Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Through the eyes of an optimist...

Although our transition to living overseas has been amazingly seamless, I still find myself driving down the street or walking the kids to school and thinking, "I can't believe I actually live here!" It really can be a bit surreal.  Moving the family from the flat plains of Texas to a tiny, hilly country in the middle of Europe can be a bit disorienting at times. Throw in the fact that most folks are trilingual (and we, of course, are not), the experience really strikes home when you walk through the city center and hear the cacophony of multiple languages being spoken at once.  The only brief escape we may have is walking into the International School or the American Women's Club - places that you find yourself drawn to if only to hear English for a brief period of time.  Well, to be honest, I am drawn by the fact that I can relax and not feel my stress level rise at the thought of trying to string a few French words together in hopes that whomever I am trying to converse with will get the gist of what I'm trying to say :)

So, now that we are a couple of months settled here, I can easily reflect on our move and determine that the most important thing a person can pack when he/she has made the decision to venture into the world of being an expat is not a converter kit, or a Rosetta Stone language kit, or suitcases of American must-haves (i.e., peanut butter, Bisquick, or (my must-have) boxes of Wheat Thins). The most important things you must have to fully embrace this new lifestyle is a sense of humor and an optimistic attitude.

I have not always been an optimist.  In fact, most folks would not exactly describe me as a "glass-half-full" kind of person in general. I am a finance major, so I have worked for years in the world of budgeting and forecasting. My job was to NOT be the optimist. Instead, I had to be the "realist".  This viewpoint is a must in the business world, especially when you work with numbers and with folks who generally hate working within their confines.  As a result, this line of thinking leaks into your personal life, so you are always looking at situations you encounter with the knee-jerk reaction of: 1) performing a general risk analysis of the situation (what are the strengths, weaknesses, risks and opportunities involved?), 2) estimating the cost/benefit ratio of such situation, or 3) trying to guess how the person(s) involved have "padded" their story and thus influenced the outcome of the situation. Face it. When you work in budgeting and forecasting, we all know that folks are thinking the most positive scenario possible, assume there are no risks, and are always asking for almost twice the amount of money or resources necessary to accomplish the goal. Your job as a financial manager is to tear these ideals apart and drive down to the core of reality, which ALWAYS make you... the bad guy.

Well, I am now five years separated from my more formal days in the financial world.  It has taken me this long to adopt a new way of approaching situations, especially ones that involve the family.  When Joe was presented with this expat opportunity, I know HIS first knee-jerk reaction was, "Hell, no!  Why on Earth would I move my family overseas?  Too much change.  Too much risk involved."  I know this, because those, in fact, were his exact words - (or, at least something along those lines.)  In fact, I was the one that told him to slow down and reconsider the situation. The kids had already been through a recent move, so they had already experienced being "the new kids". We had a small window in which we could actually consider such an opportunity (the kids will hit high school next year). And, we had always wanted an opportunity to travel more. All this, coming from the generally more risk-averse member of the household.

So, on our arrival here in Luxembourg, I made the determination that I would leave my more pessimistic ways on the other side of the pond and adopt an optimistic approach to life. In fact, even my Facebook profile now depicts "optimist" pictures I have downloaded from the "Life is Good" folks - a constant reminder to myself not to take life too seriously. So, how has this been working for me? Well, here are just a few examples...

1)  Situation:  Going to the store for groceries, only to find out that none of the cashiers speak English and the credit card machines decline every credit card I have.  And - I don't have the necessary euros to pay in cash. Somehow, through various hand gestures, the customer service manager and I agree I can have 10 minutes to rush home and obtain the necessary euros to pay for the much needed groceries.
   Optimistic Viewpoint: I still got my groceries, and developed a new appreciation for my European debit card (the one that has a microchip inside and is accepted at all stores, without a signature).

2)  Situation:  Husband forgot to mention that the consignment store we ordered some furniture from would be collecting the delivery fee upon delivery, and only accepts cash.  Needless to say, I didn't have the cash on hand.
   Optimistic Viewpoint:  Delivery guy spoke English and said I could deliver the payment to the store before they closed that evening.  No problem.

3)  Situation:  I go to the consignment store, credit card in hand, assuming that they would accept the card for the delivery fee since I was now paying at the store.  Not the case - they only accept cash for delivery fees.  I run to the ATM and get the euros, only to return to an employee that does not speak English. I look up the phrase "I need to pay for my delivery fees" on my iPhone translator app. and show the resulting French phrase to the employee.  He looks at me puzzled, but finally understands when I show him the 60 euros.
   Optimistic Viewpoint:  The boys got a great giggle at dinner when, wondering why the employee was so confused with my translation, I looked up the direct translation of the version of the verb "deliver" that my iPhone had provided me. The confusion?  I had told the employee that I needed to pay 60 euros for my childbirth.

4)  Situation:  We moved into a rental home with all bright white walls, something I am determined to remedy by painting every possible room some shade of color.  I start painting the main living area, only to run out of paint before completing the room.  No problem.  I find a new 2.5 liter tub of paint in the same color at the hardware store, grab it, and proceed to the cashier. The handle breaks, 2.5 liter tub crashes to the floor, leaving a heap of thick, yellow paint spreading quickly across the main aisle of the store. The employee who comes to clean, of course, does not speak a lick of English. I help the poor guy out by helping him shovel the paint back into the tub with the use of cardboard paper and paper towels.
   Optimistic Perspective: The guy was surprised I actually helped him and quickly located a new tub of paint for me (honestly, I was surprised he trusted me with it!).  AND, at least the darned thing didn't break while I was on the escalator!

5)  Situation: Youngest son spends half of the weekend throwing up and misses school on Monday.
Optimistic Perspective:  At least he missed Monday and not Friday when we are scheduled to go on a school trip to Disneyland Paris.

6)  Situation:  Husband's new job requires him to travel more often, resulting in a two week trip to India.
   Optimistic Perspective:  Two weeks of having the bed to myself, complete control of the Slingbox (i.e., American TV), and no complaints if dinner is a choice of cereal or frozen pizza.

7)  Situation:  Due to the 6+ hour time difference between here and the US, I couldn't watch the Cowboys v. Redskins football game.
   Optimistic Perspective:  The Cowboys won, and I didn't have to sit on pins and needles and endure watching a painful, injury-inflicted game.

8)  Situation:  Oldest son is assigned a buddy at his new school, but they don't quite "click".
   Optimistic Perspective:  He discovers one of his classmates is from San Diego - instant bond.

9)  Situation:  In an effort to get to meet other parents at the school, I volunteer to be a room mom.  Due to the lack of parent volunteers (a problem that appears to be an international one), I end up being room mom for both boys.
   Optimistic Perspective:  Priceless opportunity to gain more information on how school is going for them, beyond the cursory "good" I otherwise receive at the end of each day.

10)  Situation: The treasurer at the American Women's Club of Luxembourg finds out I have a finance background and quickly starts recruiting me to be their next treasurer.
Optimistic Perspective:  I will know exactly when they have hit the military base in Germany for American groceries. I went in to the club today to help the treasurer out while she is on vacation and discovered they had finally added Wheat Thins to their inventory! Great news for my MIL who has been sending care packages of Wheat Thins to me :)

1 comment:

  1. There certainly are a lot of challenges being expat - especially in non English speaking countries. When we lived in Spain there was no international school and the area we lived in was non english speaking so my daughter had to learn fluent Spanish quickly (only one teacher in the whole school spoke English and my daughter was not even put in her class) but you make do - as you are - and I think in the long term it even adds to the adventure