If you’ve spent some time living abroad, you know firsthand how amusing, exhilarating, exhausting, life-changing and eye-opening life can be when you leave your home country behind. You realize a lot about yourself, those around you and those back home in the process. Sometimes these truths are a tad embarrassing. That’s what I’m focusing on today…
Here’s my list of 5 expat truths that I’m (not really) embarrassed to tell you!
Expat life: What I’m embarrassed to tell you
1. Sometimes to spare myself the embarrassment, I just pretend I know what you’re saying.
I like to rag on myself a lot for my mistakes in French but if I’m being completely honest I’m decent at French. Some might even think I’m fluent. I’ll tell you this — I’ve come a long way. And my biggest accomplishment is when people ask me where I’m from because it’s not a dead giveaway I’m a native English speaker.
But sometimes, people have regional accents or use difficult words or I go momentarily deaf or just space out and miss a word or two, or half the conversation. I’ll just nod and say oui or the ever-useful “Oui, c’est vrai que…” that seems to work really well in these situations because it’s a phrase that people start and never finish and it’s totally fine.
It means “it’s true that…” but comes in handy when you want to appear that you’re following along but have no clue. This usually backfires a week later when the person references something in the convo where I was lost and I go, “You never told me that!” and they say, “Yes I did!” Ooops.
I usually smile and nod when I’m lost and know I’ll never see you again. Otherwise, if I do know you, I have no problem embarrassing myself and telling you I have no clue what you’re talking about.
2. I used to wait for a trip back to the US to get my hair cut (and see the dentist).
OK, now I see Jean-Michel regularly but my first year here didn’t involve a single haircut. Haircuts can be scary! Add in the fact that you’re in another country and don’t know exactly how to say what you want and well, you have yourself a recipe for disaster!
Luckily I got over my fear when my hair was getting way too long and after a few bad haircuts, I found a really talented stylist. If you need a haircut in France, read my little guide. I also now see a dentist in France but the cleaning lasts 10 min tops. Not sure why. I think my dentist back home does a more thorough job. But it’s also 10 times the price.
3. I keep my phone’s default language on English. And temperatures in Fahrenheit.
While I speak French and know Celsius (more or less), I keep my phone in English and the weather screen in Fahrenheit. Why? It’s familiar and sometimes when home feels very far away, familiar is good. Even if it’s something as simple as seeing your settings menu in English and that it’s 34 degrees F in NYC. And those lucky ducks are getting snow!
It’s not that I don’t know French or Celsius — I obviously do — but it’s a comfort thing. When so much feels out of my comfort zone, it just feels better to have my phone set to English and Fahrenheit. It almost makes me feel closer to home, in a way.
4. I get excited to pay my customs fees on packages.
OK, maybe excited isn’t the best word but the fact is, when DHL sends me a text telling me there’s a duty to pay upon delivery, it means HOLY SH*T I’m getting a package. And we all know how fun packages are to receive.
I have no qualms about paying exorbitant amounts of money for must-haves from “home.” Canned pumpkin, I’m talking to you. But that’s not all. My go-to is My American Market, a Toulouse-based online store that has typical American items. I go to them for my Pam spray, canned pumpkin and Old Bay Seasoning.
5. I use my “foreigner” status to my advantage (within reason, of course).
Do I have a question to ask you that might be a bit of a no-brainer for a French person? (Like what are those different cheeses? What’s that medicine do? Where exactly are your cows raised and what do they eat?) No problem. I’ll ask you anyway and if you seem put off or taken aback, I’ll apologize and say I’m sorry, clearly I’m not French.
No dogs allowed in your store? Ooops, I’m not French but now I know. Sorry about that! Oh, I have to PAY to use the bathroom? Never seen THAT before! Hmmm, I’m fresh out of coins. And usually the attendant will let me pee for free. Are you a random person harassing me in the park? Sorry, don’t speak French!