EXPAT LIFE IN AMERICA: After six years here, I can say that life as an expat in NJ has been pretty good overall.
Once you are settled in, not feeling homesick any more, and your kids adapt to their schools, then life gets a lot easier. In fact, most of the time, it is quite enjoyable. But even living in paradise can have some scary moments.
Unfortunately for me, I missed Halloween, the official scariest time of the year here, as I was visiting family in Australia. So, think of this as my belated contribution to this important annual milestone.
In order of least to worst, here are the four scariest things for me as a happy expat in NJ:
The supermarket Baking Aisle the week before Thanksgiving
Yes, it’s that time of the year again. Thanksgiving is here.
Darn it, I have to go shopping to get some basic food items that can’t wait until next week. I will be trying to navigate the throngs of locals who are all also shopping, to prepare for the biggest American event of the year. Not only is the supermarket, super-crowded but the worst place to be is the Baking Aisle.
Pre-Thanksgiving week, the Baking Aisle becomes a clogged obstacle course. It’s just full of earnest shoppers and their trolleys, wandering around trying to find what they need. Many just gaze at the shelves looking for inspiration while others try to fast-track their journey by pushing their trolleys through at full speed. The poor staff aren’t even immune as they must constantly be in there, re-stocking items on shelves.
I ask myself “Why, oh why. did they have to stock the coffee and tea in the same aisle as baking goods?” It means I really have to go in there…..
Try to picture Harry Potter, in The Goblet of Fire movie, running through the maze with the walls crowding in at him, and obstacles jutting out as he tries to get through it all alive. That gives you an idea of the challenge at hand. Unlike Harry though, I don’t have a wand or a spell that could clear the aisle successfully. “Don’t you even think of pushing that trolley down there, girl. You gonna be stuck for the next hour before you can even move… like being in quicksand but no-one’s there to throw me a rope.”
Hmm. Note to self: perhaps try pressing the fire emergency button next time before going into the Baking section – that should clear the logjam out quick-smart!
2. Finding a house centipede by surprise
One of the things I have found very reassuring since moving to New Jersey, is that there are very few nasty bugs or snakes here. No funnelweb spiders, no brown snakes, no huge St Andrew’s Cross spiders. Yeah, it’s wonderful.
Except for this one atrocious creature called the house centipede.
Now you might be thinking ‘What’s the big deal about a little worm-like critter with segments?’ Well, that’s where you’d be dead wrong. It isn’t little and it isn’t worm like. It’s hard to describe but it is disgusting and it can bite.
They tend to like dark corners so when you move something or even turn on the light, you can be almost face-to-face with it. OK, it’s not a Huntsman and thankfully doesn’t go in your car so maybe it’s not that bad. It still scares the living crap out of me.
3. Swearing by mistake in front of locals
One of the worst faux pas in conservative company, is to swear in public. Both my husband and I are known unfortunately for our use of a profane word or two. While we are not perturbed by it, it can be vexing to others both in Australia and in the US. We try to temper out speech not to offend others.
However, under duress or when relaxed, your natural state often wins out in the end. Both of us have been caught out dropping the odd swear word in front of conservative people. Knowing ahead who these people are as a clueless expat in NJ is a hard enough task in itself. But then there’s the worry of what constitutes a really ‘bad’ word. It seems that ‘damn’ is a particularly offensive word for religious locals. This is a word I wouldn’t have ever guessed was offensive until we moved here. Amazingly, my son got detention one time for saying this word. ‘Bloody’, another natural vocab word we have always used, doesn’t seem to go down too well either at times.
Then there are words used here which I would likely class as light swear words but they don’t rate for many Americans. Even the teachers use them. Go figure.
The scary part is fearing you will offend people who you don’t know so well, particularly when you don’t even understand all the right and wrong cues. The safest route is to just not swear at all. Something we still don’t quite have a handle on.
4. Waking Up to Donald Trump as President
Most of this post has been written with a dose of ‘tongue-in-cheek’, as it is always more enjoyable to make light of the smaller issues in life, rather than to be too serious. It certainly helps to have a sense of humour as an expat. However, this is where I switch to non-humour.
Anyone who knows me, also knows I am one of those bleeding- heart, liberal types. No surprises then about how I would have hoped the US elections went. Unlike many expats, who had to sleep through the night before finding out the results, I was on a plane. I boarded in Sydney and had to wait until the LA stopover – a 13-hour trip- to find out what the results were. When I turned my phone on, I was absolutely dumbfounded. I thought the headlines must be wrong. How was it even possible Donald Trump could win?
This news made the next seven hours of travel rather surreal and unsettling, thinking about all the possibilities that could unfold. Rollbacks of basic human rights legislation, increased hate-mongering, inhumane treatment of immigrants and migrants such as Muslims, international chest-beating and isolationism, as well as the regression of women’s rights. All these thoughts crossed my mind plus so much more. It was a nauseating scenario to contemplate.
Knowing that a reality-TV star now has control of the world’s largest nuclear weapons store, is also rather troublesome. “You’re fired!” isn’t just a funny zinger from TV anymore. I can’t help but picture him at the controls with his finger poised over the big red button.
Life may not be quite as sweet or happy as an expat in NJ in the upcoming future. For the first time in a while, Australia is starting to appeal as an attractive, preferred home. Truly, it is hard to find much humour in the outlook for the next 4 years for this country but we will try.