When you work abroad as an English as a foreign language teacher, coming home for the occasional visit and obligatory Christmas festivities means there are a number of things to look forward to. Personally custard, gravy and drinkable tap water are pretty high up on my list, but that’s just me. Friends, family, Wetherspoons breakfast… there are all sorts of things that beckon you and make home, home.
But there are also pitfalls, things you forget about and either take for granted or that have become so instilled, you don’t realise you are doing them.
Here’s a few of mine. Play snap?
No matter how many times I come back, I always get flummoxed by the roads. Left hand lane, right hand lane… I look both ways to prevent becoming a bug stain on a car bonnet every single time. And once I tried to get on the driver’s side of a National Express coach. The driver patted his knee and asked me if I’d like to drive. Possibly not…
Yes, I should know better. But when I want to know the price of something I always find myself speaking in the language of the country from where I have just come – currently ¿Cuánto es? to check a price and perdona when I bump into someone. Which I do. A lot. Clumsy…
My first cafe visit on arriving back to England involved me trying to kiss a stranger. Not because I’m a floozy, but because I’ve just come from Spain, and the double kiss thing is part of my everyday greeting. Honest.
Someone sneezes, I say everything apart from bless you as a result of a number of different colds in a number of different cities. Thank you. Pardon. Would you mind…? Sorry. Sorry to inanimate objects like doors and trolleys. All the time. No wonder people outside of the UK have the mistaken impression that we are very, very polite.
When you first go abroad you convert everything back into pounds, but when you come back here after an extended stay away, everything is automatically put back into euros (or whatever currency you know). Which makes every shopping trip an accounting adventure.
Somewhat in the category of price checking I know, but hear me out. If you’ve gone from having a jarra of beer that is 1,50€ and you’re presented with a pint that is around £3-4, an outraged and indignant yell is likely to escape your lips without even a thought.
Lack of privacy
Families. They mean well. Of course they do. In theory. But it doesn’t matter your age or circumstances, when you return home to the ‘family nest’, you will be bombarded with questions (‘when are you settling down?’), misplaced praise (‘oh, you’re so brave to go off travelling’) or enforced schedules (‘we’ll have breakfast at 7, lunch at 1, and dinner at 7:30. And this is your itinerary for your stay.’) When you’ve been used to your own space and doing as you please when you feel like it, coming home can sometimes be a stifling experience.
Yes. People who hate their jobs and their lives will envy you. They will covet your lifestyle of devil-may-care and say things like ‘I don’t know how you do it’ whilst plucking one child from their knee while another is attached round their neck, telling you about their plans for decorating the living room and showing off their latest car. We don’t judge you for your lifestyle, settlers (well, we do, just… quietly), so why judge ours? And if you hate your job so much, leave. That’s what we did. Nothing magical.
Catching up on gossip
Even about people you don’t know. Especially about them. See, while we’ve been off living our lives, running between classrooms or students’ apartments, jumping from train to metro to bus and wondering if the GPS on our phones will ever kick in and be helpful, life has continued at home too. And somehow, even though we’ve not been told about events, we are automatically assumed to know about them. I personally blame Facebook for that.
For some people, planning a new work route is daunting, whether using a satnav, Google Maps, or an A-Z. And if you have to travel to another city for business, well. Brave new world. But when you travel a lot because of work, train stations, airports and maps no longer phase you, and neither does the prospect of getting lost. Living in another country makes you realise that getting lost is actually no bad thing, merely an unexpected adventure. After all. If Bilbo had taken the ‘correct’ path he was ‘supposed’ to, we’d never have even known of Hobbitty adventures, elven legends and secret kings. Life is in the adventure, is it not?
A moment of doubt
There is sometimes a moment. When you look around at all the people who were once a part of your daily lives, getting on and doing their thing, living a different existence, and you think… why can’t I do that? Why can’t I just stay in one place for an extended period and do the settling thing? And then the moment passes. Because settling isn’t for everyone. Mortgages, the 2.4 kids, and the family saloon in the driveway is really not for everyone. There is nothing wrong with either way of living. And after a week or two, or sometimes a day or two, the call of leaving comes screaming and you start looking longingly at planes overhead or twitching every time you pass a train station. Off you go, traveller. Time to depart again. Home (and gravy) will still be here when you get back.
Has anyone else had similar experiences when coming home from travelling? Or do you have any stories to add? We’d love to hear from you 🙂
Last week’s post, which contained our top ten tips for learning a language, inspired a few members of the EuroTalk team to share their own thoughts. Here’s what Seb had to say about his experience of learning Spanish, after leaving Colombia and coming to England when he was very young. And come back tomorrow to find out why Lorena recommends spending as much time as possible in the pub. We’d love to hear from anyone else who’d like to share their own advice. Please do send us an email to email@example.com if you’d like to contribute to the blog!
My parents emigrated to the UK from Colombia when I was very young and at the time the only language I could speak was Spanish. However, once I began my schooling in London I picked English up very easily. Well, I like to think so anyway because it was so long ago to the point where I cannot even remember a stage in my life where I could not speak both English and Spanish. Attending school and being around English speakers every day meant that very quickly my English overtook my Spanish in terms of the range of words I could use.
If this kept up I would have definitely forgotten how to speak Spanish. However, my parents made sure that my younger sister and myself always spoke in Spanish once we stepped into our house, because they knew that we would be immersed in the English language for the large majority of the day – from being at school to the shows we watched on television. Therefore, if we were in the house we had to speak in Spanish. I think this was my parents’ way of making sure that we didn’t forget our roots and at the same time they knew it would be beneficial for us in the future to be able to speak two languages, even though we may not have seen it back then.
This very quickly became routine and I would find it normal to speak Spanish at home and English when I was out, which fascinated some of my friends. Having been brought up in this way helped me greatly because it meant that I was able to learn English as well as Spanish simultaneously. It also helped me more in terms of my pronunciation and speaking, meaning that my Spanish is fluent enough for me to easily have a conversation, even though it is still not perfect.
Despite this, I believe that the only reason I am able to speak Spanish fluently at this age is because I had to speak it on a daily basis, and you know what they say, ‘practice makes perfect’. Therefore, I think that if you are attempting to learn a new language it is very important to immerse yourself in that language on a daily basis, so that you become accustomed to not only speaking it but also hearing it.