We accidentally painted the wrong picture.  Our canvas was blank per say upon our arrival, and we quickly brushed on colors of endless train rides, zipping to warm destinations for anniversary celebrations, basking in the warmth of the Spanish sun, all the while sipping Chianti in none other than the Chianti region of Italy.  This became normal to us living in Europe with cheap flights and so much of this part of the world to explore.  But when stepping back, we quickly thought, “Oh, my, what have we done?” Creating a blog for friends and family of our experiences and our journey seemed like a great idea, this way, everyone would be able to keep track of us and know what we were “up to.”  We, like so many others who relocate due to work responsibilities, believed our journey would only be for a short while, so we wanted to fill our weekends with new and exciting destinations.  We had a grand time posting photos of our travels, all the while stating how grateful we are for the experience, how truly lucky we felt by being able to encounter Europe through a work contract.  So, needless to say the impression we left was that of a life of constant holiday, with little to no work being accomplished.


What we neglected to do, however, was post the pictures of us fumbling through our day – to – day existence, longing for the comforts of home and of dear family and friends.  Having to learn everything all over again and greatly missing the familiarity of speaking your language and understanding your culture.

The canvas we neglected to paint was the mishaps of our daily life. You know – the standing in line at the Gemiende waiting for your Auslander, hoping you have all of the appropriate paperwork to make this a smooth interaction.  Somehow, feeling a bit like a child again wondering if you have done something wrong and hoping they will grant you that card that allows you to work and live in their country.

2009-11-28 - Basel -sign

Purchasing groceries for the first time not realizing that you must weigh your produce according to the indicated number and then upon your checkout feeling like a complete misfit as the clerk tells you, in of course a language you do not understand that you missed this critical step.

Leaving the library in tears because the librarian has little to no time for a person who doesn’t speak or understand the language, wishing you knew just enough German to stand up for yourself, but slithering away with a lump in your throat and a longing for home in your chest.


Trying to figure out the trash – blue bag, sticker or no sticker, what can safely be constituted as trash?  Where is the recycling center?  Oh, who knew it would be so complicated?  Or the daily mail we receive in a language we don’t know.  Sifting through endless letters trying to determine what is junk and what is actually important.

We forgot to mention what it is like to have a child in a foreign country, in a hospital system that though excellent, feels so far from the familiar US institution. How mixed your emotions can be.  Thrilled at the arrival or your new, beautiful child, but feeling so isolated and lonely all at the same time.  Wondering how this experience would have been different if you were in your home country.  How do you post that?


And the final picture we did not post was that of us sitting around our kitchen table having the ongoing, endless conversation, the very conversation that we revisit almost daily since we arrived a mere six years ago.  Do we stay or do we go? The tears that follow that question, the hearts we know will break if we decide to stay, the choice that might to some seem to be a simple “yes” has left us distraught with uncertainty.  So, while our blog shows a grand life of travel, exploration and holidays, the blog we do not post is the everyday life that can only be known by those who have walked this similar walk.


11 thoughts on “Expat Life – Painting the Wrong Picture

  1. Very well written! I think we are guilty of the same as a means of compensating for the areas where we are frustrated. I understand and can relate all too well the day to day challenges we all go through living in a foreign culture and raising children with little support. Although, I do enjoy reading about your adventures and seeing the photos you took. Love the photos of Basel!

  2. Thank you for this! I often struggle with posting the postcard vs posting reality. People don’t want to hear about the loneliness they want to her about the fabulousnes. It’s a hard line to walk but I do want to say, you’re not alone. And while I do speak German I to left a Swiss library almost in tears because I wasn’t being understood.

  3. Right there with you. And trust me, even if you share the less-than-ideal picture, not everyone follows along with it….and then you feel guilty for complaining about the “great, unique experience” that you’re supposed to be having!

  4. This is a truly excellent post … and one that will leave expats nodding their heads murmuring “Been there, done that!” For many years we moved back and forth between the US and far-flung destinations, having similar experiences to yours. I found that whenever I was back in the States, I was far more compassionate toward those from outside since I had “walked in their shoes.” Thanks so much for painting a complete picture. All the best, Terri

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. It means a lot to read and hear about other individual’s journeys. I completely understand what you mean about being sympathetic to individuals in your own country. Oh, this road is not always the easiest, but wonderful nonetheless!
      Congrats on being “Freshly Pressed” and we wish you all the best on your journey.

      Kind regards,

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