Okay, so just simply living life leads to awkward situations but when you live abroad the probability that you will do something which leads to an unpleasant or really awkward situation goes up exponentially. These are my top 5 awkward situations while living abroad.
1) Visiting or living with your partner’s family
At the moment I am living with my boyfriend’s family in Chile- thankfully he’s living here too- but he went to Santiago for a job interview and left me with his family for a few days. I’d like to preface what is to follow that his parents are really nice and have tried really hard to make me feel welcome in their home but there are definitely some ‘Lost in Translation’ moments and without my boyfriend here to translate there are a lot of blank looks and red cheeks. As I’ve now realized, you can be a true world traveler and never face a moment of culture shock; you can squat on your heels with the best of them, ride a tuk-tuk with no fear, eat what couldn’t possibly be chicken but the cook assures you that it is but once you get invited into someone’s home that’s where it all changes. There are so many possibilities to offend or upset someone especially if that person is now family and you have to spend a lot of time with them. Let’s start with the main issue and I am part of the problem; I’ve lived on my own since I was 18 (okay, I had one or two brief stops at my parent’s in between but for the most part I’ve been living alone for the better part of 14 years. I know how to take care of myself but now I am living here I am ‘clearly a child and I have no idea what I am doing’. I couldn’t possibly look after myself. There is also the awkwardness of not knowing the system of the house- when and where to do things. I’ve been trying to help my boyfriend’s mom the best I can but it can be discouraging seeing her remaking the bed I just artfully tucked in or rewashing the breakfast dishes I just did. She will ask me to help or I will ask what I can do to help, she tells me but then just does it herself, leaving me standing anxiously wringing my hands in her wake.
2) Going to the doctor
If you have ever gone to the doctor abroad you will know that you are faced with a series of actions that couldn’t possibly be medically sound or SUPER medically unsound if you go to the local clinic as opposed to the international hospital. Extensive travelling and living overseas for the last 4 years I (unsurprisingly) have had my fair share of scrapes and bumps. From the Indian Himalayas where a twisted ankle requires a stool sample and the remedy for a toothache are mysterious pink horse pills that make you hallucinate to a Balinese hospital where the doctor is delivered an ice cream sundae and a beer during your consultation I’ve seen some strange things. If you go to the local clinic, it gets even better, you are the entertainment for the people in the waiting room. Imagine if you will, you are getting poked and prodded by an unprofessionally giggling nurse and the doctor is making sexually inappropriate comments towards you, a slight movement to your right catches your attention, you turn and spot a head poking around the curtain, you expect it to be a small child but instead you see a wrinkled face staring at you, the white girl getting her possibly rabies infected dog bite seen to. I’m not complaining, I get it, a blonde white ‘tourist’ at a local clinic is unusual.
Even at the seemingly professional International hospitals, you will have seriously awkward moments- In Bali, I had a fairly serious motorbike accident (Who hasn’t?) that required a 3 day hospital stay. During this time, I had surgery on my leg and was bed-ridden. Okay before this time I had never had to stay in the hospital before so maybe this is normal but every task which happened in my room it was necessary that it was undertaken by a team of 3 nurses; one to administer the treatment and the other two to stand and giggle which is quite distracting when you are trying to take your maiden voyage on the S.S. Bedpan.
3) Trying to do anything official
Unless you are living totally off the grid, at some point when you are living abroad or travelling long term you will have to do something official, whether it’s renewing a visa or opening a bank account. I recommend taking someone who speaks the local language with you when you have to do the more intensive official tasks but sometimes it’s not possible and this is where the fun starts. I was robbed in Barcelona and had to go to the police station to make a report because my passport was in my bag which was stolen. I made the report and the officer said, ‘Wait’, so I waited…..and waited and waited….I waited with the hooker and pimp. I waited with the man with a bleeding eye. I waited with the crying woman. Until I began to worry that I would miss my flight home and tried to sign language ‘Can I leave?’ to the new officer. He looked at me and said in English, ‘You could have left when you got your report? Why are you still here?’ NOW YOU TELL ME!! . In the end I did miss my flight and had to stay the night in Barcelona airport.
4) Buying clothes
I am tall with long legs and as my friends like to joke of a stature befitting my apparent Viking heritage. These hips can carry some big blonde Erikson-esque babies come the day that decision is made. I’m not small but I am not huge either…until I get to Asia. In Asia, I am a fucking monster. When I went to live in Bali for a year, I had only what I could fit in my backpack which feels like a lot when you are carrying in but when you consider it’s your life or house now it’s not really that much, it’s liberating. On the other hand, you start to get sick of your clothes that you brought pretty fast or you simply realise that they aren’t appropriate for your life anymore. You become acclimatized and you start to feel really cold even when it’s 34 degrees outside and you want a sweatshirt or pants to wear. Trying to find clothes abroad isn’t the problem, the problem is trying to find clothes that fit. Watch out, tiny Balinese ladies! Blondezilla is coming to squash you under her huge Bule feet. I went to the local department store to try and find a sweater that I could wear in the office and and I quickly lost the battle. Sweating profusely from trying to get unstuck from my tiny polyester prisons I admitted defeat and went to the much much more expensive surf outlets on the Bypass to purchase clothes which cost about half my month’s rent.
5) Personal Space
Coming from Canada I am used to a lot of personal space, we don’t like to come into close personal contact with strangers. It’s deemed rude and if there is anything that could send your average Canadian into a shame spiral it’s the thought of someone thinking you are being rude. We apologise for everything, down to the slightest bump of physical contact. For example- I was on a boat trip on the Mekong with two other Canadian girls and one girl from England. We were in extremely cramped quarters sitting around a tiny table. It was inevitable that we would make contact. At one point the English girl snorted with laughter and asked “Why do you keep saying ‘Sorry’?” The other two Canadian girls and myself had no idea what she was talking about and she replied that every time we shifted slightly and made body to body contact we would automatically say “Sorry”.
So if you take this mentality to a country where personal space isn’t as highly valued or even considered necessary, it leads to those all so awkward moments. You don’t want to push through the crowd on the metro, you apologise to the man who slammed into YOU on the crowded street and even more awkwardly you have to get used to the kissing. In Canada very close friends would rarely greet each other with a hug, hugs are reserved for special occasions. Acquaintances and new people get a handshake at best. Cue moving a Latin country where kissing on the cheek even for meeting complete strangers for the first time is the norm. The first time you see a stranger’s face coming towards yours as you accidentally grope their crotch with your outstretched hand, you quickly resolve to change your ways. It takes some getting used to but you do get used to it and after awhile a handshake seems really formal and impersonal.
One final thin and it fits in best with Personal Space is STARING! What’s up with staring, eh? Again in North America we are taught that staring is super rude, not so much in other places around the world it turns out. You will get stared at even when doing the most mundane things; walking down the street, reading a book, eating food, everything you do is under scrutiny. Or is it? It took me a long time to come to terms with staring and I’m still not 100% okay with it. Here’s what I realised, most times the stare isn’t a judging stare, unless it’s from a middle aged Italian woman then it is almost definitely a judging stare. People are naturally curious, they want to know what that person is doing and why. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that you are moving in someone’s line of sight and they want to know what you are doing or…… they really hate your shoes.
Comment if you have had any of these awkward moments or any of your own.
Peace K xx