When you work abroad as an English as a foreign language teacher, coming home for the occasional visit and obligatory Christmas festivities means there are a number of things to look forward to. Personally custard, gravy and drinkable tap water are pretty high up on my list, but that’s just me. Friends, family, Wetherspoons breakfast… there are all sorts of things that beckon you and make home, home.
But there are also pitfalls, things you forget about and either take for granted or that have become so instilled, you don’t realise you are doing them.
Here’s a few of mine. Play snap?
No matter how many times I come back, I always get flummoxed by the roads. Left hand lane, right hand lane… I look both ways to prevent becoming a bug stain on a car bonnet every single time. And once I tried to get on the driver’s side of a National Express coach. The driver patted his knee and asked me if I’d like to drive. Possibly not…
Yes, I should know better. But when I want to know the price of something I always find myself speaking in the language of the country from where I have just come – currently ¿Cuánto es? to check a price and perdona when I bump into someone. Which I do. A lot. Clumsy…
My first cafe visit on arriving back to England involved me trying to kiss a stranger. Not because I’m a floozy, but because I’ve just come from Spain, and the double kiss thing is part of my everyday greeting. Honest.
Someone sneezes, I say everything apart from bless you as a result of a number of different colds in a number of different cities. Thank you. Pardon. Would you mind…? Sorry. Sorry to inanimate objects like doors and trolleys. All the time. No wonder people outside of the UK have the mistaken impression that we are very, very polite.
When you first go abroad you convert everything back into pounds, but when you come back here after an extended stay away, everything is automatically put back into euros (or whatever currency you know). Which makes every shopping trip an accounting adventure.
Somewhat in the category of price checking I know, but hear me out. If you’ve gone from having a jarra of beer that is 1,50€ and you’re presented with a pint that is around £3-4, an outraged and indignant yell is likely to escape your lips without even a thought.
Lack of privacy
Families. They mean well. Of course they do. In theory. But it doesn’t matter your age or circumstances, when you return home to the ‘family nest’, you will be bombarded with questions (‘when are you settling down?’), misplaced praise (‘oh, you’re so brave to go off travelling’) or enforced schedules (‘we’ll have breakfast at 7, lunch at 1, and dinner at 7:30. And this is your itinerary for your stay.’) When you’ve been used to your own space and doing as you please when you feel like it, coming home can sometimes be a stifling experience.
Yes. People who hate their jobs and their lives will envy you. They will covet your lifestyle of devil-may-care and say things like ‘I don’t know how you do it’ whilst plucking one child from their knee while another is attached round their neck, telling you about their plans for decorating the living room and showing off their latest car. We don’t judge you for your lifestyle, settlers (well, we do, just… quietly), so why judge ours? And if you hate your job so much, leave. That’s what we did. Nothing magical.
Catching up on gossip
Even about people you don’t know. Especially about them. See, while we’ve been off living our lives, running between classrooms or students’ apartments, jumping from train to metro to bus and wondering if the GPS on our phones will ever kick in and be helpful, life has continued at home too. And somehow, even though we’ve not been told about events, we are automatically assumed to know about them. I personally blame Facebook for that.
For some people, planning a new work route is daunting, whether using a satnav, Google Maps, or an A-Z. And if you have to travel to another city for business, well. Brave new world. But when you travel a lot because of work, train stations, airports and maps no longer phase you, and neither does the prospect of getting lost. Living in another country makes you realise that getting lost is actually no bad thing, merely an unexpected adventure. After all. If Bilbo had taken the ‘correct’ path he was ‘supposed’ to, we’d never have even known of Hobbitty adventures, elven legends and secret kings. Life is in the adventure, is it not?
A moment of doubt
There is sometimes a moment. When you look around at all the people who were once a part of your daily lives, getting on and doing their thing, living a different existence, and you think… why can’t I do that? Why can’t I just stay in one place for an extended period and do the settling thing? And then the moment passes. Because settling isn’t for everyone. Mortgages, the 2.4 kids, and the family saloon in the driveway is really not for everyone. There is nothing wrong with either way of living. And after a week or two, or sometimes a day or two, the call of leaving comes screaming and you start looking longingly at planes overhead or twitching every time you pass a train station. Off you go, traveller. Time to depart again. Home (and gravy) will still be here when you get back.
Has anyone else had similar experiences when coming home from travelling? Or do you have any stories to add? We’d love to hear from you 🙂