When living in a foreign country, even the simplest tasks can become the greatest endeavors.
One must be prepared for this, and above all else, have the ability to laugh at themselves and to always keep on going.
I am no expert at this feat, by all means. Honestly, my time in Sweden has been my first experience living in a country where I donít speak the language or fully understand the culture.
While in France, I now realize what an asset it was to have had my language abilities, and while yes, I can always fall back on English here, sometimes itís just not the same. And I canít have a translator walking around with me everywhere I go (though I really should download an app for that).
And yet, while I have no real answers for how to conquer embarrassing times in foreign countries, I can at least offer some advice, or share the stories of my mishaps and breakdowns:
First, when setting goals for yourself, be modest, kind and realistic. Keep it simple!
It took me an entire week to figure out how to buy envelopes, stamps and mail letters home. Donít ask me why, but after 3 trips to the Post and multiple PressbyrŚns, I finally succeeded.
Patience and humor are necessary for daily chores, such as grocery shopping. Really, it is a humbling experience when you have to send multiple texts to your boyfriend asking what the difference is between such and such bread and what the word is for butter, or garlic.
If at first you donít succeed, try and try again. Just because something did not work out well the first time, it does not mean it will never work out at all. You are in a different place, so perhaps try doing something in a different way. Donít be stubbornó itís ok to change things in order to adjust in your new home.
Give yourself time. As I hinted at before, grocery shopping and cooking are still a challenge for me here. I still end up paying more than I know I should at the store because I am not familiar with brands and products (let alone the fact that I still am not familiar with the kronor and the kilo). I donít know yet what a good deal is here. Also, it is very difficult for me to find the familiar ingredients that I have at home, or in France. Iíve tried, unsuccessfully, all week to make one, awesome dinner for my boyfriend, and each time the seasoning or the flavors or the pasta sauce is just not right. I donít know what it is! But I am determined to become an awesome Swedish chef here (insert Swedish chef Muppets joke here).
If you moved for love, keep the relationship with your person and the relationship with your new country/city separate. I canít blame my boyfriend for the fact that it took me 45 minutes to find the store instead of the normal 20. Itís not his fault that the fish I cooked was too dry. Of course, I am here for him, but I love him, and no matter how hard and frustrating this experience may be, it is worth it, and I knew there would be challenges going into it.
Try not to totally depend on your significant otheróbe independent. I used to be scared to go shopping or do laundry on my own, because, god forbid, something would happen and I wouldnít understand what was going on and then I would ruin everything. Well, I got sick of waiting around for him to do things real fast and just bit the bullet and went out on my own. And what do you know! I didnít ruin anythingÖ.yet.
Find others like youóI guarantee they are out there. There are expats all over the place, and while you should be trying to assimilate and integrate into the culture of your new home, it feels so good to get together with others in your same situation and just cry and bitch about everything. Really, there are other people out there having the same struggles and feelings as you, and I am sure they can offer a shoulder to cry on or at least a friend to help explain how something works in a way that you will understand it.
Keep yourself happy, healthy and looking good. When everything else fails around you, just focus on YOU. Eating right, sleeping well and exercising can make all the differenceóreally. You are in an uncomfortable setting and situation being a foreigner far from home. Do what you need to do to make yourself feel good and feel like you. Treat yourself every now and then, maybe with a day shopping, or a day inside watching movies in your own language with a box of chocolatesówhatever floats your boat.
Learn, and love it. This is an experienceóan opportunity to be learning new things every day. How incredible is that?!
And, when everything turns to shit and comes crashing down around you, know that this is going to be one heck of a story youíll be able to tell your friends and family later. Hell, maybe you can even turn it into a blog. Happy foreign living everybody.