My most embarrassing, bizarre and surreal expat moments

Expat life is a funny thing.

Funny as in odd, and funny as in hilarious.

We’re thrown into situations we wouldn’t normally experience back ‘home’, where we don’t speak the local language, where we don’t understand the local culture and we’re perhaps a bit more brazen because we have to get on and get things organised.

Here’s a collection of my ultimate fails, surreal times, language mix ups and embarrassing moments. What are yours? I’d love to hear in the comments below. If you’re not too shy…

  1. Stupid footwear in Syria. One weekend in pre civil war Syria I was staying at a monastery on the outskirts of Damascus. I decided to go for a walk one evening. ‘Be sure to get home before sunset’, the Father warned me, ‘there are dangerous cliff edges and wild animals’. My French Sole ballerina shoes were not appropriate footwear for the mountains, he underlined. I went out, without a care in the world and oops, Father was right, sunset sure did come down quickly. I got a little lost. It turned very dark and I fell down a hill edge (a cliff face would be an exaggeration but I still remember counting seconds in the fall). Then I heard dogs barking and a man shouting. I ran in what I thought was the right direction and somehow found my way back to the monastery. I cleaned up my bloody grazes and changed for dinner, too embarrassed to tell my story. ‘Oh good to see you Nina, I was beginning to worry and sent a colleague out with dogs to try and find you’. His colleague returned shortly afterwards and I thanked him profusely, still too embarrassed to admit my stupidity. 
  2. Typically Blonde in Germany. In Germany, on a work experience placement for a research and logistics company which manufactured among other things military tools, parts and arms I was left with a lot of spare time. Meanwhile I was bogged down with a dissertation set by my British university. I reckoned it’d be OK to get cracking on my paper alongside my coffee runs and photocopying. The issue was that my dissertation was on the emergence of far left groups including violent anti arms protesters. I did a little photocopying and forgot a few papers in the machine. When the head of department discovered them, along with some of my drafts, he ordered a lock down. It was only after my manager ran after him (‘Don’t worry, it was just the blonde British girl!’) that the lock down was lifted. Oops.
  3. Sword polishing for foreigners. As an impoverished language student in Germany I decided to buy a second hand TV. I came across an advert in a local newspaper and decided to save my cash on the TV and splurge on nights out. Priorities, after all. When I showed up to the advertised address I was asked through the narrow crack of the door if I’d come alone. I glanced up and noticed CCTV cameras above the door. Umm yep, I was alone. I was led through a dimly lit corridor decorated with all manner of knives, blades and swords. Two young guys were sitting in a corner polishing an assortment of antique swords and the other pointed to a small TV in the corner. Instead of just smiling and getting out as fast as possible, I somehow felt compelled to stay for tea while the guy showed me how the antennae (and his knife) worked. Not wanting to argue I drank my tea and then lugged the beast of machine back to my student flat. It didn’t work, but I didn’t fancy a trip back there.
  4. The darker side to student apartment searches. Alas number four is probably something most female students studying abroad and looking for accommodation have come across. When searching for possible student accommodation in Germany two student accommodation adverts I replied to asked me my height, age, hair colour and body measurements. It seems like the rent was more of a rent in kind. Needless to say, I didn’t visit the apartments. 
  5. Surreal security in Angola. In Luanda, Angola, sunbathing on the strip of mostly exclusively bars reserved for Angola’s elite and its expats (known as the Ihla), I didn’t really take in the surrealism of the surroundings. Western men walking or running backwards and forwards along the small private beach (it’s not always advisable to run around Luanda’s wider streets), women in large sunglasses sunbathing next to bored security guards yielding rifles and house music pumping in the distance. Meanwhile, a boat ride away (boat taxi or personal speed boat, depending on your standing) on an island called Mussulo expats would take a dip in the ocean, but not before burying their personal possessions in the sand to stop them getting stolen in the meantime. Ten minutes later and you’d see the guys desperately digging around for their wallets, Havaiana flip flops and designer glasses.
  6. A rare proposal. In Switzerland, heavily pregnant and walking a dog suffering from horrible diarrhea, I was stopped by a guy in the street and asked on a date. As if the stench of my dog wasn’t enough, I pointed to my wedding ring and pushed out my belly. ‘Oh, I’m not choosy. I’d still love to take you for a drink’. Seriously?! Eurgh.
  7. Date mix ups. In France, I got muddled and mistakenly took the wrong mobile number for the wrong person. A follow up meet up arranged by SMS message with whom I thought could turn into a future BFF, was in fact a very kind but so not my type of guy. Bless him, it was his birthday and he’d ordered Champagne, so I never let on about the muddle and made a polite excuse after a couple of glasses that I needed to get home. Eek.
  8. Getting to know the locals. In Switzerland, on a ‘take your spouse to work day’ (yes… as cringy as it sounds), I came along to my hubby’s work to get to know some other foreign spouses. I was two months pregnant at the time and horribly nauseous. During a company presentation over canapes, I coughed on some bread, then struggled for air and soon find myself vomiting on the floor and passing out in the arms of a security guard. I don’t remember all the people at that event, but they sure remember me.

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