Ex-pat baggage

by Anna Blanch on April 11, 2012

When you leave a place you know well (say: where you grew up, or the town where you went to college or a place where significant parts of your life have been spent) and come back some years later I’ve realised that it can feel disorienting. It is kind of like the way psychologists like to describe déjà vu – the cognitive dissonance of feeling like you’ve experienced this before but you know that it’s not quite the same.

I’ve been feeling this quite a bit lately.

Every time I am surprised by the price of an item (like $15.00 AUD for a take-away entree from a Chinese restaurant or $3.00 for an iceberg lettuce or $2.50 for a 50g packet of chips) I have to remind myself that I haven’t lived in this country for five years. It’s not like I’ve been immune to price hikes and other cultural and societal changes; I haven’t exactly been living under a rock. It is just that certain items are priced differently in the US and the UK. Food is expensive here. It is still much cheaper to eat home than eat out, however (like the UK).

I visit places which have changed, sometimes only superficially. I then question whether my memory of a place is accurate or if something has actually been altered in the interim.

I am sometimes shocked by the way those I haven’t seen in years have aged, or grown, or changed. Until I realise that like me they have been living lives. While I have been studying, and traveling and battling summers in Texas and winters in Scotland, they were getting married and raising children and caring for loved ones or dealing with the challenges life throws at each of us.

I know too that my lack of presence has become a norm, so much so, that I almost feel invisible even in their presence. It is as if they have grown so used to me not being there that they don’t see me (or want to hear me) when I am. It is as if the idea of me is of more comfort and use to them than my presence and voice. It is a fact (and not one worth feeling sorry for yourself about) that when you are not there for long enough, people stop missing you.

Over Easter while I was spending time with family I haven’t seen in over a year, I also had a chance to do a cursory inspection of the *stuff* that’s been stored for the better part of the last half a decade. Admittedly, most of what is in these boxes are books – books I will be glad to have access to again. But, a sense of overwhelm struck me too. Moving between continents has taught me to hold onto ‘things’ lightly. I shipped 5 boxes from Australia to the US, 7 from the US to the UK and 11 from the UK to Australia. I did collect some *stuff* as I went along, but once again it was mainly books. So why the sense of overwhelm? I guess, it will be in knowing that I will have to make a final decision about some of this *stuff* – I will have to let go some of which I once thought worth keeping. I am slightly concerned that I will convince myself of my need for some thing or another even though I haven’t thought about it once since it was placed in a box.

Living simply is one of the reasons I’ve felt so able to take up opportunities that have seen me travel so much and why i’ve been so able to pack up and move countries in a rather uncomplicated way. Having to sort through and let go will test whether I still value living as simply as possible, while still making a home.

Each time I have returned home I have delved into some of the boxes invariably looking for this or that. There are other items that I have thought about often and wished that I’d never confined it to one of the many boxes which line the shipping container of sorts that have held them. Sometimes the book or thing I’ve been looking for has alluded me!

Over the next few weeks and months, whether I want to or not, I’ll have to face all that baggage.


Life: UnmaskedThought it feels like alot of my posts lately have been life unmasked! I warned you it might get a little Dear diary around here for a while, this post is actually officially my seventh Life Unmasked post for 2012. In addition to my sixth, living in between and the linguistic revelations between reverse culture shock, the fifth, Before the birds are awake, my fourth, Blessed are the encouragers, the third, Sleepless in the PhD wilderness, and second for this year, A naked theologian, you may find my last life:unmasked post for 2011, A journeywoman, and my first for 2012, I’m an inbetweener of interest. All my 2011 Life unmasked can be found on this handy list. You can thank Joy of Joy’s Journey for pushing me to get involved in this weekly foray into ‘writing naked.’

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5CZD6KMROZZDVKLQLWOCPBBHVY ailema4ever

    I can relate to this post. Been living in Lapland for 5 years and now my home country (Bandung) seems like a strange world to me. I’ve even managed to “forget” some of the cultural aspects of Indo (some of the things that I used to take as the norms have now started becoming annoying things that I don’t understand) and my taste buds have changed A LOT. Never thought that my taste buds would change this drastically, but there you go…

    • http://www.goannatree.com/ Goannatree

       I’m sorry it’s taken me a week to reply to your comment! the culture shock of returning home is quite surprising isn’t it?

      I hadn’t thought about my tastebuds, but now that you mention it…
      What foods do you like/not like that you didn’t before?

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5CZD6KMROZZDVKLQLWOCPBBHVY ailema4ever

        No worries about the reply he he…Yeah, the culture shock is really surprising. Now that I’ve lived in a very small village (pop. density 0.8/square km), going back to my hometown (pop. density >14,000/sq km) jarred my nerves so much. The noise…the traffic, too many people…it feels so chaotic.

        One type of food I used to love was some kind of pork meat layered in fat, cooked until very juicy, but ‘coz I rarely eat food layered in fat here in Finland, I find that it’s just so fatty nowadays.

        Other Indo/Chinese dishes cooked in Indo now taste “too spicy”. I still like the taste, but now I understand why a foreigner once said “I feel like there’s an explosion of spices in my mouth/throat” after eating very spicy fried rice. Last time I went home to Indo last year, after a week I felt that I missed simple Finnish salad and less spices. Maybe that’s because I rarely cook very spicy food at home these days, so even if I cook using Indo spice mixes, I use less than the recommended amount ‘coz otherwise my hubby will feel that it’s too strong.

        Funny thing was that three years ago (went back to Indo at that time, too) my taste buds were still the same, but last year it was shocking that they had changed so much.

  • Pingback: 2012 in review: best posts of the year — Goannatree()

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