As an expat, the business of settling back into ‘normal life’ back home – whether on a temporary or permanent basis – can be rather problematic. Naturally, the longer you’ve been away the harder this process will be, and personally, I’ve never been out of Britain for longer than seven months (a Christmas elsewhere is unthinkable).
Even so, I feel as though after 3-4 years’ experience living abroad, despite the periodic homecomings in between, I’ve learned a thing or two about this business of ‘re-adapting’ yourself to life as it was.
In my last post, I discussed (with myself) the difficulties in accepting change at home, and trying to keep a hold of things so as to prevent total alienation. Today I’m going to keep it cheerful, by relaying you all with some of the unexpected and quietly amusing oddities I’ve encountered back home since I moved to Spain in 2010. Perhaps a few of you can relate!
‘Pleases’, ‘thank-yous’ and ‘sorrys’ are, needless to say, rather commonplace utterances here in jolly old England. The other day at Victoria Station somebody rolled their suitcase over my toes as he crossed my path. I said ‘perdona’. Two things obviously wrong here: the first, that I shouldn’t have been the one apologising – but we Brits simply can’t help ourselves, even when we clearly aren’t the ones to blame. Secondly, I said it in Spanish, and this tends to happen a fair bit in the ensuing weeks after a lengthy period away. I couldn’t count how many times I’ve accidentally let slip a ‘gracias’ in a newsagent or a ‘por favor’ in a bar or restaurant.
Depending on how good your second language is, in my case Spanish, these language gaffes can also extend further into your English language repertoire. For instance, there have been occasions on which I’ve caught myself saying things like ‘It didn’t give me notice that…’ or ‘it costs me (to do something)’, arising from the grammatically dissimilar Spanish translations ‘no me di cuenta de que…’ and ‘me cuesta (hacer algo), meaning ‘I didn’t realise’ and ‘I find it difficult to…’ respectively. I have to say it’s a bit embarrassing when it happens; friends often cock an eyebrow and I suddenly realise my error. But it’s actually quite funny, and a sign that you’re really great at your second language.
If your return home involves living or staying in a place where there are bound to be lots of foreigners who speak your second language, like London for example, you’ll quickly find that you rather helplessly begin to eavesdrop on these people’s conversations. On the tube, train, bus or just when out and about, it’s impossible not to listen in the moment you hear those familiar words being spoken – especially when they are in an unfamiliar context. I keep thinking I’ll catch out a Spanish person slagging me off for no particular reason, but it hasn’t happened yet. Nor will it, of course.
On the downside you sometimes have to put up with inane chatter in English that you don’t want to listen to and, unlike when in Spanish, this cannot be blocked out quite so easily.
Meal times are notoriously late in Spain, and if you’re an English teacher who works until 21.45 every weeknight then they tend to be even later. So when it comes to re-adjusting to regular, early evening (or late afternoon as it’s considered in Spain) meal times back home, you may find that you’re just not hungry enough to feast on your Mum’s signature shepherd’s pie, or the enormous portion of greasy fish ‘n’ chips that your Dad brought home as a special ‘welcome home son’ sort of gesture. Obviously you do eat it – you wouldn’t want to go upsetting dear old mum and dad now – but I’ve found this is harder to re-adjust to than the other way round.
Portion sizes are all back to front in Spain too. Breakfast, for most, tends to amount to nothing more than a slice of toast dripping with oil or mushed tomatoes, a piece of fruit, an orange juice, a coffee or nothing at all. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day; some people can spend up to two hours preparing it and businesses regularly close up for anywhere between 2-3 hours for lunch during the week. Dinner, in Granada at least, typically consists of either two or three tapas, an omelette, leftover lunch or just a quick something before bed – not our idea of teatime at all.
Three years in Spain hardens your threshold for alcohol intake and your staying out power. The routine for a standard night out is more or less the same as anywhere else: pre-drinking at home, then maybe a bar or two before continuing on to a club. The timetable for these stages is, however, drastically different. I find that pre-drinking tends not to get underway until around 11-12 o’ clock (at night – come on now) and clubs don’t fill up before 2-3am. Thus, most nights out – if you’re hardcore enough to go the distance – last all night. And I mean all night. In fact, going home before 6am is generally considered bad form.
So when it comes to going out back home, wherever that may be, there is inevitably some difficulty in trying to slot back into the old routine. However, providing that you didn’t go overboard on the earlier-than-usual pre-drinking, your friends will be mightily impressed with your newly developed partying stamina. Just remember one thing though – there’s no churros con chocolate waiting for you at the end of the night back home… (sad face)