Expat Life: Let’s Talk About Alienation

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Part of the deal when choosing an expat lifestyle is being a foreigner. It’s just a fact. On the one hand, being a foreigner is really cool, since by definition, you are constantly discovering your new surroundings, and so your senses are heightened toward the new exciting world you have chosen. On the other hand, you don’t belong. Plain and simple, you don’t. I grew up a foreigner. My parents decided to move our family to the Philippines when I was 8 years old, and ever since then I have been a “third culture kid,” comfortable in many places in the world, but never truly at home in any of them. My skin color gave me away in the Philippines, and although I looked normal enough in the US, I never have felt a true sense of belonging there. We are at our six month point of living in England now. At this point in our journey in Germany, we were already preparing to leave, so any feelings of homesickness were irrelevant as we packed up and tried to figure out what was next. Even so, we had welcomed two sets of visitors by then, and were more integrated into life in Amberg then, than we are in Bury St. Edmunds now.

It has been hard for me to realize that we have been here for half of a year, and yet I still feel so displaced. Jeff goes to work all day with his co-workers, and is getting really comfortable with his new job. Amelia is doing really well in school, speaks just like her classmates do when she is there, and seems to be thriving here. I, on the other hand, spend most of my time at home and have no strong ties to the city around me. The person I see most often is my butcher. One man at the open market that I go to twice a week recognizes me and always cheerily greets me, “Hello,  young lady.”  I attend a weekly yoga class, but haven’t really chatted with anyone there. I have been loving my pottery class, and have on one occasion run into a classmate in town– but the others are not even from my city. The other moms at Amelia’s school are quite reserved, and so although I always have a welcoming and friendly expression on my face, and try to initiate conversation here and there, I don’t know any of them yet. It’s so different from what I experienced in Amberg. Here, no one wants to tell you their name, and sometimes when I introduce myself and ask them, they seem a little taken aback. I am OK with this in theory, but I feel alienated. I am an alien. I am not from this area or this country.

This was very pronounced this morning. Last night, Amelia announced that today is World Book Day. She explained that this means that children can dress up as their favorite book characters. It sounded like a lot of fun, but I hadn’t heard anything from the school about it. We get flyers all the time about various issues and events, but not a word about World Book Day or dressing up. Amelia, in her excitement, often gets special days mixed up. For example, she announced St. Valentine’s Day multiple times before the fact. So, I really had no idea what would be happening today. It was too late to call the school, and I just didn’t know if it was in fact the holiday tomorrow, or what the expectations were. To be safe, I had Amelia put on her uniform, but then I packed a costume (the queen from Alice in Wonderland) and took it with us to school. When we got there, everyone was very much dressed up as book characters, including hair and makeup. I felt simultaneously relieved that I had brought Amelia’s costume for her to change into, and terrible that I hadn’t helped her enjoy the event by making her up as the queen as much as possible. But what would have happened if we had shown up like that, and everyone else looked as they usually do on a school day?! I think there were no flyers sent home because everyone knows  about this special day. Sigh. There are so many things like this that make me feel lame. For example, I love trivia and games, but I haven’t gone to trivia night at our neighborhood pub or at the school fundraisers because I would just not know the answers the British trivia questions! I should still go to meet people, but it’s just daunting to me.

Being a total introvert in a foreign country is equal parts blessing and curse. On the positive side, I can go for long periods happy with my own company, not so disturbed by knowing no one and not fitting in. I am not sure I’ve ever met someone that loves being alone as much as I do. On the other hand, getting to know people is much harder, much more daunting and exhausting for me than it would be for a very outgoing person. Even though I am energized by being alone, I still really value people and community very much. I am used to having people over for dinner, and hosting lots of social gatherings– I absolutely love to feed people and think I am good at hosting gatherings, since I know what it’s like to feel out of place in a group, and enjoy working to make introductions and ensuring that everyone feels comfortable. We have lived in our home since October, and– I can’t believe this is true– have not had anyone over yet. My idea of living well definitely involves eating good food with quality people, as often as possible, preferably in my own home. Jeff and Amelia are quality people, and I cook for them every day. So, that’s good. But we are missing something really important in our new life!

At this point, we haven’t had any visitors here, either. One of the most helpful things that can happen in adjusting to a new place is having people from your previous life come and visit. Introducing them to what is cool, different, and exciting is a very healing process, that helps one become really invested in all that constitutes the new life. I am sure people will eventually come… And that is why this blog is really helpful for me– I can show and describe our surroundings and life here in general. But not having any real witnesses makes life here feel a little bit like a (very long, very detailed) dream. Is it real? No one I know has seen me here! Having belongings around the house from different times in my life helps. But life is still lonely here for me. I have had to make major transitions to new places many, many times in my life. Usually, the six month point is when it all gets better, and I start to begin feeling at home. I am sure things will get better. But I have to be honest with you, that it’s not easy. Travel and fun new experiences help, but there is no replacement for feeling at home.

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61 Responses to Expat Life: Let’s Talk About Alienation

  1. Hausfrau March 2, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    Can I just say that I feel your pain and totally could have written this post myself? Well, except for the part about moving many times since childhood; I didn’t start moving until I went away to college, but since then I have experienced numerous moves. Anyway, I have chalked up some of my alienation to the language barrier here, but I know that’s only part of the story, as you (and some other American friends who moved last year to N. England) are dealing with something similar despite knowing the language. I too adore being alone during the day, and I love spending time with my family, but I also enjoy entertaining friends, and I must say we’ve had a very hard time finding like-minded people here. Wish I had some answers–just know that I understand!

    • Ariana March 3, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

      Thanks for your sympathy, Diane! Even though culturally Germans are said to be very reserved, that was not really my experience. Once the people in our town saw me over and over again, and realized that I was trying to actually speak German, they really warmed up and even reached out to us.
      Also, I REALLY wish we could have you and your family over for dinner!!

    • Hausfrau March 7, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

      I was thinking the same about you and your family! 🙂

    • Ariana March 8, 2012 at 9:40 pm #


  2. Luke March 2, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    I understand this post really well. Been shifting as rapidly as you guys have and everytime I shift there’s a huge adjustment period.. and never quite belonging (yet). I know I will someday.

    The way you ended really minded me of a strong impression I had when I left my very close friends in Seoul to come back to China just a few weeks ago: Without “my” people around me.. I become a stranger even to myself. It’s like I don’t even know who I am anymore.. parts of me are lost. The only plus side of this is that I feel like I’m getting part of myself back (knowing who I am as “Luke”) when I reunite. The loss is hard, and alienating. Know you’re loved over here! I think of you guys all the time, if you get a windfall that you want to waste.. fly me there on my way back to the the US! (c;

    • Ariana March 3, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

      Luke, what do you mean “waste?!” Spending time with you, even if it is expensive, is never a waste. Alas, no windfalls on the horizon. But we are trying to scrape the resources together to furnish a guest room, with the hope that “if you build it, they will come.” Love and miss you!

  3. Kristin March 2, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    Ah! I know how you feel. We’ve been in Korea for nearly 5 years, and I still feel as alien as when we arrived. Particularly since we’re in such a small town, and having a baby limits me hugely.

    I’ve been reading your archives, and you do have such an interesting life. You make ‘home’ wherever you are, and you seem to be able to experience it richly. The British are more reserved (I’m married to one), but they will warm. Is there a mom’s group, or a church to be part of?

    Anyway. I am enjoying your blog, and your photos. I have to admit I am quite jealous of the farm fresh produce and stuff you are able to get! And I wish I could decorate like you too. 🙂

    • Ariana March 3, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

      Hi Kristin, thanks for your sweet compliments! I had no idea you had been in Korea for so long! I would think that having a babe might draw people to you more, but maybe that will come as he gets older, and you can have playdates. Amelia has been such a blessing in this way, since she will approach just about anyone, and makes friends everywhere. Here in England, they have mom’s groups for toddlers and babies all over the place– just about every church hosts one. Unfortunately, Amelia just grew out of that stage, so it’s not something we can take advantage of.

  4. Anonymous March 2, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Never having lived in another country I hadn’t really thought of these things! I am so thankful for your transparency, it really causes me to want to reach out to those in my neighborhood from different places. I want to make a better effort to make them feel welcome and extend friendship because you’re right- it can be so hard. When my hubby and I vacationed in England 2 years ago I completely felt like a very different person. I thought, we all speak English, this should feel like home away from home… oh not so. Everyone was very nice to us but the cultural barrier was much stronger than I thought it would be. Keep at it, you’re so sweet I’m sure just a bit longer and you will see change and progress 🙂 In the mean time, I love your blog & thanks for sharing! -Debby

    • Ariana March 3, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

      Hi Debby, thanks for your encouragement! I do love to think that someone may reach out to a stranger/ foreigner in their homeland as a result of reading about our experiences as such. I have found myself thinking about times when I could have helped someone new to my area more, before I had moved out of my comfort zone in California years ago. I think these experiences have changed me permanently, and that is good even though it’s been hard at times. I also hope I can eventually get through the cultural barriers here, and not feel like people are a bit cold. Or maybe we’ll just have to schedule regular trips to places like Italy and Turkey, where people are super warm and friendly!

  5. Anonymous March 2, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    Ahhhh….. Wish everyone from your past could be there to experience your life along with you. It’s ok to feel this way. Being a single mom of 4 feels VERY displaced too. Not the same I know, but not your average “Joe”. Know there are many people fond of you, and although we are far away, we are with you in some way… (Lisa T. from Faith)

    • Ariana March 3, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

      Lisa, you are so sweet and encouraging. I guess we’re all kind of aliens in our own ways, some of them more pronounced or visible than others. Sharing about whatever it is that we feel alienated about is helpful, because it is a very human experience, and even acknowledging that helps us to fit back in to the general population. I hope things are going better and better for you and your family!

  6. Robinlee March 2, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    Are you sure we’re not twins separated at birth 🙂 I always say I’m my best friend and I actually enjoy spending time alone during the day and having the evenings with my husband whose company I enjoy BUT there are times when I feel restless, as though something is missing. I’m not naturally gregarious so it’s hard for me to make friends and I have a dry sense of humour that some people don’t understand. I know exactly where your coming from and when I first started reading I thought you found my diary lol.

    • Ariana March 3, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

      That’s funny, Robinlee! There are probably many more like us out there, but we would rather stay in than meet each other and talk about it! 🙂

  7. Kristen - Anywhere There's An Airport March 2, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

    The person I used to see most often was the yoga check-in lady and the shop keeper at the bread store who taught me how to say “raisins and nuts” in Spanish.

    I loved my life in Spain… but it was very lonely. I found my greatest love… but went through some of my most trying times.

    Like my dad says, “all sunshine makes a desert.”

    And like Dorothy says, “there’s no place like home.”

    Perfectly written post!

    • Ariana March 3, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

      Kristen, I totally know what you mean about the people who you see most being strangers that you have some sort of business transaction with. I’ll bet they had no idea how much you enjoyed seeing them, or that their friendliness could make a huge difference to you! I spend a lot of time chatting with my butcher and his wife. They are naturally very chatty, and probably have no idea that I talk to them more than anyone outside of my family. It’s such a good reminder to me to be kind to strangers– you have no idea where they are coming from in their personal lives.

  8. Great Aunt Gretchen March 3, 2012 at 5:23 am #

    Thank you for sharing your heart so well!
    Is there a church nearby where you can get some fellowship?
    A Bible study, or Moms group? I have NO idea how that must feel. :[

    • Ariana March 3, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

      Hi Aunt Gretchen,
      The moms groups around here are for toddlers. They have a lot more here than in the States, which is really cool, and anyone can just drop in. We are past that stage now, and I am not really the sort that would show up without a kid! Jeff is attending a bible study group, but I stay home with Amelia. I am hoping to find some groups that meet for hobbies I’m interested in, especially during the day!

      What really needs to happen is for me to get a job. I’m working on that possibility, but of course it’s more complicated than usual!

  9. Nathan March 3, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    Hopefully, some of us will be out there for a visit sooner than later. And I hope someone gets lucky enough to enjoy your hospitality soon.

  10. Ariana March 3, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    Well, whoever gets here first is in for a whole lot of hospitality, since we’ve been saving it up! I hope you guys can come out, too!

  11. Anonymous March 3, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

    I relate to you in many ways Ariana. About being a third cultural person, being comfortable and even excited about new environments yet never fitting in. I’m also very comfortable and happy spending time alone but I feel the same way since moving to San Gabriel, even though it’s not a different country at all (!) it’s hard to see old friends and meet new ones (especially after moving back from Texas), and I miss that fellowship. Hang in there! Have you guys found any good church to attend yet? -Kaori

    • Ariana March 5, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

      Thank you Kaori, I’m sure you know what I mean! You and Dave have made so many moves in the last decade… Some parts get easier– the logistics, problem-solving, patience with the process… But other parts (feeling alienated and disoriented) never seem to lose their bite. Thanks for virtually traveling with us!

  12. Grandma Seelye March 3, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

    Bless your heart!! Sorry about your loneliness! We will pray for you,that you will find some friends soon! Love you, Grandma

    • Ariana March 5, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

      Thank you Grandma!

  13. Anonymous March 5, 2012 at 11:19 am #

    Hi Ariana,

    I discovered your blog, just as you were about to leave Germany. We have been in Germany for almost 2.5 years now. I know exactly how you are feeling. Our girls are the same age too. It surprised me when you said the English are reserved too. I thought they would be more open then the Germans. It’s taken me a long time to even get any of the moms in my daughter’s class to really open up about anything. I also love my alone time, which does make it harder to truly socialize with various people.I
    moved to the States when I was six from war torn Vietnam, and then to Germany after I was married (right after to be exact). We moved back to the States(after 3 years), and moved to Germany once again with a toddler in tow. I’m not sure if I really ever felt at home at any time in my life. I always look different no matter where I am, and even if I were to visit Vietnam, the way I speak would automatically make me an outsider. Thank you for sharing your blog. I love your pictures and stories of the family adventures you get to experience. I hope England begins to feel like home for you soon. -T

    • Ariana March 5, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

      Hi T– thanks for introducing yourself and sharing some of your story. There is something healing about hearing that other people know what it’s like. Where are you living in Germany? In a small town, it was so clear that we were newcomers, and although some were a bit cold at first, the people in the town really loved us well, and pretty quickly (they only had 7 months!) In some ways, it was nice to not speak the language, and so to need more help from the people around us. It seems like we’re not really identified as foreigners here so much, and so it’s much more rare for anyone to actually reach out. I think we’ll find ourselves at home here at some point, but the pace is just going to be slow. I have gone through a similar process in the US as well, when I moved to a place that was just much more guarded. But by the time I moved three years later, there were many loved ones and friendships and networks to be missed.

  14. Nats March 5, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    British small towns are hard to break into, but once you’re in, you’re in for life. I moved to Germany from the Uk last May and it’s taken me that long to even feel half at home here, It can be done, all I can say is give it time.

  15. Ariana March 5, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    Hi Nats. Yes, I think that time is the main factor… I have found that where we live, in an area with a lot of military families, one of the first questions people ask is how long we will be living here for. It’s clear that they are trying to calculate the potential for relationship– if we are leaving in 6 months, why bother? I understand that as well, and although I think I would still befriend someone who I knew would be leaving, I get it! I am just glad that we don’t have plans to leave, and that we will have the time to invest.

    • Andrea April 3, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

      That suprises me, i would have thought millitary families would be moreopen and welcoming….having been through the same thing themselves many times?? Is there a good cafe you can become a regular of? That’s always worked for me. …although I have found the same problem of breaking in to a community in my home country….the easiest way seems to be to find other newcomers.. maybe you could start a “hi, i am new here” group

    • Ariana April 4, 2012 at 8:08 am #

      Hi Andrea,
      It’s not really the military families that are closed– it’s the people who have always lived here in Bury, and have seen many American families come and go. And you are right– it’s those who have been foreigners themselves or who are newer to the area that are most likely to reach out. The cafe things is a GREAT idea, and totally worked for me in Germany. Where we live, there are only pubs close by. I have wondered what would happen if someone opened up a neighborhood coffee shop here– they were all over the place in Portland, and I know I’d be there every other day! But good coffee doesn’t even happen much in our town (my own fault for being picky!) Going to the market regularly and partronizing local small shops has been helpful. Next on my list is joining an exercise group. Thanks for stopping by and chiming in!

  16. Great Scott March 5, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    Hi there friend. I so wish we were closer – but the fact is we are not THAT far apart and should get together again soon. I know how you feel – we’ve mentioned the same thing about “quiz night” and i’ve had the same feelings about missing the cultural norms/social patterns. I think, as you said, being introverts helps and hurts us. We are comfortable being alone but when we need companionship, we aren’t as savvy as those extroverts at getting it! Maybe in England we are a tad better off though – as introverted “aliens” may be more easy for English people to digest and more similar to their own social style. Anyway, rambling at the end of the day here – just wanted to say I relate, I am sending you mental hugs, an I’d love to get together again soon. xoxo

    • Ariana March 8, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

      Thanks, Sarah! We should definitely get together soon. Meeting you was such a sweet event, and it was encouraging to meet someone I could identify with so easily, such a natural fit. I am so thankful for blogs!! These experiences are hard no matter where you are in the world or in life, but blogging has enabled me to feel so much more connected to people and the world around me, even strangers. Such a blessing!

  17. ShackelMom March 6, 2012 at 12:42 am #

    We have been talking about how we might get over there… it is much in our minds! The logistics are tricky, but we might just show up! We’ll keep you posted! Love the way you write… XOXO

  18. Marisa March 8, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

    I didn’t see this post initially but then I linked back to it from your London post. And so glad for that! It is such a sad feeling, alienation. Or isolation or whatever it is making you feel a bit alone in the world. I particularly related to what you said in the London post “It’s so human to not feel at home at many points in life, in our countries, in our bodies, in our communities.” That is exactly how I’ve been feeling in my life for the past 6 months or so. And it truly is a universal experience. In just the past two weeks I had a long heart-to-heart with my best friend who also feels very alone right now (sadly she lives on the opposite coast from me.) And I also talked with my cousin who feels so alone and isolated right now that she can’t even bear to think about it. And all of us are experiencing these emotions for entirely different reasons – yet they are the same. Another friend recently told me that she is also feeling lonely and a bit stuck and she just reminds herself that “it is just a phase” just a small moment in life that will pass and that struck a chord with me. Trying to keep it top of mind – this is just a phase – this time in my life doesn’t define me or my life. Anyhow, just know that you aren’t alone 🙂 And remember that your future will be full of many wonderful connections and there will come that time when you are feeling just the opposite – where everything is clicking and you are surrounded by feelings of love and connectedness with your community and the world. Life is kind of like a see-saw that way – up and down, around and about, great times and the not so-great. Just HAVE to remember “this too shall pass.” I appreciate your sharing this on your blog – I think it takes a lot of courage to share your innermost thoughts and feelings with the world in such an open and honest way. It is very much appreciated 🙂

    • Marisa March 8, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

      Oh my goodness – sorry this is so long!

    • Ariana March 8, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

      Dear Marisa, thanks so much for sharing your experiences, and those of people close to you… I think honesty is so healing, because we are able to bear each others burdens, and at the same time realize how normal the uncomfortable feelings are. I have to always remember seasons. Just like I am super excited that winter is almost over, I also have to acknowledge that summer will end, and it is normal to be a bit more isolated at times, and busier than I would like in others. Wherever we are, whether we love it or hate it, it WILL change at some point. Thanks for the reminder!

  19. Liene April 2, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    Explaining your love of hosting events as being a hope to help others feel less of the outsider you feel/felt like really reverbrated with me – I love having new folks over, but never really thought about why. Stopping by from POT – Femme au Foyer.

    • Ariana April 3, 2012 at 7:32 am #

      Hi Liene, nice to hear from you! I think that people who always feel pretty comfortable in their social circles just don’t quite have the imagination for what it might be like for a stranger. Thank goodness that there are many, many people in this world who have been foreigners and strangers, and know how to reach out. We have definitely found that those who have reached out to us anywhere we have gone have lived abroad, or have felt like outsiders in their own new town.

  20. Felicity April 2, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    What a powerful post, it really resonated with me even though I’ve only ever moved States not entire countries.

    The desire to connect, truly feel a sense of belonging comes through loud and clear in your writing and I hope that as it’s a month since you posted this that you are at least having an inkling of this. If only we lived closer, the trick is being a whole hemisphere away!

    Blogging is a fabulous way to connect with like-minded people and I’ve made some of ‘the most’ special and dear friends this way….I hope that ‘in the meantime’ before you do find you solid sense of belonging, that blogging call ‘fill the gap’ so to speak.

    Thank you for sharing this with the ‘POTM’ club it was a fabulous way to meet you.

    • Ariana April 3, 2012 at 7:36 am #

      Hi Felicity, thank you so much for reading and connecting with me on this. Blogging has been such a gift for me. I don’t think I knew just how much it would enable me to have a sort of community when we started it in Germany. Then we moved around a whole bunch for 5+ months before we even got here to England, and so having no real contacts or place to rest socially, just being able to share my experience and process here has been really powerful for me. And genuine connections are made, as you have said. Thank you for being one of those!

  21. Posie Patchwork May 2, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    This is fascinating. Come to Australia, we’re super friendly & massive travellers, so we’d be great mates in no time. I was very lucky to have travel addicted parents (English mum, Australian father) so we went everywhere, Europe, SE Asia, America, so marrying an Army soldier was an adventure, Australian based so far but always with open eyes & heart to where we ended up next. Sure my husband has old mates & the same kind of job at every posting, but i have to find new everything – friends, supermarket, doctor, schools for 4 children, very glad we don’t have any health issues as finding specialists would be a nightmare.
    I make my own life, through my market i met lots of lovely new friends, no one talks in our Yoga class, it’s very serious!! I find the mums at the school gate & at parties (children’s, i don’t have a wild social life) is friendly & chatty, otherwise i embrace being a housewife, shopping & discovering a piece of the new city i’m in, on my own. I guess it’s easier in my own country, but when you’re 4500km from the nearest relative & no one visits, it’s hardly warming!! I read & go to the movies, treasure the fact i can be a mum. We’re currently in our capital city so lots of galleries & museums, all free (except special exhibitions) but they’re a great way to while away the day. Butchers are always friendly, has to be part of their training!! All very flattering too, tee hee, nice pick-me-up while purchasing a butterflied lamb, love Posie

    • Ariana May 2, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

      Hi Posie,
      I’m sure we’d get along very well if we ever met! It is a challenge and also really exciting to start over several times in life, isn’t it? Yes, we get to make our own lives– it is certainly a quick way to get to know yourself better! I do sometimes wish that we lived in a bigger city, so we could go to museums and things like that. On the other hand, living in a small town means I’m much more likely to run into the few people I know on a regular basis. And where would we be without those charming butchers?

      Thanks for coming over and sharing your story here!

  22. Anne in Oxfordshire June 27, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

    Hi, I found you through Lost in Cheeseland , and was amazed to see that you live in Bury St Edmunds, which is my old home town. My mum now lives in Newmarket and my brother near Cambridge and I live near Oxford. How did you end up in Bury St Edmunds? I have not been back there for years, but I do know that it has changed alot, and that they have one of the best markets around, it has actually always been like that. I went to school in Bury and worked near the Abbey Gardens too. I hope that you settle in, and find friends.

    • Ariana July 9, 2012 at 10:53 am #

      Thank you, Anne! We moved here because my husband found a contract position with one of the US bases nearby. We do really like Bury, it’s such a beautiful town, and we are so lucky to live walking distance from the Abbey Gardens!

  23. Awesomesauce and Asshattery July 2, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    I can completely & utterly relate to your feelings of alienation. I’m Canadian but have lived in Tokyo,Japan (6yrs), Kerkyra,Greece (4yrs), London,England (2yrs) & have now settled in Berlin with my German hubs & new lil’ munchkin. In my experiences as a ‘world-liver’ I found the Japanese to be the friendliest & most welcoming followed by the Brits, then the Greeks, which unfortunately leaves the Germans sorely lacking in smiley faces.

    My husband claims that a lot of Berliners are still suspicious of foreigners and no matter how good my language skills are it will always take time for them to feel comfortable enough to chat with me…seriously? 3 months of attending the same Krabbelgruppe twice a week and taking home-baked treats to every meet-up and I’m just now being occasionally included in the eltern-small-talk. Humph!
    -Sorry for the bit-of-a-rant =O)

    Perhaps we should move to Amberg…

    • Ariana July 9, 2012 at 10:56 am #

      Hi Awesomesauce! I am sorry to hear that you are getting the cold shoulder as well. I actually did hear that about Berlin in particular, but Germany on the whole. We have been told that our experience may be unique to Bavaria, where they are much more friendly than elsewhere. I have also heard that when you break through, you will have life-long friends. I hope so! You are certainly not alone. I do think about moving to Cambridge, where people are used to more foreigners, and are generally a bit more transient themselves, therefore willing to meet new people and form friendships more quickly.
      And, yes– you should move to Amberg! 🙂

  24. zelda July 7, 2012 at 10:57 am #

    Hi Ariana Sorry to hear you’re feeling this way. If it’s any consolation, I grew up in the UK, and I still often feel like an alien. English people just do not invite others into their homes easily, and you need to make the first step by inviting them first. I spend a lot of time in France, and my experience there is the opposite – people are extremely open and hospitable. Over there, it’s not a big deal to invite someone you don’t know very well for drinks or dinner. Luckily, I live in a very multi-cultural part of the UK, and have a circle of friends whom I can drop in on (and vice-versa) unannounced – again, not an English custom. Perhaps you could initiate some friendships with other mums by inviting Amelia’s friends over for ‘tea’ (that’s the children’s evening meal, in case you’re not familiar with that particular Anglicism)? She will most certainly get a return invitation. Your Book Day experience made me smile as I also find myself wondering how people just seem to ‘know’ things intuitively. You shouldn’t feel bad about this lack of awareness – believe me, I’m sure many working mums feel equally out of the loop when it comes to school events. I think being part of a network of mums (and it’s usually mums rather than dads) who are ‘in the know’ would help, so that’s another reason to cultivate friendships with other parents. Good luck!

    • Ariana July 9, 2012 at 11:01 am #

      Hi Zelda– thank you for your words of encouragement. I think that you are absolutely right, that I need to take the initiative, rather than waiting for someone to welcome me in. It does feel strange to me that people don’t have each other over so often– I grew up with perfect strangers showing up for dinner all the time– back then, my dad would meet someone new and just say, “Why don’t you come over for dinner tonight?” This is very much what I am used to, and I have gotten that feeling in France as well, as you mentioned. I don’t want to act too weird or forward, but I imagine that there will be some here in town that are thankful for the invitation.
      Thank you again, Zelda!

    • Zelda August 7, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

      Hi Ariana
      Sorry, late to reply, but I hope things are getting better on the social front! It’s funny you mention your dad inviting strangers for dinner. That’s how we are, and I don’t consider it wierd or forward at all – how else do you get to know people better, or widen your social circle? You’re lucky to have had that type of upbringing. My kids are very sociable, too. They are at ease inviting friends over, and also enjoy being guests.

  25. Anonymous October 12, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    I was approached by a US firm with an office in London to relocate there for a year or two. Thinking about it – came out of a very painful divorce here in Atlanta, GA and feel the need to get away . Your blog has provided great insight. Seems there are many like-minded people in UK from other countries and you could meet up.


  26. marcinsen June 25, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    I see in the comments that so many people goes through similar experience. I’ve being changing countries for the last 12 years, together with my darling. At first it was really fun – we felt free, like we could do anything, we could create our own reality. But the extasy started to fade, then we were just moving, because we were not used to stay too long in one place. And then we realized we want to belong, to root, find friends, community, but we don’t really now how. At the moment we are starting new life here, in UK, and I know it’s gonna be tough, but this time we decided to stick to it. Well, at least I know what professional direction I want to take, that’s more then I knew for a decade:)
    Good luck, Ariana. I like your positive vibe, I’ll be coming more often. Cheers.

  27. Heather August 1, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

    Hello Ariana,

    I just came across your blog through a random search. I completely identify, we have been here in England for nearly 3 years now. While everyone I have come across is absolutely lovely there is definitely the feeling of being the easily identifiable outsider, as soon as you speak that is and identify yourself as American. 🙂 Like you we also live in Bury St. Edmunds, in the Moreton Hall area. I am an introvert as well and do quite well on my own the vast majority of the time, but do crave community and a sense of belonging. I also go to the Wednesday and Saturday Market to stock up on fruits and veg (my husband Guy and I are both foodies) and to just enjoy the open air and scenery that the Abbey gardens offer. Should you ever wish to meet up for tea in the gardens just let me know!

    • Ariana Mullins September 3, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

      Hi Heather,
      I’d love to meet you sometime! We are recovering from an over-busy summer full of visitors, but I’d love to get in touch and have some tea with you one of these afternoons! (I’ll bet we’ve seen you at the markets…)

  28. Heather October 27, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    I’m an expat in England as well. Down in Surrey. We moved here in september 2011. We are originially from Tennessee…. moved to Hawaii for 3 years (which was quite a culture shock surprisingly)….then moved to England. I will say I’ve made several Expat friends here but no English ones. I find it to be how you mentioned…no one really wants new friends. Even if you’re friendly, they don’t seem to reciprocate. So thankful for all my expat friends. Not sure How I would handle it otherwise. We have a 2.5 year old and a newborn. Here’s my blog: https://www.ayoungwifestale.com/


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