Sunday, January 30, 2005

Comparisons

Expatriates in other places often ask me in what ways being here is different from being in England. This question is of significance, because I spent five out of six years in England in a market town the size of the Outpost capital, with even fewer things to do and with its main redeeming feature being that it is an hour's ride from London. Actually, this is a comparison that frequently comes up when I try to rationalise myself into adapting here or when I am trying to convince Jod to try to adapt here.

Yes, the English market town was dreary, yes there was just the one cinema and a single theatre, yes pubs and restaurants cannot sustain you for ever. Yes, the Royal Army bases made the town no better. Small places are more or less the same everywhere, it seems. So, yes, we were trying to get out of there, we were happy to and we never looked back -- but for the friends we have there. Yes, the English generalised anti-europeanism and the working classes' suspiciousness towards anything that is not 'working class' are irritating and disastrous in many respects.

But. There we had our bikes and we would walk. There were (scary and overpriced but, usually, functioning) trains to carry us further afield. Our views, ideas, frustrations and whining were seriously discussed, whether in agreement or not. Neighbours would engage into casual talk with us on cats and plants and trips and apples. Generally speaking, people were treating us as people, not (just) weird foreigners. We eventually won some of them to develop true and lasting friendships with. With the others we would exchange invitations to teas and parties and dinners. Here, three years on, we hang out with exactly two Outposters. Nobody (else) is ever available for coffee, parties or dinners, as they have to be with family whenever they have free time.

So much for the idiotic stereotypes about northern Europeans and their supposedly unwelcoming, suspicious and introverted disposition: once won, even if this takes long, northern Europeans are yours forever (I know Scandinavians, the Dutch and Germans are like that, too).

3 Comments:

Blogger dystropoppygus said...

Sounds like Colchester, but I guess all such English towns would be described along these same lines. I was lucky enough to spend two short months in the Outpost's capital, about eight years ago. As part of a team of 'experts' working on a special project with the Outpost's largest Bank, I believe the short duration of our stay proved a benefit. As you described, the Outposter's initial reaction feels warm: everyone appeared eager to meet with us, take us out to visit the best places in and around town, enjoy great food etc etc - and we had no time to discover this wouldn't happen again, for the line of people we had to interact with professionally was a long one. Most of them got a chance to play hosts for us just once. Which makes absolutely no sense, given that they knew in advance that we'd only be there for a couple of months. I wonder if any of them saw this as anything beyond 'good manners', like perhaps buying indemnity should anything requiring returning the 'favour' ever occured.

31/1/05 02:06  
Blogger sissoula said...

Writing from my own little outpost of sorts, and having experienced the expat frustrations of which you write, I’m wondering how long you’ve lived in this outpost of yours and how serious you are about making it your home. Personally, it took me three years to feel comfortable enough in the language to open my mouth in public, and it wasn’t until then that I was able to have friends on my own terms, and not just be present in group activities (and later in tears, never having felt so alone). I think it’s hard for everyone to assimilate into a new location, regardless of additional lingustic, cultural, or intellectual barriers. It’s been 6 years for me now, and although I have made some good friends, arranged my job situation so that it suits me almost ideally, and gained an independence I never imagined in this place, I know I’ll never feel 100% at home here. The other day, I went to buy some bread, and as soon as I asked for what I wanted, the girl says, “You’re not from here, are you?” Do I really have to be reminded? Maybe that was her way of including me in something (a conversation, an everydayness; at least there’s that) but for me, it struck that gong again in my head, “Baaam! Xeni!” And suddenly, that was me, a stranger again.

31/1/05 10:14  
Blogger Loxias said...

It is Colchester.

Wow.

Enough revelations for this month, though.

:-)

31/1/05 23:38  

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