Travel: You Know You…

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You know you have lived abroad for too long when…

  • you have spent more time abroad than in your own home country.
  • you have acquired a foreign accent.
  • you have lost the fluency you once had in your two mother tongues (Nepali and Seke, referred to as a dialect in the Wikipedia entry) and have pretty much lost the ability to communicate in (Hindi) the third language you learned growing up.
  • the language you express yourself best in is (English) the fourth language you learned growing up.
  • you even think and dream in (English) the fourth language.
  • you return home you experience not reverse culture shock, as is the norm, but reverse reverse culture shock, basically culture shock.
  • your home country has become a vacation destination.
  • you have celebrated some other holiday (Christmas) more than any of your own.
  • you have acquired some not-very-useful skills, such as the ability to
    • interconvert between five or more different currencies.
    • recognize and distinguish twenty odd languages (though you might not speak them all!).
    • recognize a dozen or so different accents.
    • swear in several different languages.
    • determine the nationality of many people by just their appearance and/or their gestures and mannerisms.
    • identify the nationality of people from certain countries and regions based on their handwriting (such as those from Italy, Hong Kong, Japan etc.)

You know you have been travelling/moving around too much when…

  • you have made 30 changes in residential address in 25 years; in other words, you have spent less than a year at a residential address on average.
  • you have lived in 14 cities in 11 countries spread across 5 continents in that same period.
  • the longest you have retained a residential address is for just two-and-a-half years, just once at that, and the second longest is two years, also just once.
  • you have set foot in over 40 countries (in spite of the hurdles to travel imposed on you because of nationality).
  • you live for the journey–the journey becomes more important than the destination, really
  • you have lost your sense of how expensive or cheap things are (when you have paid anywhere from 50 cents to 15 (US) dollars for a 300 ml bottle of beer, for example!).
  • you compare costs with not only your home country but four or five other countries (anyway).
  • only one of the material belongings you set out with 25 years ago remains: a tie.
  • you have lost your intuitive sense for the direction you look first before crossing a road; in other words, you have to remind yourself which side of the road people drive on.
  • football means any one of three different sports: American Football, Australian Football, and what the rest of the world calls football!
  • you use a travel adaptor at home, because your electronic gadgets come from four different systems! (Still missing Swiss though!)
  • every major city begins to look the same–they all have McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Subway, huge sky scrapers, big expensive cars, busy and noisy streets etc. etc., unfortunately.
  • you have a world view about most issues.
  • most importantly, social status has lost its meaning (since it has changed so often, so many times).
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This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Winsome Loraine Peter

    Brilliant, Dorje! Really enjoyed reading it. I could identify with so many things you listed. What do you do when the world is anywhere on this planet and things like ‘home’ and ‘family’ take on an entirely new meaning! I have been back in South Africa for 9 months now and I feel like a foreigner here….going through the reverse culture shock! Take care and hope all is going well back in Nepal.

    1. Dorje

      Hey, good to see you back here again! Yes ‘home’ and ‘family’ have taken an entirely new meaning. But, all the while, it was reassuring to know that I could always find, with some exception, some aspects of being in a place amenable.

      Nine months and still a foreigner and going through culture shock?! You are probably not trying hard enough to fit in and accommodate! 😉

      A Nepalese friend recently told me that, now that I was back in my home country and culture, I need to learn to do things, and think, the way everyone else does and forget about how I used to do and think while I was living abroad. Of course, I couldn’t do that, not completely anyway. Part of the reason I left Nepal, in the first place, had something to do with wanting to be able to do and think a little differently!

  2. Bijendra Shrestha

    Nicely written! I like the last point the best!
    My two cents: Invest in a couple of good quality large size suitcases and a printer.

    1. Dorje

      Hey Bijendra, now that I am planning on staying put for quite a suitcases (which I have a number of) probably won’t come handy! As for a printer, that could come handy whether staying in one place or moving around.

    2. Dorje

      Bijendra, I have a number of suitcases but they’ll probably not be as useful as they had been the last several years! I don’t plan to move as much!

  3. alua

    I meet people and I wonder, one kiss on the cheek? two? three (the Dutch!)? Or a handshake? A hug? Or perhaps no touching at all? It’s a lengthy debate in my head that the other person probably doesn’t even spend a second on. (I observe carefully and follow what the other person seems to go for.)

    I was also the one who, at a recent conference, brought an adapter because knew at least one of the international participants was bound to forget their adapter at home. The other conference organisers were rather surprised that a problem was so instantly solved…

    1. Dorje

      Alua,

      I never wonder! Here’s how I go about it.

      North American man: a handshake and unless I know him, then a handshake and a hug; North American woman: also a handshake unless I know her then a hug.

      British Man: a handshake; woman: also a handshake unless I know her then one kiss on the cheek.

      Dutch/Belgian man: a handshake (it’s awkward hugging them what with the height differential!); woman: three kisses on the cheek.

      Other European (except Italian and Spanish) man: a handshake unless I know him then a hug; woman: two kisses on the cheek.

      Italian and Spanish men: a hug; women: two kisses on the cheek and a hug.

      Nepalese man: a namaste (Nepalese greeting) unless I know him then handshake, and if I know him well then a handshake and a hug; woman: also a namaste, unless I know her well then a hug.

      Arab man: a handshake; woman: nothing.

      And of course, I have a procedure for the rest of the nationalities (all the other Asians, the Africans, the Aussies and the Kiwis…. You name it I have a procedure!

      I tell a lie, who am I kidding! I don’t have a well laid-out plan of attack for every meeting! (But hey, the above list sounds plausible doesn’t it (if you can remember them all)?)

      What confuses things for me even more is where you meet the person (whether somewhere in Europe or Asia or North America), the make-up of the social setting (whether mostly expats or locals) and how I think the other person sees me (because of my nationality)! I do wonder whether to go for the kiss and/or a hug because when I do, sometimes, that confuses them.

      1. alua

        That’s quite a plan! My problem is I just don’t remember anymore where it is which exactly.

        In case we ever meet in real life, I’m fine with a hug 🙂

  4. oliver bruce

    Great List! As a post-UWC, post-US university guy like yourself, can definitely identify!

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