13 February 2006

the less appealing side-effects of moving abroad

Moving to a new country is a great experience and I am so glad I did it, but there are a few things that have marred the fun of my first (almost) six months as an official ex-pat:

1) New germs. I got the flu shot and everything, and I work in an office surrounded by doctors and nurses, but I am still getting sick all the time. Every other week I find myself feeling wretched and spending hours at home during the week. J said it was like that for him last year but this year has been better, so I hope this improves. I love the view in the day at home but I don't want to be seeing it mid-week all the time. Fortunately, the Icelandic sick day policy is MUCH more sane than at my old company.

2) Forget about convenient online ordering with companies from the States. This may be easier if the country you move to is not as tiny and off the international radar as Iceland, but J and I have experienced many US-based companies refusing to accept Icelandic credit cards or even American credit cards with Icelandic addresses. They claim the Icelandic banking is not sophisticated enough. Ha!

3) Time differences are perceived as being more significant because it is a foreign country, so many of my friends don't call anymore. What is even more frustrating is that there is all kinds of technology that allows cheap-to-free calling but the people I would love to stay in touch with are reluctant to actually use it. I haven't talked to most of my friends since I left, and only the most persistent of family members have stayed in touch. I did know that this was a possibility when I moved, but it doesn't make it any more pleasant!

Ship Sighting: Thanks to the #1 side-effect of moving abroad, I was home again today so I saw it all- Sóley, cargo ships, the Danish research vessel, and lots of tiny boats. At least the view is great when I am stuck at home.


SB said...

It is interesting all the new germs and how one country is considered to be more or less primitive than another. When it is all relative to the environment and sadly ignorance.

On another note, as I've been hopping around the world the past 15+ years I too went through the loss of most of my friends, always hoping I'd make new ones. But then there are the cultural differences, that also at times can be awkward, because what is friendship to me is very different for someone from a totally different place in the world.
I have learned though as I still have my oldest friends, I had to put in a whole lot of effort to keep it going. Those that stay behind, feel safe in their environment. Those that leave are the ones with new experiences and all the changes.
It takes work, lots of work to keep the most precious relationship flourish, especially from far away.

I'd say, blow your nose 'hressilega' when the flue hits you.
Work hard at it, and your oldest and most loyal friends will always be there for you.

It is such a treasure to be able to read your E&J blogs, because I know now, that I am not alone in my changes, that feel never ending.

Gosh how I miss the fresh ice cold tapwater from back home

ECS said...

Hi Sirrý! Thanks so much for this comment- it helps to know these are not unusual experiences. It's also been difficult because so many of my friends are students or teachers, and can't afford to come visit here. It's hard to explain to some people in the States just how expensive things really are here, that $200 is not enough for a week's worth of food, gas, and entertainment. However, as the days finally grow longer and the rising sun makes the clouds pink-trimmed, I remember why I am here. It is definitely a special place, and I am certain that I will figure out how to stay in touch with the people that matter.

And yes, having tapwater more tasty than Evian also helps remind me!

JB said...

I've been thinking a lot about the perceived distance of being "overseas". I have seen a lot of friends fall away in the last year and a half, and it makes me very sad, because I don't feel that far away from them. I guess the person doing the leaving is the one who still feels close, and the left-behind feel just that, but damn it, it can be frustrating!

It's not like we've moved to a third-world country with no phones and no Internet. I'm almost as close as I could be to my home city of Boston and be *in* a foreign country - the only foreign countries closer than Iceland being Canada and some places in the Caribbean. I'm even closer to Boston than parts of the American West Coast. It's cheaper to get here from Boston than it is to fly many places in the U.S. And culturally, Iceland is a lot closer to Boston, than say, Texas or Alabama.

I guess to many Americans, anyplace "overseas" is somewhere "out there", somewhere they go rarely, or have never been. Somewhere that's impossible to call, somewhere where emails get hauled around on elephants and then lost. I don't get it, because when I moved further away, to California, it was as though I had never left Boston. But here in Iceland, to some old friends we might as well be dead.

carmen said...

I'm an American and lived in Berlin for more than a year some time ago. I can really relate to your post because I had the same problem with friends. I do think the time difference affects things. (For example, I'm now on the east coast (US) and my brother is in California. Even just 3 hours can be huge--when I'm in the mood/have the time to talk, he's still working, having dinner, etc.) It's surprising how out of sync you can be. On top of that, your friends' lives are pretty unchanged and you know exactly what they mean when they talk about going out on a Friday night (as opposed to a Reykjavik Friday) or how your old favorite bar just got turned into condos. But it takes a lot of work from them to understand "wtf is skyr again?" and why watching the cheese-filled Iceland Eurovision finals this Saturday at 8pm is nothing like American Idol, that it's so bad it's good. Okay, maybe that last part is just about me (I'll be in reykjavik this weekend.) ;-)

Anyway, it takes a lot of effort and it mostly has to come from you. When I returned from Berlin, I fell back into things with a few friends as if I'd never left. But most people had changed, and so did I, so that was it. They're people I google now if I ever think of them. It's sad that friendships fade so quickly out of sheer laziness!

In the end, the ones I'm still friends with were people who actually came to visit me. (They weren't necessarily the people I was closest to!) I guess it helped them when I'd bitch about rude Germans or what I loved about Berlin or how my hair ended up with an unintentional stripe of color when I went to this one tiny salon on a side street we'd passed one day. They're the ones who've lasted through my life's chapters, and that's been cool.

Anyway, sorry to run on like this. But maybe it's to repay you a little for doing all of the talking that I've been enjoying so much since discovering your blog. Hth, and feel better.

ECS said...

Hi Carmen! Thanks for posting at such length- you have some really great insight as to why people seem to have dropped off the earth. I think it is true that it's harder to stay in touch when you can't picture any of the things the person is describing. It's true whether the move was abroad or not. Maybe it just is the natural order of life these days when people are so mobile and friends don't stay in the same town or state.

I still do believe that the important people will stick somehow, and I take inspiration from my mom and one of her closest friends from college. They have stayed friends for 30+ years through several international moves and many trips. They could do it before email and free internet calling existed, so I can definitely do it now.

I hope you have a fantastic time here, and that some of the great weather we've got now will stick. Are you coming as a tourist or for a Purpose? Other than watching Eurovision finals, of course!