When you live abroad, the concept of holiday changes, and sometimes turns into a …non-holiday!
“Oh, are you really leaving? Lucky you! Well, have a nice holiday“.
Despite having lived abroad for two years only, I had already heard this sentence quite often. When you announce you are about to go back to your country for a couple of weeks, people look at you with envy, and I can’t wait. But not all is roses and flowers. Here I share my experience on holidays, the expat dilemma!
After the last trip to Italy, though, I started feeling caught by the “Expat Dilemma”: is it better to spend your yearly holidays at home, or to go elsewhere?
On one hand, after a year in a foreign country, you really wish to go home to familiar human contacts, to see places and people you know. On the other hand, you are strongly tempted to run away from the plethora of things to do when you go back home, and to spend two weeks in another country, being a tourist, or simply taking time to be with family and caring for your family relationships.
However, this last option has consequences, first of all financially, but also from a social point of view: you will have to face the silent reproaches of friends and relatives: “how is it! They just have a few weeks holidays a year, and they prefer to spend them in Mauritius rather than coming back home?”…almost as if living abroad were like an exotic holiday in itself!
Holiday at home has very little to do with the concept of holiday.
Upon arrival, you spend the first two days recovering from the flight with your children. You open a home that has been closed for a year, you face dust, dirt and rush shopping, you cook something and then unpack.
For weeks you have been dreaming of the moment when you would relax on your home’s sofa, and now that you are there you can’t help but see the dry plants on the balcony, they make you so sad: what to do? Leave them like that for three weeks?… and you end up cleaning the whole balcony.
Then starts the merrygoround of household tasks that have been neglected for a year: file the mail, check the invoices, go through the bank statements, find out that the phone has been cut off because the bank did not pay an invoice, and your driving license has expired – what to do? When do you renew it, if you’ll leave again shortly?
If you live in a hot country and go home in winter, you must shop in a hurry because your children’s sweaters don’t fit any more, and gosh, it’s cold!
You do medical checks, those you can’t make in Africa or in difficult countries: phone calls, meetings, and do somersaults to manage to see a specialist within three weeks time. All of this by paying, of course: “Madam, don’t you know that Italians who live abroad automatically lose the right to public health care?”…the duty to pay taxes, however, remains!
The telephone rings. “Halloooooooo!!!!! You are here, finally: I thought you were going to arrive last week…“.
How can you tell your best friend that it’s true, we actually came back last week, but between the telephone that was not working and the thousands chores, I have not managed to call her yet?
“… we absolutely must see each other… you haven’t met the last born yet…”
It’s true, we must see each other: you organize to meet her, trying to find time in the list of dinner invitations, too long a list to be able to see everybody, so you have to use all of your diplomacy not to make feel anyone “neglected”.
The telephone, once more: this time it’s your mother.
“So we are waiting for you. You’ll stay at least one week, right?”
At this point a good portion of your holidays has passed, your husband has already gone back abroad (“By the way, since you are staying longer and have nothing to do, why don’t you call the carpenter and the plumber and ask them to arrange those two tiny things?” – like it was easy to find a plumber and a carpenter that will come to see you and do the work within a week!), and you chose to leave your children with grandparents and aunts, and sacrifice your holiday need to a solitary walk downtown, spending the afternoon between bookshops and pastry shops.
The last days arrive (gosh, where do they fly?) and there is always something you forgot or haven’t done, or a person that at this point you’d rather not tell of your being back, deciding to put her on top of the list for the next “holiday”.
The day before departure (home to close, last clothes to wash, children excited by the trip, or sad to leave) your mind starts considering that in the end it is not so bad to live in Nigeria, with armed escort, poor food and such a boring life but finally…so resting!
And they call it holiday… holidays, the expat dilemma!
Happy relocations everyone!
Cristina Baldan (Cristinaexpat)
Port Harcourt (Nigeria)