Living abroad: I am an alien, I am a legal alien

Living Abroad

A Column

Above all, packing all your stuff and moving to a new, yet unknown culture and country means leaving your comfort zone, making certain sacrifices (see “living abroad…and long distance friendships“) and amplifying your horizon by getting to know this beautiful and complex place – the so called planet earth – a little bit better. Whether moving to South America, Asia, Africa or Europe, one will have no choice but getting to know and more or less adapt to certain obvious (and sometimes not so obvious) pros, cons and stereotypes.

Bumping into other expats and talking to the newbies who just arrived, quite often puts a large grin on my face, usually hearing them saying something like “I already know everything about the country, as I read countless articles and even took a course in intercultural behaviour! My Spanish is perfect as well, hence what to fear?” Umm…yeah…

Well, I have to admit that I also read lots of experience reports before jumping into the new adventure of living and working abroad in Chile (for example people eating lots of avocados, earthquakes are quite common and the sun is very strong…OK, got it.) and also Jim Morrison (the Doors) already taught us that “People are Strange, when you are a stranger..”, but I wasn’t prepared for the following…

Keeping a certain distance when talking to each other is something that is quite common in Europe…but “distance” might be interpreted differently in other parts of the world, especially in South America. Sure, to welcome your (close) friends with two small, tender “kisses” on the cheeks (one left, one right from where I am coming from) and the occasional hug after seeing them for the first time in months is totally OK. But in South America, you can’t run, you can’t hide: Whether it’s the strange guy next door (smelly!), your fitness instructor (sweaty!) or a client you have never talked to before – this cuddeling of strangers seems to be everywhere.

Especially kissing and hugging fellow co-workers hello and goodbye is simply too much for me. As I am European, I didn’t want to act impolite (typical) and sometimes even faked a cold at the beginning, trying to make my colleagues understand, that kissing might be a bad option today. Another time I “accidently” always dropped my pen when I already saw someone approaching towards my desk…but somehow it didn’t really work out. Does this make me a bad person now? Most probably not and in the end I had no choice but choosing the honest, direct way and explaining one day that I am not so much into this kind of  kissing”saying hello and goodbye” style.

Well, guess who is the cold, unemotional Alien from Europe now? Oh how I miss the good old firm handshake…







One Comment Add yours

  1. Barbara says:

    Amen! I understood everything you say veeeery well

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