Our heartfelt thanks to Catherine, who lives in the U.A.E., for her honest and far-reaching story, in which she explains how she is suffering from double culture shock. If you’d like to get to know Catherine better, do visit her Facebook page and read her poems.
A double culture shock: moving abroad to able to live with a husband from a different culture
Let me tell you about the beautiful and painful experience I am going through in Abu Dhabi. I moved abroad for love, to follow my Palestinian husband who works here for a company which financed his studies (which means he owes them a number of years’ work in exchange).
I am from a small town in the French region of Auvergne, so I was delighted by the idea of moving to this beautiful city, not far from the seaside, bathed in sunshine throughout the year, open to the world, safe, and above all, close to the man I love.
It became increasingly obvious that within our couple, our views differed on many fundamental aspects: for example, domestic chores, work, education, financial priorities.
I left my apartment, my car, and my work without much heartache. However, I immediately missed my family and friends. We quickly decided to start a family, and this filled me with ideas, hopes, and security. I was looking forward to outings, going to the beach with the children, regular trips back to France…the sort of things many expats do.
The realisation that summer lasts 7-8 months with temperatures exceeding 50°, added to the cost of living and the birth of our first child, were the start of my difficulties. It became increasingly obvious that within our couple, our views differed on many fundamental aspects: for example, domestic chores, work, education, financial priorities.
Cultural differences are no longer limited to what I experience outside the home, where I come across the huge spectrum of nationalities and languages that this country offers: the differences are ever-present in my routine, and every model familiar to me cannot be reproduced within my own family. This is also due to the fact that my husband’s family is very much involved in our life, and have a strong influence on him. We had a second daughter, and although this gives me some satisfaction from a maternal point of view, it also brings an additional challenge to our couple: a tired couple with little outside support.
My husband follows the paternal model he knows, and sees his friends alone: I don’t know them like I knew his friends in France.
In four years I haven’t been able to build any genuine relationships although I have tried a few times (very few, to tell the truth) and I think it’s because I can’s see myself fitting in here. But every moment I spend with girlfriends seems to be stolen from destiny. My parents come for two weeks every year, and they make the most of what this country has to offer, particularly to foreigners. As for us, we go back for three weeks every year, when we live intense and blissful moments.
We thank Skype the rest of the time!
My husband follows the paternal model he knows, and sees his friends alone: I don’t know them like I knew his friends in France. I just know a few of their names. So my life revolves around looking after my wonderful daughters, shopping, looking after the house, and seeing my husband’s family once a fortnight, either at their home or at ours. In the winter we go to the park, but that’s where our family outings end.
I have the impression I’m living a life which isn’t mine, and I live waiting to leave
I am completely isolated, so I have taken refuge in writing, which allows me to put my feelings into words, since I can’t externalise them. Writing has also enabled me to develop some great virtual contacts, which help me hang on in there.
I have the impression I’m living a life which isn’t mine, and I live waiting to leave. I hope this will be soon, but realistically, I will be here at least for another three years.
Career opportunities for my Palestinian husband are limited, and this frustrates him, which doesn’t help the general atmosphere. However, when we manage to put all this aside, our love is still strong. This is why I expect a lot (maybe too much) from our return to France. It will be liberating, both for him and for me. But I’m also terrified that I may be disappointed.
The towering skyscrapers, the almost invariably blue sky, the sea, the beach, the shopping malls, the desert, the camels, the beautiful mosques, the varied cultures, and the restaurants are nothing compared with our mountains, our cheeses, and the bread, vegetables, sunshine, rain, cities, countryside, and variety of landscapes offered us by France.
I don’t regret having left, because it had to be done: the move gave us the opportunity of becoming parents and living together at last. The experience has certainly been enriching from the point of view of self-awareness, but it’s time for it to end, so that we can go back to living, rather than simply existing.
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Translated into English by Paola Fornari