children’s shoes to carpets.
And then there are the Growers (aka The Recently Relocated, the Inexperienced, Inept or Just Plain Overwhelmed).We can be easily spotted by our bewildered expression, the vast number of forms were are incessantly clutching, and by the GPS unit permanently fixed to the dashboard of our hire car. We arrive either half an hour early or ten minutes late, depending on how many times we had to stop to check your address. Our children are always under or overdressed and have Tshirts with unfamiliar writing and logos. If you happen to stop for a chat, we will either be lost for words, a little misty-eyed at your kindness or will talk your ears off for the next 45 minutes. And if you happen to suggest meeting up for coffee, our faces will light up with joy as we shout “Yes Please – Now??!!”
I spent most of my life as a Knower, rooted in the same community for the first 30 years, leaving only for college and returning faithfully each holiday. Living in the town was as easy as breathing – I knew where everything important could be found, and when a gap in my knowledge appeared, family and lifelong friends quickly filled the breach. It was a fabulous upbringing – secure, stable and even now, very little changes. It had roots.
At 30, it all changed, and I became a Grower. I had to nurture a new life, a new network and a new identity. I lost my career, my sense of self and my instruction book, and I made many expensive and painful mistakes. So many, in fact, that I have filled a website full of them. It was only thanks to the intervention of some very kind Knowers that I didn’t run screaming back home.
Which is why, following on from the last post, I’m putting together the Defining Moves version of two tins cans and a piece of string, to connect you all in the most basic of ways. No-one should have to make this many mistakes, or hit the low points that so many do, and we can at least try to do something about it. S, linked at the bottom of the page are two lists of all the questions we desperately want to ask those of you in the know, but are too shy / afraid / overwhelmed to ask.
Whether you are a Knower, a Grower or anything in between, download it, print it, add to it and share it with schools, friends and newcomers alike. Comment if you think I have forgotten something, but whatever you do, please fill in whatever you can. It doesn’t have to be complete – one simple recommendation is enough to tell us that you have noticed us, and you do care. We need you.
We who are about to arrive, salute you.
Photo courtesy of the US National Archives.