I read a charming post the other day that really got me thinking. Ms. Caroline, who writes the Asia Vu blog had just returned to Seoul after spending the summer in the States. As many of us do (wherever we live) she was having a bit of a moan, and recognized that, like many expats, she was blaming a lot of her woes on her host country. And don’t we? I’ve been in the USA for over twenty years and I still somehow convince myself that many daily problems would instantly disappear if I lived somewhere else.
Jennifer Howze, blogger and co-founder of BritMums, is an American in London. “I know this syndrome. Usually it manifests in me thinking that life was so AWESOME back wherever I used to live. I never got stuck in traffic there! There’s always loads of parking there! It’s easy to find a hardware shop that carries that particular thing I need!You know you’re really settling into your new country when you go back to your home country and suddenly notice all these things that aren’t quite as good as your new home. Hmm… .”
Sometimes it’ not even big things; I conveniently forget that even though I often can’t switch my American TV on because it’s on “game” mode or we’ve “lost the signal”, my mother’s army of remotes in her UK house is much more of a pain for me. Traffic in downtown Chicago is the worst in the world? How about that drive from Newcastle to Edinburgh this summer when the A1 went down to single lanes and we got stuck behind a tractor for almost an hour? (And while I’m on the subject, the main route between two of the UK’s largest cities is literally one lane each way on several stretches? Come on.)
As blogger Iota explains – It’s very common to want to blame something, someone, for the woes of daily life. If you’re an expat, you have an easy go-to thing, without even having to think about it.
We all have our whipping boys. I can think of lots of people who will prefix the punch line of a story about some minor woe or other with “of course”. eg “I drove there, and – of course – there weren’t any parking places. I eventually found one, and just as I got out of the car, it started to rain – of course. I couldn’t find the building, because – of course – the street numbers didn’t follow on properly. So then I had to phone, but – of course – there wasn’t any mobile reception.” It’s almost as if they are blaming the universe! For an expat, it’s easier just to blame the host country. That’s part of reverse culture shock. You get home, and find it isn’t all so perfect after all.
As well as the “of course” tag, I notice that some people say “typical!” a lot. Same thing. If it’s raining when they want to go out, it’s “typical!” They forget about all the times they want to go out and it’s NOT raining!” (And how many expats blame the weather in the UK I wonder?)
To quote Bercedeh Stark in an older Expat Focus post on the subject
“To give responsibility to others seems convenient and easy at first but in the long run it:
– makes you vulnerable to blaming others or yourself
– weakens your strengths and undermines your self-esteem
– makes you dependent on others to run your life, you have to take what others believe is good for you and in your best interests
– can lead to habitual fear at being unable to meet even the most minor challenges on your own.
Stark adds – “It takes strength to choose to stop being a victim, accept personal responsibility for your actions and your happiness, and stop blaming others for every challenge that you are faced with in your life. But accepting personal responsibility empowers you to move forward in your life and live the life you were destined to live.”
Or as Iota says – “There is one thing that insulates you from expat-blame syndrome. It’s that little mantra “not wrong, just different”! “
Toni Summers Hargis has a new book – “The Stress-Free Guide to Studying In the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students”. (Summertime). She is also the author of “Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom” (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.
Read Toni's other Expat Focus articles here.