I’ve often spoken about how being an expat can be a tough gig. There are many supportive venues in a host country to help navigate the new territory of expat life. But I’ve also discovered a new form of support.
The blogging community is one that is surprisingly more supportive and encouraging than I could have ever imagined. Despite not being techie savvy or ‘cool girl with it’ on social media, I feel like I have genuinely made ‘friends’ online (which makes me sound like some nerdy gamer, but I assure that is not me). I have learned, laughed and commiserated with expats across the world through social media and blogs. So recently on social media, the expat tag has been floating around and passed along to raise awareness about expat life. It aims to share the experiences of expats living in different countries and cultures through a series of questions about the expat lifestyle.
I was kindly nominated by two lovely online expat “friends” who I follow, like, comment, RT and perhaps more importantly, share a lot in common with. Thank you to The Xpats and Adventures of a Jersey girl for the nominations. I really appreciate not just the nomination but your stories and advice on expat life.
So here is my experience as an expat, summed by responses to the #expat tag.
Where were you born, where did you grow up and where do you currently live?
I was born in the UK and grew up in the suburbs of North London. I lived in North London until the age of 11 years, moving house in the North London area every 4 or so years. Then when I was 11 years old, my family moved to Canada. I’ll admit, I didn’t see it coming and didn’t really know what to expect. We had been on a family holiday to Toronto the year before and the next thing I knew we were moving. I didn’t like the idea, cried on the plane over whilst listening to Take That on my yellow Sony Walkman and that was that. I lived in Toronto through all of secondary school and then moved to Ottawa for university (Canada’s capital).
After uni I moved back to London with a teaching degree under my belt. I ended up living in London as an adult for 10 years. Half of that time was in North London around Camden. The other half was in South London. I was probably getting itchy feet 5 years into my time in London but I wasn’t sure which way to point my feet.
Eventually after meeting my husband, we moved to Qatar and now Singapore where we currently live…. but we’re on the move again!
What made you leave your home country?
Personally I wanted a change of scenery. I found that I wasn’t enjoying London as much as I did before. I stopped going to all the popular places because it was just too crowded and I got sick of it. Being 5ft 1, squeezing your way through a crowd and physically fighting to get to your final destination just gets tiresome.
Interestingly the reason my family left London 24 years ago is the same reason my husband wanted to move. He wanted to leave because he was sick of the commute and basically not being able to afford the life we wanted. And in fairness, that was something I felt strongly about too. We could afford the one bed flat in London but were outpriced to upgrade our living space in the same area. A lot of our friends who have succeeded in expanding their living space have had to join the realms of London commuters to do so. This wasn’t something we really wanted to do.
We both had dreams of living somewhere with a garden, where we could afford to have a family and actually see our unborn children before the end of the day. So we left for greener pastures… supposedly.
What type of reactions do you get when you meet new people and tell them where you are from?
So my parents are Sri Lankan but I’m born and bred British therefore speak with a British accent. Upon looking at me in the Middle East I just got a lot of stares and those that chose to speak to me would just bark “India? India? ” at me. I usually would just say no and walk away. They were usually the worker men and I just didn’t feel chatty after the stares.
Some taxi drivers who had better English would ask where I was from and when I said England, they would look puzzled but then say, I thought you were Indian and expand and say they were from India.
In Singapore, it usually goes:
Them: “Where are you from?”
Them: “oh because when I saw you I thought you were local but then you started speaking and you didn’t sound local so I thought huh?!”
Me: “Oh .. yeah… nope I’m from England”
Them: “Oh so why do you live in Singapore? Do you like it? How long have you been here? etc aka The Singapore interrogation.
When at the bank, I was branded with the race ‘Indian’ without being asked to self-identify. Funnily my husband (White British) was labelled ‘other’.
So basically, outside of Europe or the West, any answer other than ‘Indian’ doesn’t register… Maybe the question means something different out here.
What was the easiest/hardest part about adjusting to your country?
For both Qatar and Singapore, it was fairly easy to adjust to life there. The culture wasn’t a shock and our moves were fairly hassle free.
I do find it difficult that both countries we have lived in were what I called ‘import’ countries. That is, they rely heavily on imports, even for food. So there are no home grown produce. And this affects the quality of fresh produce. Being vegetarian, that was a bit difficult. From the unidentified vegetables that called themselves potatoes or melons to the availability on the shelves. You could find something in stock one week and not see it again for months. I miss fresh produce.
I also found the lack of freedom to be a bit… not difficult but just annoying. To expand, when I say freedom I mean that everything as an expat revolves around your workplace and what your employer makes available to you. Depending on your employer… it can be frustrating. The speed at which visas were processed, bank accounts, when and how you receive pay, time off, or even permission to leave the country were all contingent on my employer. This was more so in Qatar than in Singapore but there were still frustrations with the situation in Singapore too.
Are there any images, words or sounds that sum up the expat experience you’ve had so far?
Hmmm…. words… In the Middle East, the first Arabic word you will probably learn is ‘Inshallah’- meaning quite simple God Willing. While it can be used to genuinely mean god willing in a ‘I hope so’ or ‘fingers crossed’ kind of way, in the Middle East it felt like ‘inshallah’ meant ‘keep dreaming’ or ‘not gonna happen mate’ as it was often used when you really wanted something to happen and relied on someone else to provide eg: when can you come and connect my cable- tomorrow inshallah, will I get my pay soon – yes inshallah.
it’s the tropics. It’s 33 degrees and some with the humidex, it’s not all sit on a beach balmy here.
And one that sums up expat life in general for me! I hate moving!
Your favourite food or drink from your new country?
Well I’ve already mentioned in previous posts how much I miss mint lemonade and karak tea from the MIddle East.
But in Singapore, I am spoiled for choice with a-m-a-z-i-n-g food (and I’m not really what you’d call a foodie). So my favourite without a doubt is prata. It’s like a savoury pancake, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, served with a vegetable curry. It’s delicious and if it’s on the menu I have to have it or else I get FOMO.
What’s the one thing you said ‘yes’ to in your new city that you wouldn’t say ‘yes’ to back home?
In Qatar they don’t have a lot of taxis and so it is quite common to have a ‘driver’. A driver is basically an Indian fella who has a car and works as a private driver. The first time we went to supermarket in Doha, we ended up buying more than we thought. There was no way we could carry it home in the 40 degree heat even if it was 15 mins away. And so outside the supermarket were a bunch of fellas saying ‘taxi, taxi’. We picked the guy with a friendly smile and he walked us to his car. Only then did it dawn on us that we basically just got in the car with a stranger. The best bit was that we didn’t really know where we lived. With no addresses given in the Middle East, landmarks are used for directions. We then drove around for 15 mins trying to find our building (after being in the country for about 4 days and not really having a clue). I would never do that in London! Ever!
In Singapore… I was at Gardens by the Bay with my best friend when she was visiting, and we wanted to watch the light show from the Supertree Grove. Other people were laid on the ground looking up to the sky and so we did too. With Singapore being super clean I wasn’t too fussed about lying on the floor. And I’m the same way in the parks too. Again, you wouldn’t catch me dead or alive lying on the floor in London!
Are there any cultural norms/phrases in your new country that you cannot stand?
Hmmm well in the Middle East it was definitely the whole ‘inshallah’ thing. It was frustrating that things just took forever to happen and you really didn’t have a clue what was happening and when it was going to happen. You were completely helpless, out of control and treated like you were invisible.
There’s not much to complain about living in Singapore if I am honest. It’s a country that celebrates many cultures living harmoniously together. And while there are many rules (click here for more on that post), it really doesn’t affect your life in a limiting way. However one that does drive myself and many an expat batty is the service in Singapore. Don’t get me wrong, they are nice, they are polite and they speak English. But my goodness they love to keep you waiting. Everywhere. And there is nothing worse than waiting when you are hungry.
What do you enjoy doing most in your new country?
One of my favourite things to do in Singapore is chill by the pool. I know it is quite simple and I could theoretically do this anywhere but I love our pool and I love that it is the view I get from our balcony. It is just relaxing and I’m going to miss it a lot when we leave.
I wish I could say walking around in the outdoors because it is beautiful to live on jungle island. But it is so damn hot and sweaty all the time…
Not really related to things I do ‘in’ my new country but the travel opportunities I have experienced since moving to Singapore have been amazing. And these are places I can go just for the weekend! Not to mention the breeze of going through Changi Airport. Seriously, if all airports were as hassle free as Changi!
Do you think you’ll ever move home for good?
Ooh that’s a tough one. I’d love to move back to London but I think the time has passed for it work with my life. However, I do dream of moving back to the UK because it is home. Whether or not that is the right thing for us to do remains to be seen. It is probably why I am always sad about leaving London. I always want to stay but know it’s not the right move. But, as they always say, never say never. Because I never thought I’d move to Qatar, or Singapore. And I certainly never thought I’d move to where we are going next. So… who knows!
My nominations for the #expat tag.
Scribbles from overseas – It’s always nice reading about a place you once called home from someone experiencing it for the first time. I love reading Sarah’s stories from a Brit abroad’s perspective of life in Toronto.
Making here home – Rebecca is a seasoned expat having lived in Thailand and now Germany. I love reading her advice and her revelations about life as an expat, and mother to her third culture kids.
The roller coaster of expat life, tales from a roaming mum – I’ve come to know the author of this blog through her instagram tag name @expatmemes where I couldn’t stop ‘liking’ and laughing at the images collected to sum up life as an expat. For more of her wisdom and wit check out the blog.
Abu Dhabi adventures- Written by an Irish girl about life in Abu Dhabi, UAE and travel. Life in the Middle East is similar but it isn’t all the same. So do read on for a different perspective from this part of the Middle East.
I do hope you check them out as we expats do live and experience very different lives but with common threads.