A bold question. I’m not trying to imply that by becoming an expat you’ve turned into a bank robber, a fraudster, or even a money launderer. Maybe you have; plenty of people live abroad and move over to the dark side. I’m asking more about the everyday habits that you wouldn’t have dreamt of doing when you first changed countries. I’m asking about what used to shock and annoy you, but now you’re doing it as it’s become second nature. Here are a few examples of how living abroad has corrupted my mind.
I was unaware that people did this, until I came to Sevilla. I’ve always tried to be honest and upfront. If I dislike something, I say so. If I’m angry, people know.If something does my head in, then my face shows that I’m annoyed. I won’t bottle it up inside, smile and pretend everything is okay, and then complain to someone else.
Within my first year in Sevilla a few colleagues and students told me about this skill locals have of being false.
“They will invite you to a barbeque at their house on the beach, and ask for your number, but they will never call you, and you’ll never even get a sniff of a sausage.”
In my first month I had an intercambio. I met up with a local lad to practise speaking in Spanish, and he in English. At the end of the hour he invited me out with his mates at the weekend, and told me he had a house by the beach. Maybe he just didn’t like me, but I never got a call.
Neighbours are experts at this too. I’ve had numerous problems with next-door neighbours in all the flats I’ve lived in Sevilla. So I’ve never had a reason to be particularly false. So when we arrived at our latest place, I immediately caught on to the falseness.
“Come round for a drink one day, and your boy can play with ours.”
“Sure, that would be great,” I responded, being false; knowing full well that it would never happen. Since then I’ve tried to strike up conversation, but never get anywhere. Maybe they don’t like me either.
Even though I’m better at saying the right thing at the right time, I’m still no expert. I like to speak my mind. People can generally tell if I’m not happy about something. I’ve learnt that being false is the way here though, and I just accept it.
This could be a case of ‘Grumpy Old Men’, especially as I’m in my mid-thirties now, but I never used to moan as much as I do now. It’s definitely contagious.
As soon as I arrived, I noticed the locals love to moan. My Spanish housemates were always complaining about something, as were a lot of adult students, and also people I’d meet when out. It seemed normal to have a whinge. If there’s nothing else to talk about, let’s have a good old moan about the weather, prices, football, jobs, traffic, the city, the government, and sometimes even the wind direction.
I used to have quite a happy-go-lucky sort of vibe and it would take a lot to wind me up. Maybe it’s an age thing and you get more susceptible to annoying situations, or when things don’t go as planned, but I’ve found myself moaning more. Silly little things bug me; like service in restaurants, rubbish on the floor, the lack of open-mindedness of locals, the fact I live in an oven for three months of the year, and that you can’t get a decent cup of tea in a cafe, which brings me onto my next point.
The evil of all evils, apart from tobacco. When I first arrived I was whacking back three or four coffees a day. I’d be a nervous wreck in my classes. Caffeine would buzz round my veins and cause my heart to pump at double the pace. I’d wake up and crave a big strong coffee. When I realised the effect, I stopped drinking it completely. I tried to get a good cup of tea in bars but they just didn’t get the whole – put in the teabag first, let the tea ooze out, and then add the milk. So after a while I gave up having tea out in the afternoons and just had a beer. It was the easy option.
Then we got a coffee machine for a wedding present.
“But I don’t even drink coffee,” I said, there’s my moaning coming out again.
After two months I was back on coffee. I drink it much less often, normally only one a day, sometimes I have two, and if for some stupid reason I have three, then that’s it; no chance of sleeping. I know it’s bad for me, but I’ve been corrupted: I just have to drink it. I even miss it when I go back to England and have to take my own brand.
Speak directly, or rudely?
When I first came here I used to get scared going into a supermarket. The cashiers were deaf old ladies who shouted at me to repeat what I’d said; a nightmare if I was asking where the contraceptives were. I was normally just asking for a carrier bag though. The problem was I was doing it the guiri – foreign – way.
“Please, could you possibly give me a bag for my shopping?”
“What? A bag? Here,” they would snap, throwing a bag over my bread, milk, and condoms.
When I began to learn more about the language, and watch the locals in action, I realised that the sharper and quicker you spoke, the better.
“A bag please.” Worked much better.
The same thing happened in bars. It would take me ages to get served sometimes. In Seville hardly anyone acknowledges you when you’re at the bar, especially the waiters, so it’s a fight to get a round in.
I’ve never heard the common phrase: “Serve him, he was before me,” in Seville. People turn a blind eye to whoever was first and act innocently (or falsely) if you confront them.
“Oi, I was here first,” would often be responded by a shrug of the shoulders. I’ve given up trying to be polite in a bar now and just go straight in and order what I want. I get served quickly, most of the time, but I can’t help but occasionally tell the waiter who was in fact before me. I won’t give up all my morals.
What about you? How has living abroad corrupted your mind? Leave a comment below and let’s have a good old moan.
Barry O’Leary has been an expat in Seville for nearly ten years. When he’s not teaching English, he writes a blog A Novel Spain which is about how he sees life in Spain. He has also lived and taught English in Brazil, Ecuador, Australia and Thailand and travelled around the world in the meantime. His non-fiction travel literature book, Teaching English in a Foreign Land, about his adventure as a TEFL teacher has sold over 2,500 copies.