Coming to grips with my “Americanness”

embarrassed to be an american

Somewhere in my college days, I took a couple semesters of French. I remember my professor very well, probably because he was a salt-and-pepper-haired dapper Frenchman who could really pull off a scarf. But also, I remember him because he never minced words when he talked about the differences between the French and Americans.

One day at the beginning of the semester, he told us all to stop smiling so much. I may have recoiled, it shocked me so much. I quickly uncurled my lips. I’m sure they didn’t stay there long. I can’t help it. Smiling is engrained in American DNA, just like the pathological enthusiasm that practically seeps from our pores.

He went on to tell us that in France if you see someone smiling at strangers on the street you assume they’re senile, drunk or without much sense. I had no idea that what I thought was a symbol of being earnest and open was telling legions of French people I was an idiot.
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What no one tells you about expat marriage

expat marriage

When I’m drumming up topics to write about for this blog, sometimes I’ll skim through the travel section of news sites and, if they have them, articles about expat life. Yesterday, the headline “Hong Kong is a marriage graveyard” stopped me in my scroll.

What the what?! At first glance, it doesn’t seem outrageously salacious. However, if you’ve trolled through enough articles about expat life then you’re aware that for the most part, titles skew towards benign.

Obviously, I immediately fell into an expat-marriage-crisis internet wormhole and came across several other sensationally titled articles. Articles like “Can the move to the UAE wreck your marriage?” and “True story: The problems of married expat life in Singapore.”

If I would have stumbled across these when I was getting ready to move to Colombia, I have no idea how I would have reacted. At that time, I was struggling to find even a discussion of how an international assignment would impact my relationship. It took me a bit and I did find an excellent book, but still, expat marriages aren’t really talked about.

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Expats and New Year’s resolutions

Expats New Years resolution

The end of the year begs for a bit of reflection and resolution making. Moving abroad has that same vibe and urges many of us to make big plans for life in a new place. I suppose turning over a new leaf is universally appealing because let’s be real, telling ourselves we’ll be good tomorrow justifies some indulgence today.

I have a love/hate relationship with resolutions and grand plans. On the one hand, I love structure and lists and goals. On the other, I kind of suck at the discipline required to follow through with them. It won’t surprise you then when I say that contrary to what I expected when I first said adios to the U.S. in 2014, I’m still over here struggling with the same things.

I’ve said before that living abroad will not make you a happier person. Today I am realizing that neither will it make you a different (which most of us assume means better) person. I hate to break it to anyone who’s out there idealizing life abroad but it turns out that the old cliché of “wherever you go, there you are” is oozing and overflowing with truth.

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More than just Christmas – Everything you need to know about the holidays in Madrid

Photo borrowed from Citylife Madrid

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve watched double-decker buses line up along Plaza de Colón. The city has been fully decked in lights since the first of the month and come to find out, these navibuses (as in Navidad or Christmas buses) take folks around Madrid to see the city’s best and brightest.

One great thing about traveling around the holidays is discovering new traditions. For instance, I loved lighting candles on Día de las Velitas and the special nighttime ciclovía each December in Bogotá. New traditions are even more important for those living abroad because incorporating something new into your holiday season can help take the sting out of being away from loved ones.

If you’re traveling to or living in Madrid count yourself lucky—here, the holiday season is more than just Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Keep reading for a rundown of special days in Spain’s capital city.

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FYIs for your Spanish pharmacy visit

spanish pharmacy

Stand on any street corner in Madrid and I guarantee you’ll see at least two flashing green crosses. To all my fellow Americans: these aren’t marijuana dispensaries. They’re pharmacies. In Madrid, you’re hard-pressed to find a street corner without one. They’re kinda like a Spanish equivalent of Starbucks.

When I first arrived in Spain it took me awhile to get up to speed with the way the Spanish do over-the-counter drugs. I spent several confused afternoons circling the grocery store looking for Tylenol and cold medicine. I soon found out that in Spain, anything stronger than toothpaste is available only in a pharmacy.

Since we’re in the middle of cold and flu season, here are a few things Americans should know before visiting their local Spanish pharmacy.

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Expat advice: When you’re not home for the holidays

expat holidays away from home

I’m not gonna lie. In some respects, living abroad during the holidays is great. Here in Madrid, lights and trees and decorations are already up all over the city. Thanks to Amazon Prime, my U.S. gift shopping stress doesn’t even register. I may not get to spend all the special days with my besties or family, but if needed, I can distract myself with a 35€ flight to Toulouse or quick train to Sevilla.

But then, I start thinking about this Thursday. It’s Thanksgiving in the U.S. but just a regular day here in Spain. Regular to the point that I’ll be getting a cavity filled at 10:50 am. Regular to the point that I’ll be smooshed in the metro with the other regular-day commuters, thinking of all the roasting turkeys and toasts happening in the U.S.

When you live abroad, there’s a good chance you’ll celebrate solo a time or two. It’s not always possible or practical to get home. But celebrating holidays away from family can wear on even the steadiest heart. There’s a unique loneliness that slinks in no matter how accustomed you are to being away from home. So, what’s an expat to do?

Since we’re looking the holiday season in the face, I say it’s time to get proactive. I’m a girl that loves a plan. I swear, seven out of ten things that plague my inner being can be solved with a decent list. If you know you won’t be with family this year and already feel the tickle of bleak desolation on the fringes of your heart, it’s time to get going! Don’t wait until you’re in the depths of despair with a bottle of tequila on Christmas Eve.

Keep reading for five ways I avoid the lonely that can creep in around the holiday season.
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An insider’s guide for long distance BFFs

long distance BFFs

When I was growing up my step-dad always told me that when I was all old and grey and looking back on my life, I’d be able to count my true friends on one hand. When I was younger I took this a quantity thing. Now that I’m older—and see he’s right—I realize that he was talking about quality. Many friendships have a natural ebb and flow. However, when the stars align and give you that person who practically shares your DNA, you hold on for dear life.

During my last visit to San Diego, I was talking with one of my two besties about how similar lifelong friendships are to a marriage. Like marriage, friendships require forgiveness and compassion. Like marriage, over time you learn both the beautiful and not-so-beautiful parts of someone’s heart. And like with any close relationship, distance makes things hard.

But just because you’re living on the other side of the globe as your BFF doesn’t mean you’ll lose that closeness. It takes more work, sure, but there’s also a special pride that comes from persevering against the difficulties of distance. Keep reading for a few ways to work around the struggles unique to expats and their long distance BFFs.

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Keep your glass half full: Why expats should be cultivating positivity

expat positivity

Positivity gets a bad rap, but isn’t it kind of justified? Because I don’t think I’m alone when I say that unrealistic optimism isn’t exactly useful. When you’re stressed out of your mind or down in the dumps, the words “cheer up” are about as helpful as telling someone without a coat to keep warm. Unfortunately, a positive attitude is easily the irritating Pollyanna goody-two-shoes of the emotional crew.

While do I favor the black heart emoji and think pessimism sets us up for pleasant surprises, I found an article that made me rethink all the eye-rolling I do at positive attitudes. Especially when it comes to expat life, it looks like positivity is the arrow you want in your quiver.

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A brb message from No Longer Native

Hello there! Just a quick note to say I’ll be taking a little break during the month of October because of some very exciting happenings.

First of all, I have a much-anticipated visit to the U.S. to spend time with friends and family. Once I get back it’ll be a mad dash to finish a freelance project due by the end of the month. That said, I’ll be back here the first week of November.

It won’t be total radio-silence, though. Instead of new content in the month of October, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite articles from the archives. Since many expats make their transitions in the summer, fall means you’re smack in the middle of the three-month-slump part of the transition. Even seasoned expats can use a reminder about dealing with things like culture shock, changes to your marriage, shifting friendships back home, and hosting long-term visitors.

All of these will be shared through our Facebook page. So if you haven’t already, make sure to like and follow No Longer Native on Facebook so you can see what all the articles and blogs (as well as the archived posts) that I’m loving right now. Can’t wait to see you soon!

Seven reasons the Spanish stay slim (even while eating all that ham)

My first few glances at Madrid’s restaurant menus gave me major anxiety. Yes, part of it was that I had a whole new list of food words to learn. But after that, I started worrying how I was going to live here for the next few years and not have to buy new jeans every six months.

Because Spanish food is the delicious cliche you think it is: all varieties of ham, creamy cheese, peppery wine, and olives stuffed with everything you can imagine. There’s really no way to avoid these foods and besides, I didn’t want to! Unfortunately, unless I was going to develop insane self-control (not likely), I was going to have to develop some new eating habits.

Thank goodness the Spaniards are already pros at this and all I had to do was follow their example. Keep reading for seven habits I copied from the locals so I could have my ham and eat it too.

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