Out to get you

Moving. It’s one of the more stressful situations in one’s life. Plenty of preparation goes into organizing, selling, and throwing out some of the past. Simultaneously, you’re searching, restructuring and planning for the future. It’s downsizing on one side; upgrading on the other.

That all occurs before the move takes place. The actual relocation has its own whirlwind of stress. Moving out, transporting, moving in. None of these steps can be avoided. And then you are in your new locale. Presumably, life resumes as normal. Or does it?

Most people move within their own country. But what about those of us who have moved to a new country or continent? We’ve left behind our culture and language, foods and services. We need to find new doctors, new mechanics, new hair stylists… new everything.

Tack on the all-too-familiar inability to effectively understand and be understood, and maybe the primal fight or flight survival mechanism kicks in. Most decide to stay and fight in spite of impending loneliness and longing for the familiar. As they try to make their way in their new environs, the mind’s fertile ground may start to till wild machinations of dread. The list of seeming threats is innumerable.

„Paranoia, the destroyer“

Believe it or not, there’s a phenomenon out there known as „Expat Paranoia“. Be it in Brazil, Taiwan, or even Sweden, from some of the online journals I have read, foreigners everywhere think the locals are out to get them. Maybe it’s an incomprehensible late night phone call, an unrecognizable health care product, an unexpected flat tire, or an ubiquitous intolerant government official and the never-ending red tape designed to bind you and send you back to from where you whence came.

No matter the incident or potential incident, some people have a very hard time adjusting to their new surroundings and would rather engulf themselves in exaggerated mistrust than simply adapt and accept the fact that life has its ups and downs no matter where you are.

Without a doubt, paranoia debilitates. It freezes us, stunting our intellectual and emotional growth. The worst part is that it is self-created. Sure, we are genetically programmed to put ourselves on alert in new situations. Self-preservation is a good thing. Nonetheless, it goes a bit too far when we attempt to convince ourselves and others with anecdotes concerning our overblown fears, no matter how logical we make them sound.

I know, there is always that one off experience; „I know about someone who…“. Let’s not let ourselves be lured by such anomalies. Bad things happen. So do good things. Yet despite being – presumably — rational creatures who can think and reason, we’re more apt to be surprised when something good happens in a foreign land and more expectant of bad things. It confirms our paranoia. We call it prudence, when it is really closer to paralysis.

Put aside those delusions and come to the realization that there are a lot of foreigners in any new place, thus the locals don’t have it in for you or for anyone else. Quite frankly, they don’t have the time.

 „You’re so insecure you self-destroyer“

There can be little doubt that people feel less secure in a new land. It takes time to get settled and get both feet placed firm on the ground. So much has to be learned. Likewise, so much has to be unlearned, because not every place does it the way it’s done back home. At the best of times, the new arrival might find this charming or quaint. At the worst of times, which seems like all the time when those times strike, the outsider feels further outside, maybe even placed their on purpose.

At times like this, it might be helpful to keep in mind the words of American writer Clifton Fadiman: A „foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.“

Of course, that doesn’t inversely mean your new homeland is out to make you feel uncomfortable. It’s usually just you who feels that way at times.

By Dan Franch, April 2013. Dan is also a Wort columnist and cartoonist.

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