Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Five Facts for Foreigners - Vol. XII

5 Kinds of Films Your Life Does and Does Not Resemble as an Expat

I remember that in the weeks leading up to my first visit to Brazil, many people asked me what I thought it was going to be like.

I honestly had no idea, and didn't want to.

I even asked my husband not to tell me too much so that I wouldn't have some preconceived notion. I knew that no matter how many books I read, movies I watched, or stories I heard... it wouldn't be anything like my own personal experience.

Image found here.

I didn't want to have any expectations, good or bad. Some of my Brazilian friends in the U.S. (unnecessarily) worried that I wouldn't be able to adjust to the pace, aesthetics, or lack of availability of certain things. It's like they don't even know me!

I assured them it would be fine... and it was (with the exception of a few ill-fated incidents —  including a wax session gone awry & going a few rounds with a sadistic acupuncturist). Good times!

While we were making the preparations to move, everyone was once again asking me what it would be like. Still, I didn't really have an answer.

My first visit I hadn't spoken the language, had only stayed for a few weeks, and had only seen a certain side of the city where I would eventually live, due to the clandestine nature of my first trip.

What side? The inside of about 20 doctors' offices, the medical tourism side — a subject that needs a couple of posts, in & of itself. More on that some other time.

I couldn't even begin to imagine what day-to-day life would be like once I wasn't earning dollars (so the money wouldn't stretch as far), once I knew the language (so I could catch all of the inferences in a seemingly normal conversation), once I didn't stand out as a "tourist" (so I wouldn't automatically be exploited financially or service-wise, a phenomenon commonly known as paying the "Gringo Tax"), or once I was left to explore this thing on my own terms (without someone to usher me here or there).

After living in central Brazil for awhile, I began to see a stark difference in what some tourists thought they were coming to experience, and the reality of how it is living as an expat somewhere.

As I've reiterated a ridiculous number of times, this is purely based on my personal experience, and while unique, I feel I've discovered a few universal truths in the general expat experience.

One day it hit me that these particulars are most easily seen & best contrasted through a few movies.

Top 5 Films You Thought You Might Be Able To Relate To As An Expat:
  1. Under the Tuscan Sun
    Maybe 3% of expats will be able to create and live a fairy tale life abroad, on their own. Of course, money helps. ...and keep in mind that about 97.5% of statistics are made up on the spot.

  2. Lost in Translation
    Loneliness, insomnia, & culture shock - Check! Finding someone to share it with or relate to you... Mmmmaybe. Seriously, though, good luck with that!

  3. The Ramen Girl
    While you may find yourself periodically shedding tears in your bowl of whatever, this will probably only raise your blood pressure, not your general standing with those around you.

  4. Seven Years in Tibet
    Captivating, sure, but life is rigged so that things are more likely to end up more along the lines of All the Pretty Horses or Brokedown Palace.

  5. Romancing the Stone
    What? I had to throw that one in here for all the adventure-loving girls that are not averse to an unlikely romance.

Top 5 Film Themes You Can Actually Relate To As An Expat:
  1. Post-apocalyptic survivor movies like The Book of Eli or Waterworld may resonate with you on a certain level, as you totally relate to the people willing to trade a portion of their pinky finger or their favorite _________ for certain unattainable food items, beauty products, or other creature comforts. In my case, for example, some foods gradually became available over the years, so some of my fellow expat friends will never have to know the pain of gorging oneself on a bag of corn tortilla chips, or the resulting despair and regret that you could not control yourself enough to make it stretch until the next care package arrives.

  2. Alien (or Fantasy Other) films like E.T. or Splash might not seem that far out there. Everything is new-to-you, as an alien of sorts. Feeling like a fish out of water is not uncommon, while you try to find your sea legs. Consider me your siren (as in warning bells, not femme fatale) and this Five Facts Series to be a treasure map of sorts. All manner of gems can be dredged up from my past mistakes, so that you can just pass go and collect accolades.

  3. Fantasy adventure movies such as Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz may seem like an uncanny parallel with your new reality (life imitating far-out art) as you try to regain your footing, and get with the program, in a strange new world replete with undiscovered cultural quirks. A stint with the in-laws in close quarters will drive this point home very quickly. (How do you think I got my screen name?) Here's hoping you are able to land on your feet gracefully.

  4. Bumbling detective/spy comedies like The Pink Panther and Get Smart will hopefully only ring true with ridiculous dialogue and hilariously mixed signals, as you run down leads on just about everything that used to be a normal aspect of your day. Simple tasks may, more often than not, seem like your very own Mission Impossible until your decoder ring is synced. The physical mishaps & pitfalls are just icing on the cake. I think it took me about 2 years to stop pushing against the door that clearly said PULL in Portuguese: puxe (pronounced: "poo-shee") ...which never failed to give me pause, or generate snickers from onlookers.

  5. Funny and inspiring, Groundhog Day may well be the key to not just "surviving" what may seem like a daily do-over. Endeavoring to make a difference with the time you have, right where you are, and being patient (with yourself first, and then others) will help you find your happy place, while becoming a productive, if not endearing, member of your community.

Speaking of expat movies, I highly recommend the film City of Ghosts. There are some things that are better learned in the classroom, as opposed to a field trip. This movie is very well done, and accurately portrays some of seedier expats that we may or may not have run across out there.

Do you have a favorite expat movie? What are some of the worst expat movies you have seen? Recommendations and warnings are welcome in the comment section below.

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