Friday, May 28, 2010

The Two Most Popular Expat Locations

There are two places in the world that most expats live: in a Bubble or in Reality.

It can be wonderful to live in a bubble. In a bubble, everything counts on your perception, rather than the reality.

This can be good or bad, depending on your imagination. You can imagine your boss likes you. You can imagine your neighbor loves your new wind chime. You can imagine you're fluent in German.

But at some point, if you stay in a foreign country long enough, your bubble will break.

Often, this happens when you learn the language, know the customs, befriend a local, or have to visit the unemployment office.

My bubble broke last year. And then I realized. This is my real life. And three years had gone by since I noticed I was living it.

Now when my neighbor says, “Baden used to be a nice town but now it’s trashy, dangerous, and filled with foreigners,” I no longer smile and nod.

Reality is hard that way.

Even though I moved to Switzerland four years ago, today I’m really living here.

Where do you live? In a bubble? In reality? Which do you prefer?

Next week on Writer Abroad: expat author extraordinaire, Stephen Clarke, talks about the vast conspiracy that is the publishing industry and how to crack it. Hint: put your books in a shopping cart and push them around Paris.


  1. That is so true! My bubble usually pops about a year after I have moved to a new place. I think I prefer reality, but living in the bubble is SO much easier...

  2. After reading this article, I also read "Expat Life: Are you addicted?" This is a response to both articles. So, I begin with, YES, I am addicted to the ex-pat life, but feel like I fluctuate between "reality" and "bubble" daily, and sometimes hourly. How can I possibly claim any sense of "reality" when I don't speak the Polish language? Yet, holding a dear Polish friend at her husband's freshly dug grave site requires no audible language, but how much better it would be if she could murmur in Polish to her foreign friend who understands her language. I clearly work in a bubble. Many colleagues are native English speakers, and the ones who are not are those who want to practice their English skills rather than their Polish language skills. Language is a big factor, one that I do not see myself overcoming, thus having to admit that I am caught in a bubble most of the time...especially when I compare my life opportunities to friends and family at home who face a much different reality than I do for the privilege of having ex-pat status.

  3. Hello Holiday Hedgehog.

    I like your name. Thanks for reading the blog.

    Bubble fluctuation is totally normal. I still get in bubble mode sometimes, it's just must less frequent than before.

    And even when I was in Bubbleland most of the time, I'd still get shaken out of it, for instance, when being yelled at for recycling a couple glass bottles over the lunch hour.

    Language issues are also hard to overcome in Switzerland. I learn High German, but everyone speaks Swiss German, which is not a written language. And many would rather speak English than High German. This is a real problem for native English speakers. We are doomed to ever learn anything else! I still carry on conversations speaking German while they talk back to me in English. It's quite strange, but I've gotten used to it.

    Good luck!

  4. "My bubble broke last year. And then I realized. This is my real life. And three years had gone by since I noticed I was living it." So true! It's been almost a year since I moved abroad, but I still find myself saying I don't know how long I'll be here, which kind of translates to "this isn't permanent, we'll see how things go" but I can see how soon enough, I'll wake up one day and find out this is my real life and I am living it. Not just a temporary break between my past and the future...

  5. Hi Chantal
    I'm really thinking now after reading your words on the bubble v reality. just found your blog and will return in a minute to read more but i want to comment first on this one. I have been living in Catalunya for 10 months and I definitely wobble between the two worlds. Only this morning thinking ' here I am having an ordinary life and relationship with normal problems except that I can't talk properly!' and yet I still get that thrill of ' Can't believe it - here I am having a glass of wine with my Catalan lover sitting in the sunshine in the plaça' I am learning two languages Castellano and Catalan and until I speak both fairly fluently I will be living in this bubble world of fantasy and imagination. (but how creative that is as well!) Once when I returned to the UK I stood in the airport listening to the people chatting around me and thought 'how banal are their conversations' Immediately I also realised that the conversations here in Catalunya are probably just as mundane but they sound exotic to my foreign ears. Anyway...sorry to leave such a long comment but you see it made me think. Look forward to eading more. best wishes Kate

  6. Hi Adrineh,

    I'm glad I'm not the only one. I think it's strange when you live in a "this isn't permanent" world. We keep renewing our stay in Switzerland year by year. And it's a crazy way to live, never knowing what country you'll end up in the following year. But I guess life is never boring this way!

    One of the things I miss most about living abroad is eavesdropping! But you are right, most conversations as so banal I wonder why I even care. I love visiting the Catalunya area, hope you're loving living there (although I'm sure it's much different than just visiting).

  7. This is so true!!! I am still in the bubble, having only been here in Zurich for a few months. I found it took years for me to awake to reality when we did a tour in London. I lived according to our travel plans and the latest adventure. Life kicked me in the ass when we moved back to the US and I had to worry about things like exterminators and car payments.

  8. Hi Kimberly,

    Glad you're still in Bubbleland. It's nice there.

    I know what you mean about living from adventure to adventure. It's a great way to go through life.

    I too am dreading the thought of real things like car payments. That's why I can never seem to leave Switzerland...

  9. I could never do what you do, Chantal. You're much cooler and braver than I am. Good post.


  10. Hi Chuck,

    I don't know if I'm any cooler. I'm not writing a book about gnomes and you are. But I love gnomes. Maybe that helps.

  11. In reality. But I still have my bubble days, when I choose to ignore the grumpiness and staring and stuff and just focus on the sunshine, the beauty of the lake, the Limmat and the old town, and my 4-year's old laugh while she feeds the ducks and swans :-)

  12. It's much easier to live in a bubble when the sun's out.

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