Expat Hindsight is 20/20

At a Q&A session at the launch for There’s Some Place Like Home, I was in the hot seat. Luckily the menopausal flashes didn’t make an appearance so that heat was more figurative than literal, but still. I had quasi-prepped for the type of questions I thought people might ask, questions I may have asked if it was me sitting in the audience.

Of course no one asked those.

Instead there were thoughtful inquiries, questions with no easy answers, some of which I’m still pondering, over a week later.

So many of these blog pieces stem from conversations I have with fellow expats, our shared experiences, common issues. So it made perfect sense to turn some of those questions into blog fodder. More than simply subject matter however, I needed time to process some of my  answers a bit more thoroughly.

For instance: A friend, who is already hunkered down in temporary accommodation waiting for that final catwalk through security at Kastrup asked me, what would you do differently the next time? 

Ah. Expat hindsight, that bugger. Much like regular old hindsight, it’s 20/20. Mistakes, missteps, foibles…the further you are from them, the much easier it is to see them. They stand out. Crisp and clear. Sometimes glaring.

My immediate answer was “buy a house”. In retrospect I realize that answer was more about the cost of living survey we recently completed and coming face to face with all those zeroes lined up in the column under “rent”. Crisp and clear. And slightly nauseating.

Of course the real answer to her question goes deeper than just getting a foot on the local real estate ladder. In hindsight (damn you, hindsight!), and with further pondering, there are plenty of other things I would do differently if or when we move again.

I wouldn’t sweat the small stuff so much. It’s easy to get caught up in the muck of the small, the inconsequential. Not being able to find the right bread for toast or a breakfast cereal your kids will eat is not the end of the world. Many times that small stuff is merely masking the bigger stuff that can be hard to face, and by doing so, takes on cartoonish proportions. It takes some time and clarity to understand that a Fruit Loops frenzy or Wheatabix wig-out is usually just  masking a deeper worry. If we moved again, I’d try to remind myself there’s no point getting in a tizzy over toasting bread.

I would learn the language. Maybe… When we first came to Denmark I had all intentions of learning Danish. But you know what they say about good intentions, right? I think it’s something about the road to hell being paved with them. Spending time and money and effort to learn a difficult language, a language not spoken by many? It’s a toss-up. Yes, it’s embarrassing I don’t speak the native tongue of the land that’s graciously allowed me to live here for the past seven years. But at the time we had no idea we’d still be here. It was a gamble, and I lost that particular bet. The next time I’d hedge those bets a bit more.

I would be kinder to myself–and more honest. Sometimes this life is hard. Not all the time. Not even most of the time, but yeah, sometimes it sucks. I’d remind myself it’s okay to feel that way, not to beat myself up for acknowledging those tough times. There’s a difference between getting caught up in an eddy of negativity and allowing yourself the gift of honesty.

I wouldn’t fret that my kids would drown if I chucked them in the deep end of the culture pool. I spent a lot of time worrying about what ifs, especially when it came to my kids. What if they felt left out? What if they didn’t understand the coach on a local team? What if they were boxed out by the language or culture barriers? If I had it to do over, or do differently, I’d definitely explore local options more, trusting that my kids would be just fine. Kids, though they tend to be the focus of so many expat worries, are sponges, and far more adaptable than we give them credit for most of the time.

I wouldn’t doubt myself so much. Oh God. So much fretting. So many tears. Yet, I’ve seen what I can do. What my kids can do. What we, as a family can accomplish. That’s not saying another move wouldn’t be challenging or difficult, just that I won’t doubt that I–or any of us–could put our heads down and make it work.

I would trust myself. There have been plenty of times I’ve doubted myself on this journey, what I’m capable of. Usually it’s when I’m in a fit of frustration because I don’t speak enough Danish to get through to the tax authority (more on that later…). Usually it works out ok. But that doesn’t stop the doubts from creeping in. If we do it all again? I’ll trust that I’ll figure it out, however messy it is. Even if it means punching all the numbers on my phone in the hope that one of them will get me through to the tax person I need to speak to.

The funny thing is, even with all that hindsight, things turned out just fine. Maybe it took longer to get there. And maybe I have to hang my head in shame when I admit I don’t speak Danish beyond ordering a stor Dankse vand. All of that? It’s a small price to pay for knowing that if we do it again it’ll be just fine.

Even if we don’t buy the house. Which we won’t, because you know, all those zeroes in the rent column. 




6 Comments Add yours

  1. Eva says:

    I failed the module 1 danish. I think I would have preferred the class where they teach the au pairs useful speaking words, rather than the one I took which included reading and writing. The pronounciation of danish words have nothing to do with looking at the word itself. Also, I didn’t realize how much danish my kids picked up. The mandatory danish at CIS ended at a certain grade – plus it didn’t really seem like much.


    1. WandC(D) says:

      At least you tried. Points for that!


  2. woodhour says:

    I forgot how much time I spent trying to find food for my kids, or the joy of finding oreos in Netto! Yes, that is one I would change.


    1. WandC(D) says:

      Or $10 bags of Goldfish crackers in Meny. And realizing that yes, you can absolutely live without Pepperidge Farms Goldfish crackers. 😉


  3. Debra says:

    I get obsessed with certain foods I can’t get in Scotland when I feel particularly homesick,


  4. Cherry says:

    Then again, even when I bought the house, learnt the language and jumped into the deep end of the culture (won’t elaborate this one), there’s ALWAYS something (else) to answer to that question. I know for now what I would have done differently…write down all the memories even if I wouldn’t manage to have a blog !!! 😛


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