Yes, I’m aware expatriation doesn’t really begin with X. But what else can I write about for the letter X? I don’t think I had any big misconceptions in my younger years about x-rays, xylophones, or Xerses the Great. I’ve never been xenophobic either, obviously, or I wouldn’t have been an expat for so long. In fact, I love all things foreign – people, food, traditions, geography, climates, history, cultures. Bring them on! When I started travelling, I thought I would never return to the United States. I even contributed several segments to a book on leaving America. There’s just so much to explore and experience that it seems a waste to just sit around the same place all the time. But in some respects, Dorothy was right.
My longest stay in any foreign country was in Russia – I spent one academic year in Volgograd and two in Moscow. We were five foreign teachers at my language school in Russia and I was the only non-Russophile. I chose to teach in Russia because, well, why not? I had taught in Mexico first and then South Korea, so I was looking for some place that would be very different from both of those. Aside from Greenland or Vanuatu, I think Russia was really the best choice.
Of the five of us, four, including myself, ended up seriously dating Russian nationals while we were there. Of the four of us lovestruck fools, three, including myself, ended up marrying that person. My roommate, who had majored in Russian in college and was living in Russia for the second time in her life, was the only one who didn’t marry her beau. She never planned to. She told me that in the big areas of life – marriage, family, etc – you really need to have a common cultural background with your partner. I was surprised to hear her say this, but years later, I learned she was right.
It’s no secret a lot of American marriages end in divorce, and it’s also no secret that one of the biggest issues couples fight over is money. Well, imagine marrying someone who grew up in a country where money practically didn’t exist. Utilities were run by the state, so no parents yelled at their kids to turn the lights off to stop wasting electricity. Apartments were given to workers, so no one had to save for a 20 percent down payment. Summer camps and vacations in Sochi were free for many government workers, especially people who worked in undesirable posts, so no one had to budget for holidays. Retirement? Ha! Papochka Lenin will take care of you.
So yes, ultimately my roommate was right about the importance of a common cultural background. And I’ve gone a little off track here and made this post more about eXes then eXpatriation, so to get back on topic, I’ll point out the obvious – I did come back to America. I’ve been back here for just over nine years now – three longer than I spent living abroad. It’s not so bad, though mostly I’m here for practical reasons. Better earnings potential, a partner who can’t work in his field anywhere but the United States, a dog whose life I will never, ever risk by putting him in the cargo hold of an airplane. But there’s also a certain comfort level in knowing how the DMV operates (even if that knowledge doesn’t lead to efficiency of use), whether I’m allowed to pump my own gas at the service station, how to get internet access at home (again, efficiency of doing so notwithstanding), whether you should bribe the policeman so you can just be on your way (not advised in America under any circumstances), and how many and what color flowers to bring to a social occasion. These questions can cause a lot of debate or take a lot of effort to resolve in different countries. Absorbing the culture of a foreign country is a damn near impossible task. Your own culture, however, will never leave you, though it may surprise and delight you in many ways when you come back to it after years of absence.
Curious about what everyone else is writing for the A to Z Blog Challenge? Me too! I’m featuring three blogs from my fellow contributors each day. Here are today’s entertaining, lyrical, beautiful, unique, informative, or just plain random discoveries: