Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ex Expatriate

Lately I have been thinking about the things that I miss of our prior expatriate life. They say that coming back to the States is more challenging than leaving it, and I am not entirely sure that I agree with that. Still, I would be less than honest if I didn't admit that there were some things that I really missed about that life. Frankly, our repatriation went as smoothly as it could. The boys like it here, I like it here, George the Elder likes it here.

To the boys, I suspect that it was no different than moving to yet another foreign country seeing as they remembered almost nothing of their babyhood in D.C. Plus, since London was our last place of residence, the fact that everyone was speaking English didn't have too much impact either. They did need to stop using "bin" for trash can and referring to Muni as the Tube - but these were fairly minor adjustments. Still, there are some aspects of overseas life that I really do miss. I thought I would attempt a short list...

  1. Procrastination is perfectly acceptable and almost expected. When you cannot communicate exactly what you need, where to find it, or how to effectively describe where you want it installed - - it inevitably delays doing nearly everything. Yes, it can be mighty frustrating not to be able to accomplish something immediately - - but it is also oddly freeing. It's not that you just haven't done it (like make an appointment for something or buying that screw that is missing, or finding the unique shaped light bulb that is seemingly required in EVERY damn Japanese light fixture), it's that you really CAN'T do it. Like I said - - it's practically a liberation from the guilt associated with putting things off. i.e. I WANTED to, I just COULDN'T.
  2. Private school is FREE! (or at least you don't pay for it) When we first decided to move back to CA, we though, "Hurrah! The kids can go to public school for FREE!!!" We are huge fans of "free"! But, after a mere 15 minutes perusing the web in search of the perfect neighborhood that had the perfect public school with a perfect reputation, we realized that enrolling the kids in public school in SF was a lot like playing the lottery - - except with highly diminished odds of winning. Here in SF, there is no such thing as a "neighborhood school". You have to apply to the public schools that you like and hope to hell that you get in them. And, if you don't get the ones that you want (or even both kids at the same school), then you are assigned to wherever there is space available. So, like the lottery, you buy your ticket hoping to win the $300mil, but it's more likely that you rub off the flaky silvery stuff to reveal that you have only won $2. We didn't like the odds. So, now we technically pay for both and only use one.
  3. Expatriate health insurance RULES!! Here's the deal with expatriate health insurance. You get sick. You go to the doctor. You pay the bill. They pay you back. Simple. Fabulous. Unparalleled. Admittedly, there are a few draw backs such as finding a doctor that speaks English or doesn't diagnose your child as having impetigo when what he really has is strawberry jelly on his face (true story) - but once you have your docs in place - - it's just that simple. Get treatment, get reimbursed. If you REALLY get sick, you head back to the States. It's a bit of a commute, but the option exists. Here, well I could spend the next three paragraphs on the pain in the ass of getting US insurance, finding doctors in your plan that will take you and wading through the muck of co-payments, deductibles, what's covered and what's not. We got a broke system.
  4. Secretaries/Assistants ROCK! The definition of "assistant" in the US means that you get someone to answer your phone, deal with your schedule and provide general support. The definition of an "assistant" in Japan or Germany means that you get all of the above PLUS someone who is not only able, but unconditionally and unfailingly willing to do a whole bunch of other stuff for you. Like get lunch, make personal travel plans, take care of dealing with schools, cars, any government relations like visas or residence permits, help you get your drivers license, pay your rent, go to the bank for you, arrange for dry cleaning and order birthday cakes for your kids. Yes, it is the equivalent of having an extra set of hands for ALL things - and there is nary a whimper or a grumble. In fact, I once tried to contact a mobile phone company on my own and was chastised by my assistant because that was HER job. I loved them and I miss them!

I know that there are more. And, yes, there are absolutely things I do NOT miss. But, as with most things - you tend to only remember the good and disregard the bad (or is that just me, the Mayor of my own little hamlet of Denial?). Even recalling the time that George the Younger did have a completely swollen and misshapen neck (he looked like an NFL linebacker and he was only 4) and the doctor only noticed that he had jelly on his face (actually he didn't notice the jelly, he thought it was very moist impetigo) now makes me smile. George the Elder will remind me that at the time, I was so frantic that I called him from the taxi and screamed in to the phone, "We are LEAVING this country right NOW!!! My son is sick and some crazy doctor just misdiagnosed fruit product as a skin disease!!"

But if memory serves, within minutes, we had found another doctor that not only spoke English, but got him on antibiotics. My assistant helped get the antibiotics from the pharmacy. We (it was likely my assistant) submitted the insurance and got reimbursed 100%. When he was better he went back to his phenomenal private school that was already paid for. What's not to miss about that?

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