This was intended as a fairly light-hearted look at unavailable groceries, which is one of the most common complaints you hear from ex-pats, but while I was planning it (yes, I do plan) it morphed into something much more deep. When we first arrived, our focus was on survival – shelter, food, transport. How can we feed our children when chicken is so expensive, when the cheese is flavourless, when I can’t rely on getting chocolate worth eating, when we have to track down alcohol, and feel like total guilty bums smuggling it out of the Liquor Store in brown paper bags? I mean, there’s something unsavoury about the word “liquor” isn’t there? Try asking at the local grocery store for squash, and then try explaining your way out of the produce department while the assistant forces pumpkins, butternut and assorted gourds into your basket.
As time goes on, we are surprised by how little we think of these things now. The issues have become bigger. This was our second year away from (nearly) everything familiar, and we have been blessed with almost constant visitors, bringing us a new supply of Marmite, Dove aerosol deoderant and childrens’ medicines (nobody in their right mind is going to take Sour Apple Tylenol when Calpol is available). As our guests left, we realised how alone we are, how long it takes to make friends, how different we are. The same issues exist (aging relatives, friends struggling and in need of a shoulder to cry on), but we are now too far away to help. Perhaps part of the emigration process should be a question “Are you hard enough to turn your back on those who need you?”
Two pieces of excellent advice we have received: First, sit down with your partner at the start of the emigration process and decide the circumstances which would take you back to the UK. Life threatening illness of parent? Of course. Death of very ancient Great Aunt? Only if Mum insists the family are all there, and if she offers to pay. Sister’s ingrowing toenail op? No. These are difficult matters to discuss, but the possibilities have to be faced. Second, budget to return to the UK every 2 years for the first 10 years. It may not be necessary, but everyone we have met and spoken to has found this helps. My sister, who has lived in Washington state for 10 years, calls it “the cure”. She says “You get a very romantic view of the UK when you have been away for a while, and you need to see why you moved away. England is a lovely place to visit and its great to see family and friends, but after a week or so, I can’t wait to land in Vancouver and smell the pine on the mountains.”
So I guess it’s time for my cure – at least I can stock up on Marmite again…
For the post on My Cure see Don’t Do That (You’ll Go Blind)