As many of my friends know, our family is planning a move – to Tokyo. We have often talked about Asia and it has been a personal career goal. As with all goals, if you set your mind to it, it will happen.
This will be very different from our “ex-pat lite” experience of living in London primarily due to language. I do not say due to culture because moving to London was a huge culture shock. I personally didn’t think it would be – but I was very, very wrong.
In retrospect, it was those cultural differences that made it such an amazing experience and one that I continue to reflect on fondly; I love the UK. But that requires a certain mindset. What I came to realize as I lived there and mingled in the expat community, is that there are three types of expats:
1. The ‘check-the-box’ expat: This expat knows that they will only be here for a short while and are looking forward to promptly returning home and therefore decide that they are going to do it all. This generally means an insanely packed schedule with day trips and holidays that are so jam packed with sightseeing that they really don’t experience it. These are people who go to The Louvre and only schedule 1 hour.
2. The ‘I do not want to be here’ expat: This is the executive who has to do this role for career reasons and is dragging along a spouse who does not want to be there. They are usually counting the days until they can move back into the house that they kept in North America and resume ‘normal’ life. This family shops at the butcher shop in Virginia Water who stocks all kinds of US foods like crappy Skippy peanut butter and constantly complains about everything that is different than at home. Surprisingly, there are quite a few of these people.
3. The ‘make it memorable’ expat: This family may or may not know when they are going home but are there to love every minute. The nuances of the culture, the little differences that are frustrating for family No. 2 become charming. They mix with locals and take trips that are not jam packed sightseeing trips, but also filled with casual brunches at a cafe on a side street. They love the differences and every experience, big and small.
In the UK, we were number 3 and it is best illustrated with cream:
- Family number 2 looks at cream as an irritant. It is called pouring cream, comes in tiny little containers and expires in roughly 4 days versus the 3-4 month expiry on your 1 litre container in North America.
- Our family laughed about cream. First thing, it took us 3 weeks to figure out that pouring cream is cream that can be used in a coffee as many shops don’t carry it. The fact that it only lasts a few days is one that we still wish we had in North America, as one has to wonder how our cream lasts for so long – what is in it?
It is all about mindset. In our case we will re-institute our weekend rule – “Do one thing different every weekend”. I cannot wait. Time to blow the dust off my camera …..