Thursday, September 24, 2009

Move Blues

Moving overseas sucks. There, I said it. I know, I know, that is definitely not the impression you get from reading any one of the many blogs or articles that espouse the virtues of life lived abroad. The way we all talk you’d think it was nothing but rainbows and butterflies from sun-up to sundown over here. Moving overseas gives you enriching cultural discoveries, a chance at fulfilling self-discovery, and excitement and adventure at every turn! What a load of crap. Sometimes, it just plain sucks, with a large part of the suckiness coming from the frustration of trying to accomplish seemingly simple tasks in a culture/societal structure/system/language you’re unfamiliar with.

Take buying public transportation tickets in Belgium, for example. Unless you have a Belgian bank card, the only way to get tickets out of the machines or from the drivers is with coins. First of all, a system that only accepts Belgian cards in a city that is home to people from all EU and NATO countries is utterly ridiculous. But secondly, if you don’t know right away that you have to hoard your change like Uncle Scrooge just to get around this place, you will at some point find yourself stranded.

Like the woman on the bus the other morning who was trying to get to the airport. She only had a 50 euro bill. As she stood pleading with the bus driver in broken English, almost in tears, with no one helping her, all of my own frustrations from the past month rose to the surface. I approached the driver who proceeded to rant at me about her needing correct change. In an annoyed, but calm, tone I replied, “Je l’ai,” “I have it,” plopped down four euros in coins, gave the bus driver my best evil eye, gave the girl a look that I think said “It sucks, but we’ll live,” and turned around to the stares of an entire busload of groggy morning commuters. It was a small victory, and it felt good.

My own frustrations about moving to Belgium have largely centered on trying to get Internet access. One month in and I still don’t have it at home, despite giving constant effort to the pursuit. It’s a long story, but all you need to know is that trying to get Internet in Brussels has resulted in paying for a year when I only need six months, a modem lost in the mail, a land line that no longer works, and phone calls in vain (and in French, Dutch AND English) to the local company’s technical team.

Ok, so obviously I was a bit harsh at the beginning; moving overseas doesn’t actually suck. I love it, others love it, and I wouldn’t give up the experience for anything in the world, especially not Internet access. Moving overseas does give you enriching cultural discoveries, a chance at fulfilling self-discovery, and excitement and adventure at every turn, but sometimes the whole runaround that inevitably accompanies such a move just makes you want to crawl under the covers and never come back out. Sometimes, you just want things to be easy again. Moving overseas is not all rainbows and butterflies, and it doesn’t always have a four euro solution.

2 comments:

Cancemini4 said...

"If you don’t know right away that you have to hoard your change like Uncle Scrooge just to get around this place" HA! I laughed out loud at that- so true!

Out of habit I begged a clerk at a cafe counter in a Metro station in Paris to give me back 15 Euro in change so that I could buy 2 RER tickets from the machine, only to find out afterwards that I managed to stumble across what must have been the only ticket machine in Paris that accepts bills. Merde.

Zhu said...

I perfectly understand your frustration! I've had my share when I moved to Canada. They never totally go away. Once in a while, even when you feel you master the system, you will face a problem. Fortunately, it gets easier with time.