Saturday, November 29, 2008

Adjusting Myself

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.


Moving to any new country as an expat is a lot like the Serenity Prayer – you have to accept the craziness that is inherent in your new home. Try to participate in the local culture, and maybe help change things for the better. But you also have to have the wisdom to recognize when the craziness is so ingrained in the culture that no amount of hours spent volunteering for the best cause or railing at the gods will fix anything.

Egypt is the third foreign country I have lived in for a significant period of time. (The US doesn’t count because it’s basically just a big southern Canadian province.) Prior to arriving in any new country, Hubby and I always purchase books on the local culture, language, and touristy hotspots. We spend hours online researching neighborhoods, local restaurants, and expat haunts in preparation for the everydayness that is sure to confront us once we get past the “ohhhing and awwwing stage.”

When Bluefish asked how I was adjusting to life in Egypt I realized that “adjusting” was more than figuring out how Cairo worked -- it was about figuring out how this expat thing works. By virtue of the fact that Hubby’s job keeps us on the move, I have been (more or less) able to adjust to life on two different continents and three very different societies. Thus, adjusting is more than figuring out who has the best take away pizza, it is learning how to say “please and thank you” in the local language, it is also about learning how to cope with seemingly simple tasks in a place where making dinner requires a visit to more than five different shops.

I like to think that I have learned to adjust myself to my surroundings fairly quickly and efficiently. I know that the “ohhing and awwwing” phase is followed very quickly by the “get me the hell out of here” stage. Luckily, eventually the adjustment phase kicks in and you realize that you’re stuck in that place for however long your spouse’s job/contract lasts and that it is up to you to make the best of it. These stages are cyclical and are usually revisited multiple times per move.

Adjusting to Egypt has meant getting used to occasional blasts of verbal abuse rained down on me by local men, learning the language so I can abuse them in return, and eventually learning to block it all out. After only three months, I barely notice the catcalls that so aggravated me when we first arrived.

I haven’t been here long enough to make a difference to anyone other than my dry cleaner who is currently erecting a statue to me and my ironing phobia. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not trying: I’ve joined all my usual groups and associations. I’m trying to “get out there,” meet people, and find causes that are meaningful to me.

We are now several months into our new Egyptian lives and are quite content with many aspects of life here. Thanks to some dogged determination and a lot of nesting, we survived our initial “I hate it here” moments. And I have learned to fine-tune my actions and reactions to suit Egypt’s many changing faces. So long as we call Cairo “home,” I will learn to adapt to Her moods and hope that she will learn to eventually accept me.

17 comments:

psychoknitter said...

Hold on Canuck, you guys are just a big northern STATE... ;-)

By the way, why do you think we always refer to countries in the feminine? Interesting (or not)!

psychoknitter said...

dang, you are one fast return-commenter! hehehehe

Strange Pilgram said...

I like your attitude. These are the things that I love learning. Figuring out that a woman walking alone at night means something in Italy while no one would think twice about it in most of the US. It's crazy, but WOW! so great to gain that perspective.

Betty said...

You are way braver than me, living in such a foreign country and I admire you for that. Even though for some Paraguay seems foreign, I partly grew up here, so it´s home for me.

Nicole said...

"These stages are cyclical and are usually revisited multiple times per move."

I hear you on that one!

The whole posts speaks out of my own heart, sigh :)

LadyFi said...

You seem to have adapted very quickly! I also find that sometimes you can get Reverse Culture Shock when you leave a country. After three years in China, I suffered badly and it took me about a year to adjust back into the Western world...

The picture on my post is a photo (found via StumbleUpon).. isn't it glorious?

Anonymous said...

Knitting and book clubs? Great news!
As long as you know the best eating (and drinking) places, I know you will survive for another day/move.
The attitude gets better everyday. And so says the serenity parayer. :)
merthyrmum

Linda said...

Well said, well said...

Simple Answer said...

We're just like Canada, eh?

I think we came to one of the easier Arab countries to adjust to - signs in English, insults in English....but driving is definitely in Arab.

Hi! I'm Janola. said...

*whew* nice to know that you actually do shift between phases. hubby and i thought i was just going crazy. :-)

Connie said...

We've been here over 4 years now, and I am still confused at times, but in good ways as well as bad ways. Then again, I get that when we go home now too, probably because we really do not have a 'home town' in the US. This is the longest I've ever lived any place since I left home after HS many moons ago. It's probably the longest my DH has ever lived anywhere. A nice Hispanic man actually came up to us while we were home on R&R last summer and asked us if we were foreigners!

The bad thing, that I think I'm going to take away from all this is, when we retire, I am going to be darned hard to please regarding where we live, what house we have, what shopping is available, etc. The good thing is, I'll be a pro when it comes to knowing how to cope, to adjust, how to manipulate options, etc!

Lynda said...

You are doing much better than most - Around the 3 month mark is the time when that voice in your head starts saying 'what the HELL are we doing here?' (voices always speak in plural because they believe they are a real person)

Amanda said...

"(The US doesn’t count because it’s basically just a big southern Canadian province.)"

Bwahahahaha. Awesome.

I agree, being an expat involves a very specific kind of adjusting. I also think that kind of adjusting starts to come more quickly with each new country (though you are one up on me - so far!).

Brenda said...

I think a lot of expats can relate to what you are saying here.

Do we ever REALLY adjust???

Bluefish said...

Thanks for the shout out.

Charla said...

This is all very interesting to read about. I've lived mainly in Texas my whole life (minus 7 1/2 months).

Jacki said...

Yeah, I could imagine that Egypt would take some getting used to!