I feel like I’m in geographic purgatory – not planning to stay, not quite able to leave, enjoying it for the moment. That strange expat culture based around where you’re not rather than where you are. The British club, 189 Suriwong Road Bangkok; American Women’s Club, 171-173 Soi Phromsri, Sukhumvit 49/11 Bangkok; Drehscheibe, Embassy of United Germany, Bangkok, German speaking women meet to play tennis and go on excursions as well as lending a hand in orphanages.
And so it goes; move thousands of miles from home and you will find, most likely, members of your home country banding together pretending they never left if only just the 2nd Sunday of each month. Move thousands of miles from home, and after the honeymoon wears off, after you’ve gone through the United States Department of State stages of culture shock, from honeymoon to initial culture shock to initial adjustment to secondary culture shock and so forth, that someday you too will open your front door to find the Wrong Country outside. On those days you’ll close your door and go back inside to your carefully curated living space, one that will always be more western than your neighbor’s even if you’ve tried to go native, and you will spend your day making apple fritters with grey market USAID flour. You will join other expats on the tenis court and you will be oblivious to the poverty of your home country as you lend a hand at local orphanages on the other side of the planet.
Being an expat feels like existence outside of reality some days. You suddenly have a nuanced understanding of shades of grey as they related to the acquisition of goods and services. You meet people who work in “logistics” and despite multiple drinking sessions you still have no idea what industry they’re in. Perhaps most interestingly, you befriend anyone and everyone who speaks your language.
Expat communities are by their nature transient. When you make friends at “home” you plan to know them for a while, you have an entire city of people to choose from and so you carefully select people you want to spend large portions of your life with over time. Making friends as an expat is different. As long as the person isn’t downright insane, a weapons dealer, or (due to my job restrictions at the time) in the intelligence community friendship is fair game. There were 50-ish English speakers in my province, holding out for someone with shared interest wasn’t an option, so you make up shared interest – go Springboks!
Anyway, I’m having this strange temporary permanence feeling again even though I’m very firmly in America. In some ways it feels odd, but in other ways it’s helpful. It is easier to meet people, I’m more open to being an interloper in other people’s idea of fun, and it reminds me of where I’m coming from.