The 2nd Best Decision I’ve Ever Made

How many decisions do you make in the course of your life? Cereal or toast? (Neither) Coffee or tea? (Coffee) Open the bottle of wine or not? (Is it Friday? Then yes.). Life is chock-a-block with decisions, from the mundane to the momentous.

Every now and then you’re whistling along happily enough, tearing through the mundane decisions like a boss, when you come face to face with a giant one.

Marry me?
Should we start a family?
Should we buy a house?
Should we open the 2nd bottle? (Is it Saturday? Then yes.)

Sometimes they’re expected decisions you’ve been sort of prepping for your whole life, but sometimes they come out of nowhere.

In the back of my brain I knew my husband’s job might offer the opportunity to move overseas. But you know, when you’re talking about it, it’s all sure, great, what an adventure! It’s in the future. It’s the abstract. It’s not real.

Until he comes home one day and says, “Hey! There’s a job opening in Cyprus. What do you think?”

What did I think?

****

Have I told you how much I love NYC? Really? I mean have I really told you? Have I told you how the city boogied down deep into my bones until it became part of my DNA? Have I told you…oh, I have?

Forget Leaving Las Vegas, if there was an alcohol sopped memoir movie of this mid-section of my life, we could call it Leaving New York.

Leaving the city of my heart, where I fell in love, got married, had my babies…was tough. Like drag me away tough. Kicking and screaming tough. New York, man. It gets into your blood, it seeps into your pores, it worms its way…but enough about New York because I was leaving it.

On a jet plane, with two kids, a couple of suitcases, and a plan of action so loose it was jiggling like my post-baby muffin top.

And then there I was, in the middle of The Mediterranean. Me, my two kids, and a Yiayia down the street named Poppy. That was it. Me and a Greek Cypriot Granny. My entire life turned upside down because one momentous decision we made sitting in bed on a sunny Sunday morning while our second son slept a few feet away in our too small for two kids apartment.

****

For the first year, I was convinced it was, quite possibly, the worst decision I’d ever been a part of. Worse than the plaid pants with the ribbed yellow turtleneck get-up in 3rd grade. Worse than my hair in high school. Worse than every shitty financial decision we’ve ever made. (Note: Should you buy the one-bedroom apartment? Hell, yes you should).

I cried because I missed the election of Barack Obama. I cried watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve. My mother and my sister came to visit us and when they left, I ugly sobbed on the sidewalk as the car pulled away. It was…not good. It was in fact, bad. Really bad.

Of course things improved, even within that first year. As nice as Poppy the Yiayia was, I made friends who were slightly closer to my own generation, more Breakfast Club than the Early Bird Special club. But still, it wasn’t until after we left Cyprus and, if I’m honest, well into our Copenhagen cycle, that I started to really think about the decision we made all those Sundays before.

****

It’s not always easy being an expat. There are times it is appallingly hard. Being a family unit without the support of nearby relatives as a buffer can be–well, let’s just say intense. Family time, I am often caught saying, is overrated.

Some things about it actually are great. Being abroad has given us an opportunity to bond in a way I’m not sure we would have had if we’d stayed in NY. I’m not saying we wouldn’t have had a bond, it would just be a different one. This one is born of living a specific experience all together, simultaneously.

Our horizons? Not broadened as much as exploded.

I’ve learned to stop fearing change, and, dare I say, embrace it. Or at least more so than before. I’ve gone so far outside my comfort zone, I’ve gotten jet lag. Bizarrely, I’ve learned how to relax. Let’s just say I’m now type B- rather than type A.

Is it Friday? Drink the wine.

Living as an outsider in a country that isn’t yours, when you don’t speak the language, or understand the nuance of the culture itself, often at the mercy of a job, teaches you nothing if not this: you can’t control everything. Some stuff yes, other stuff, no. I think, for a long time I got them mixed up.

It’s taught me that I really only truly need the people I love around me and a decent wine shop. Should we open the wine? (Is it Sunday? Sure.)

Being an expat has taught me how to offer my friendship..and receive friendship in return. It has redefined my concept of home, on every level imaginable. It has honed my criticism of my own country, but it has also deepened my love of it.

It has given me an understanding of being the odd one out, of being on the back foot, of having to pay attention. It’s deepened my appreciation for difference, from the minor to the major.

It’s taught me how to bake from scratch and how to live with less choice, and how to start using cloth napkins because paper products in Denmark are stupid expensive. Also that I don’t know how I survived as long as I did without an electric kettle.

It’s taught me that when someone is meant to be in your life, you find a way to make sure they stay in your life.

No dinner, no drama.

This decade long adventure has allowed us to get to know each other in a completely unfettered way. It’s just us over here. No insulation. All family, all the time. No Sunday dinners, but no Sunday drama either.

It has, quite honestly, fundamentally changed who I am as a person.

For the better.

So as I meander through the mundane, bus or train? (Bus) Pizza or Thai? (Pizza) Should we open that bottle of wine? (Is it Monday? Then no, you big lush), I can look back at some of the momentous with more clarity.

That decision we made all those Sundays ago, saying yes to taking that chance? It hasn’t always been easy, but it was probably the 2nd best decision I’ve ever made.

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17 thoughts on “The 2nd Best Decision I’ve Ever Made

  1. ksbeth April 13, 2018 / 11:03 am

    this is such a wonderful post. my daughter married an aussie and they lived there for years. they are now back here, and it is always a balancing act, even with most customs being the same and just a different accent – missing family, friends etc., but also the freedom that comes from that

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dina Honour April 14, 2018 / 6:11 pm

      There is a lot of freedom. A friend of mine said you really learn how to both hang on…and let go. There’s a lot of power in that, and a lot of room for lessons.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Barry and Jana April 13, 2018 / 11:08 am

    Well said – we can relate to a lot of what you wrote as we approach one year abroad in Switzerland…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dina Honour April 14, 2018 / 6:10 pm

      It sounds like you’re enjoying your time abroad! It gets better!

      Like

  3. oregongirlaroundtheworld April 13, 2018 / 12:05 pm

    We are only 3.5 years in and only one extra country under our belt, but I can relate to so much of this. The bit about becoming more observant is truth ink sister. Especially when you don’t know the language (I mean, beyond ordering my coffee and not busting out Google Translate anymore at the grocery store) you have to learn other cues. I have become a study of cues. And I’m ok with that. I’ll even raise a glass to that. It’s Friday anyway! Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dina Honour April 14, 2018 / 6:10 pm

      A study of cues is a beautiful way to put it. But it does give you a good idea of what it feels like to be the odd person out. Which I think is crucial for dealing with life in an empathetic way. And it’s Saturday, so cheers right back to you!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Rachel Prowse April 13, 2018 / 2:08 pm

    big LOVE for this post Dina! awesome as always x

    Like

  5. Sarah Whiteford April 13, 2018 / 5:18 pm

    Dina, Love this post. I always love all your expat posts! We are currently in the US of A for a short stint and I’m finding even here, so close to my cultural normal (australia) I’m still using so many of the skills I picked up in countries where the language isn’t even in my framework (I went from english to thai to korean to bahasa in 5 years… I never know what I’m going to say these days!). The grocery store is still frightening, no matter the country, for the first 6-12 weeks! The frustrations of paying bills and learning the systems continue, but the feeling of achievement when it all comes together is awesome. I don’t regret taking our first expat position, and I don’t think anything would change that.

    Like

    • Dina Honour April 14, 2018 / 6:08 pm

      Oh God, yes! The supermarket, the utilities–the worst (roaming the meat aisle trying to figure out what kind of animal it is let alone the cut…) I hope my home country is treating you well. I know things are a bit crazy over there, so hoping you have a nice, cushy expat bubble you can retreat to. And thank you kindly for the compliment. 🙂

      Like

  6. Mark S Gordon April 13, 2018 / 5:31 pm

    Nice one Dina. Cheered me up during another period of expat uncertainty. Been a all round bad day for us wine drinkers. Ah fuck it, it’s the weekend.

    Like

    • Dina Honour April 14, 2018 / 6:06 pm

      My reminder that today too, is a wine day. I’m sorry you had a sucky day. Here’s hoping it got better. Or at least the wine was good.

      Like

  7. Juliette Kings April 13, 2018 / 7:22 pm

    This is wonderful. I’ve lived in the same hundred mile radius my entire life. I tried to move away but plans always fell through. Enjoy and savor your experience somewhere else. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dina Honour April 14, 2018 / 6:06 pm

      Thank you. There are definitely pros and cons, and it took me a long time to really appreciate the pros. But now? Now I try to concentrate of them when things seem tough.

      Like

  8. angharadeyre April 14, 2018 / 9:36 am

    How did you survive without an electric kettle? It was one of my first purchases when we moved to DC, but they really don’t work as fast with the low electric current. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dina Honour April 14, 2018 / 6:05 pm

      I didn’t know what I was missing! Now I couldn’t live without an electric kettle. No way.

      And thank you :-).

      Liked by 1 person

  9. vinneve April 15, 2018 / 7:48 am

    I agree with those expats sentiments! It’s good that you finally get the hang of being an expat. Unfortunately for me, I am still wishing we could go back home to NZ asap haha!

    Like

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