Foreigner’s dis-ease – the side effects of living abroad

Foreigner's dis-ease 15th of Jan 2014 c

Foreigner’s dis-ease – the side effects of living abroad

How do you know you’re living abroad? (Like me, in Grenoble, France)


You don’t understand the language spoken in your dreams

You wake up and think you’re in the wrong bed

You make yourself some tea, and it tastes funny

You turn on the computer to figure out a million things, hoping a friend is online

You walk aimlessly through the streets, taking photo’s of graffiti tags or other phenomena

When you look at people, they don’t look at you the way you would expect them to. They usually don’t look at you at all. Unless you dress for the occasion. They still don’t often look you in the eye. Some of them will tell you they like your tiger pants, though.

You order something to eat and get something entirely else

You get sick

You get frustrated

You give up

You fight

You don’t know if your doctor’s any good. He doesn’t seem to understand what’s causing your foreigner’s symptoms.

Everything that’s normal is from “before”. Time now also refers to location. (“I used to” = “in my country”)

You search for peace of mind and find it in places you hadn’t expected to find it. (Like collecting internet bookmarks about the city you moved to. Neatly stored in sub folders.)

Knitting becomes your passion. Counting stitches can be such a soothing activity.

You find beauty and inspiration in things that may not have appealed to you before. (Like football.)

The question “how are you” confuses you. You are well and not well at the same time and that makes more sense to you then the question you’re being asked.

You get lost. In the supermarket.

You cook local food. You eat dinner in the afternoon, like everybody else. (This one is for Dutch people).

You feel like you’re in a bubble. If you don’t speak the language, you’re sort of mute. You find other ways to express yourself and other people to talk to, in a language you do speak.

You meet people, then you meet other people, and then you think about them.

You try to help newcomers find their way, so they don’t have to struggle like you did when you arrived. Then you envy them. You realize, though, these days being kind makes you feel so good, it becomes a bare necessity to get you through the day.

You meet people who turn out to be some of the finest friends you’ve ever had.

There are lots of days to get through if you have a lot of stuff (paperwork) to go through. During these days, however you’re surprised that you’re able to experience many forms of joy, making a variety of small discoveries while going for a walk. (Like bursts in the pavement, or paint samples on the wall of a house.)

In your heart you know: actually, everybody is a foreigner. You are a foreigner, only because people ask you where you come from.

Everyone you meet who you have anything in common with, is family. Family still is family. Cousins become distant cousins.

You realize more than ever, everything depends on the way see things, your life depends on your attitude. Everything is relative

You see clearly what’s “wrong” with the local culture, and some people here clearly don’t. You find yourself wondering if these specific people all have mental issues of the same kind.

In the end, you decide they are right because you are outnumbered.

The word “surreal” makes you giggle, and then promptly shed a tear.


5 thoughts on “Foreigner’s dis-ease – the side effects of living abroad

  1. Joy Wotherspoon Hoppenot

    Very well put, Suzanna! This is exactly how it feels during the first few year of living in a new country. Love your poetic voice! I especially liked the last sentence

  2. Anjana

    You paint beautifully with your words. The first few months maybe difficult and yet you see the country in a way you never do afterwards with all the joys and angst of falling in love. After that it’s like a long marriage nagging about the same things, taking each other for granted.

  3. Ali Baker

    Moving abroad and being a creative being appear to have a union in you and me both! I’m intrigued how knitting has provided for you in the same way it did for me during my first year of living here. The repetitive nature of a project without conjugation, prepositions and considering gender issues yields a beautiful finished handmade item which is as satisfying as ordering and receiving what you actually wanted in a restaurant. Life is an adventure. X


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