The first time I heard the jingling of the ice cream truck outside our apartment, T and I hurried outside to catch it. I was disappointed to find that this was not the ice cream truck I was expecting. They sold boxes. Boxes of ice cream cones and popsicles. No singles and no samples, and no guy standing inside the truck handing out cones. We did buy a few boxes though, including some chocolate covered fruity popsicles which I thought were a bit weird at first but the combination grew on me over time. After that, when we heard the music down below I would mutter jokingly “Oh, there goes the ice cream truck of lies.”
In the beginning these differences are the little things that make the whole expat experience thrilling and fascinating. You go around in this childlike wonder comparing every little thing to how it is at home, amazed at how this whole other world has been here all along, and you had no idea. After a while though, it’s those little things that are almost the same at home, but just a bit different here, that stop being awesome and start reminding you that you are not from here, you did not grow up here, and you are in fact, an outsider. (And this is me coming from Canada, which is probably one of the most similar countries to Norway outside of Scandinavia.. I can’t imagine the culture shock most other immigrants are facing!)
It’s the mundane things like choosing shampoo or thinking of getting a haircut or new clothes.. buying groceries for a recipe (they don’t use liquid vanilla extract or baking soda here!), and don’t even get me started on driving, or the tiny elf brooms. All those small day to day things that were simple and automatic at home become this knot in your gut that swells up once in a while, reminding you of who and what you left behind, nagging you, asking if you really made the right decision and if you’re really capable of this.
The bigger problem with being an expat is that eventually you do learn your way around this new foreign life. You figure out how to work with what’s here and replace the old favourites with new ones. You make friends. You become fond of this new place, and then you find yourself almost literally stuck on a fence between two countries. You imagine going home, but then you would miss your life here. You imagine staying here forever, and then you feel the pain of what you left behind. I now have started planting roots here, and can’t imagine leaving… but I also can’t imagine being this far away from my family and familiar life forever.
It’s not easy, and I don’t expect it to get easier, but when I honestly ask myself what I want, I know I have made the right choice. I had a wonderful upbringing in Canada and I could talk all day about what I love about both countries, but at the end of the day I have to be practical and honest, and I know that this is the right place for me.
Now I just need to conquer my language fears 😉