The Expat Snail and the Whale

tumblr_ma9h300v121r167axo1_500Marilyn Monroe famously cemented the idea of the seven-year itch in our collective psyche with a billowing skirt above a New York City subway grate. I don’t have the legs for that. Or the dress. Or the extra four years. Increasingly I’ve been experiencing the three-year expat itch.

When we first said goodbye to Lady Liberty and embraced the expat life (in my case, clung to with ragged fingernails would be more accurate than embraced), I couldn’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t run back to the Big Apple in my Prada flats given half the chance. Though I struggled to find my footing among the Kalamata groves of Cyprus, eventually I found a solid olive branch to stand on. A fitting metaphor for the peace I made with myself and my temporary home. But after three years of Byzantine ruins and rocky beaches, of Mediterranean confrontation and truly abominable parking, I was ready to move on. Physically, emotionally, geographically.

We’ve had a long breather here in CPH. The job is steady. The kids are settled. Even though Denmark recently slipped from 1 to 3 in the Great Happiness Scale, it’s still #3. Life is good. In fact, it’s likely we’ll never have it so good again. So no one was more surprised than me when I started to get twitchy. Like Julia Donaldson’s snail with an itchy foot–waiting here on my slick, black rock, I find myself thinking about hailing a whale tail to take me on to the next stop.

The sea snail slithered all over the rocksnail
and gazed at the sea and the ships in the dock
And as she gazed she sniffed and sighed
The sea is deep and the world is wide!

If you’ve ever moved, you know what a hassle it is. Even moving down the block is a pain in the ass. Wrapping and packing and culling and drowning in bubble wrap is no one’s idea of fun. If your kids are switching schools it gets more complicated. If you’re swapping languages, currencies, customs and continents, the confusion just multiplies exponentially. It’s not something any sane person looks forward to.

And yet, for the past few months, I’ve been feeling like it’s time to pack up and move along. While we haven’t yet slimed a message on a rock looking for a lift, my foot is most definitely getting itchy.

We hit our three-year anniversary here in Denmark in December. And while nothing is rotten in the state of, since we met that milestone, the idea of moving has put down roots in the fertile soil of what’s left of my mind. Last year was a tough one for me. I lost a big chunk of my social circle to the revolving door of contracts and repatriation. This year I will lose a few more. By next, I will likely be one of the last left standing. Like a mosquito bite that you can’t stop scratching, the idea of standing alone in a sea of new faces, no longer a Nancy but firmly a Greta, makes me itchy.

There is more to it of course. We knew from the outset that Denmark was never going to be our forever home. Like ripping a band-aid off in one quick motion, part of me wonders if it would be easier just to get the next move over and done with. Settle, put down roots. Plant an olive tree that will eventually produce a branch strong enough for my family to stand on.


There’s nothing wrong with our rock out here in the Øresund Sound. Sure, in the next two years we won’t be able to afford the rent on it, but still, that doesn’t account for all of the itch. A lot of it has to do with the idea that within this strange life we lead, sometimes sunny and blue and warm, sometimes filled with a thunderstorm, these places are, as much as we call them home for a while, stops on a journey rather than the destination. Sometimes when you start to get itchy, you know it’s time to move on to the next stage of the journey.

It’s difficult to contemplate moving once again. It makes me tired just thinking about it. The thing is, once you’ve experienced a bit of the world, it changes you. At the very least, it makes you realize how much more of it there is to see.

And she gazed at the sky and the sea and the land
The waves and the caves and the golden sand
She gazed and she gazed, amazed by it all
and she said to the whale, “I feel so small.”

snail1Am I ready for the destination rather than another stop on the journey? I can’t answer that just yet. Sometimes I am. I think I’m ready to plant my feet above a NYC subway grate and feel the breeze up my skirt, legs be damned. Other times I’ve got an inkling to see a bit more of those far away lands with fiery mountains and golden sands.

Lift wanted around the world?

I’ll keep you posted. Until then, I’ll keep scratching away at my three year itch.






17 thoughts on “The Expat Snail and the Whale

Add yours

  1. When we moved into our current house I told my wife I was never moving all our crap ever again, but now I’m getting itchy feet so I think we are going to have to either burn everything or just sell the house as is.


    1. Yes! There’s something delicious about starting over. And terrifyingly frightening at the same time. But then..ugh…just thinking about it. Fwiw, I said the same thing about having a third child. I stuck with that one though.


      1. Moving sucks ass. One of the perks of moving abroad is that usually they pay for someone to pack you out and do the heavy lifting. Still have to get rid of all the paper on the other end though…and they wrap EVERYTHING in paper. A friend found their butter dish 12 weeks later…with butter still in it.


  2. Thanks for including the Wiki link to your whereabouts…knew nothing of that part of the world, as with many others. My crude American mind goes to helmets and poorly fried fish.


    1. Oh! And if you haven’t watched The Bridge–you should. Excellent Danish television and takes place halfway across the the Øresund Bridge, which connects Copenhagen to Malmo, Sweden.


  3. I know exactly how you feel. I have led your life. We spent 15 years abroad with Athens , Greece and Copenhagen being our last 2 assignments. Should have been reversed so I had the best last. Even now, after 8 years back in the US, I have the itch. But I don’t have the energy to move. So I just move my furniture around in the house and paint !


    1. That’s the thing–there’s always a strong tug toward home as well, and toward permanence–or some semblance of anyway. But each year my ideas of that change so that the idea of home becomes more fluid. We’ll see, I guess!


  4. I’ve told you before how much I love Denmark, but I understand your wanderlust. I’m excited to hear where you’ll go next. Maybe you’ll even inspire me to make tracks and move. After 23 years in one place, we’re ready for a change around here. 🙂


    1. I think it will take a while to figure it out, but it’s time to get our head out of the sand. We want to leave still loving Denmark–which we won’t do if it gets to the point when it becomes too expensive to live here!


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