I’m a #3. Although to be fair, it’s not entirely accurate because I actually moved abroad to save my marriage.
In my experience, there are three types of expats (excluding immigrants who move abroad often in desperation to escape war, poverty or injustice). Those who move abroad (1) because their existing job requires them to do so; (2) for love or family; (3) for adventure. As you may have already guessed, I’m a #3. Although to be fair, it’s not entirely accurate because I actually moved abroad to save my marriage.
My husband is English and I am American. We met in 1999 while we were each on holiday in Holland. Ok, ok, we met in Amsterdam. While a truly fantastic “how-we-met story” it’s not entirely relevant to the purpose of my article, so I’ll save it for another time and another venue.
I’ll simply tell you that three months after meeting, we were engaged, and three months after that, we were married. Speedy.
Live free or die
I was working in Boston so my husband (fiancée at the time) moved to America and we found a house just over the border of Massachusetts in New Hampshire. If you’ve never been to New Hampshire– and why would you?– let me tell you a little bit about it: it’s storey-book country side with white chapels and quaint, historic towns and it’s chocker-block full of white-collar rednecks. White-collar rednecks are businessmen and women who, during the week, drive Audis to their corporate jobs in the city and then at the weekends drive a pick-up truck with a gun rack to go hunting and drink beer. And the general population takes the state motto quite seriously: ‘Live free or die’, an adage printed on every license plate in the state, whether Audi or pick-up truck.
Apparently to ‘live free’ means no state taxes and therefore cheap alcohol. To ‘die’ means no seat-belt laws for motorists, helmet laws for bikers, and no money in the budget to plow the streets when it snows. Many a time on my drive home from Boston during a snow storm I’d reach the state border — and a wall of snow– and I’d still see people removing their seat belts and helmets. (According the American Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, New Hampshire spends US$143 million per year for crash-related costs. So I guess it’s not so free to die.)
Our sleepy town of Derry was partially ‘dry’ which meant that no alcohol could be served without food. So no bars, but one family-owned fine-dining establishment. Across the border in Londonderry there was an Applebee’s and a bowling alley.
The truth is that I didn’t have a very favourable opinion of Derry, New Hampshire, and it shouldn’t have bothered me that my husband didn’t like it, either. Yet each and every time he complained about something as simple as the weather or traffic conditions, I would take it as a personal insult to me and my country. I didn’t hear him blaming the driver of the car who cut him off, which is what he’d said. I’d hear that the American traffic schools were sub par and thusly lead to a nation of dangerous drivers. Not surprising then that we had several, totally unwarranted marital spats. And quite frankly, they were disturbing our honeymoon period as newlyweds.
Turned out that it wasn’t just the quirkiness of New Hampshire, either. We did a lot of research into other cities and states in America but nothing appealed to us both. I’d say, ‘Manhattan?’ He’d say, ‘Too crowded.’ He’d say, ‘Marquette, Michigan?’ I’d say, ‘Are you insane?’
It’s about that time that we realised we’d be better off living in neutral territory– a country that belonged to neither of us– and so we took out a map of the world. But again there was discord. He’d say, ‘Dubai?’ I’d say, ‘Too scary.’ I’d say, ‘Greece?’ He’d say, ‘Too hairy.’
With a great sigh of relief I still recall the day my father-in-law called and happened to share with my husband a story about a recent trip he’d taken to Portugal. The best part, he said, was that you could get a complete and tasty dinner for two– starters, wine, entrée, dessert, coffee– for about £7.50.
Sold! We packed up the house, arranged transportation for our two dogs, and literally 30 days after that phone call we were living in Portugal.
P.S. By the way, the drivers in Portugal are atrocious– they have the highest number of deaths by car accident in Europe, including Greece!