The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land – G.K. Chesterton
As the end of our summer away from Qatar drew near, I was hesitant to do a compare-and-contrast exercise between my old and new lives.
But as I’ve been asked a variation on that question by most people I’ve seen this holiday, it seems rude not to share some of what I’ve learned.
Nominally basing ourselves in our native England, family Little City has hit the tourist trail to Wales with friends; ate cheese in France at my in-laws’, and in between we crammed in everything from the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum to haircuts, dentist appointments and more hours than is actually healthy buying school shoes a year in advance; such are the problems of expats.
In amongst all that…
…I learned you won’t please everyone
Hello, fellow expats; I’ve joined the You were here and we didn’t see you / more of you? Club. The only cost to join is to your mental health.
We got a tip to help minimise this effect by trying to see as many people as possible at the same time. This also helps avoids feeling like you’ve done nothing but ‘catch up’ for a month.
So Mrs LC stuck a note on Facebook (which added a frisson of excitement to the evening as it meant I had no idea who was coming) and we parked ourselves in a local pub.
Thanks to all who came. Some friends came early, some were surprises, some came in child-minding shifts, some even stopped in on their way back from a night of highly experimental theatre in London (pretend-kidnappings-as-entertainment not being a staple of Doha nightlife).
If I didn’t see you this year, sorry. Hang in there. I’m sure our paths will cross again soon.
…I learned to be prepared
Like movie stars on a whistlestop promotional tour, the returning expat will be asked variations on a number of similar questions. Why did you leave? Do you like it there? How long will you stay? When are you coming ‘back’? (Some canny folk spot a little twinkle in your eye when you talk about your new life and instead ask, Where next?)
I’ve prepared enough FAQs in my career to know how helpful it can be to have thought about your responses in advance. To wit:
- Take your pick from: cost of living; opportunity too good to turn down; fear of standing still
- Mrs LC’s on a three year contract
- Who knows; and who knows. For more details, join my mailing list…
…I learned that if winning the hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup was designed to put Qatar on the map, then it’s worked a treat
Last year, when we told people where we were moving to, the most common response was a variation on Sorry, where?
Now it’s all Is the World Cup really going to happen in summer / in winter / in Qatar / at all? I could happily chat about this until the cows come home (which means ‘all day’, idiom fans) but it would just be speculation. We’ll know in a month, after the next FIFA ExCo meeting on Oct 3-4.
…I learned there’s little more incongruous than watching your blog traffic skyrocket from the tranquil surroundings of the French countryside
I hadn’t really planned on posting anything mid-holiday, but there was a lot I needed to process, so I wrote Muscle memory, and then Doha News ran a story based on it, and nearly snapped WordPress’s servers in the process. Who knew they had readers in Bolivia?
Anyway, welcome to all readers and followers new and old. Pleasure to have you here.
…I learned that our decision not to return to the UK last Christmas, just a few months after arriving in Doha, really was the right call
We all needed a long time to accept Doha as the new normal. Our extended absence meant we appreciated more of what our former home has to offer.
…Elsewhere, I learned that Kid A is already tall enough, even before her 10th birthday, to no longer need to use a booster seat under British law. She’s also past the age limit for Nurofen for Children.
Together, these make me feel way older than turning 40 recently did.
…I was given some champagne for my birthday. I learned that putting it in the freezer and then forgetting about it is fatal. You’re welcome, science.
…I learned that some people, despite knowing all three of them in real life, now think of my children as Kid A and Amnesiac, and my wife as Mrs LC, before their real names bubble to mind. That’s my legacy, right there.
…In culture news, I learned that the Now series of pop compilations is still following the same formula it always has
What those of us who were there from the beginning used to call ‘Tape 1, Side 1’ (they’re up to Now 85 in the UK, incredibly enough) is still packed to the brim with solid gold classics, and by the time you reach ‘Tape 2 Side 2’, they’re scratching around to include songs which spent a week at #39 before never being heard of again.
Anyway, amid all the dross and blanked out swearing (yay for radio edits) there were a couple of standout tracks that had the whole car singing, including Calvin Harris/Ellie Goulding’s I Need Your Love and, in Selena Gomez’s Come & Get It, the pop song of the year. I say this as a gnarly old Radiohead addict, but we all need some pop in our lives, and that song is flat out brilliant.
…I learned to take my opportunities
Just one of a thousand things it’s hard to do when living in the scorching Gulf, I went running outside while the weather and the lack of traffic let me. Between that, and my sister-in-law’s impromptu holiday boot camp circuits class, I helped to minimise the damage caused by five weeks European indulgence. Now drop and give me 20!
…and I learned that life goes on
We were only away / back a few short weeks, but in that time we shared the highs – and lows – of daily life with family and friends.
On one day alone, Mrs LC’s bridesmaid turned 40, some of our oldest friends left the UK (again) to start a new life in Singapore, and our eldest niece received record-breaking GCSE results (ok, the record she broke was mine, and because I am a nice uncle I set her a pretty low bar).
Jumping straight out of all that (again) and going back to news by email and Skype is going to be hard.
Finally, here’s the scariest thing I learned this summer:
Just how easy it would be to just slip back in to our old life, like our time away was some crazy adventure we could chalk up to curiosity or a bet-gone-wrong.
We were in a shoe shop on our first morning back in the UK (because we’re that fun), when in walks the mum of one of Kid A’s former classmates. She starts chatting away to us like nothing’s happened and the past year had all been a dream like Bobby Ewing’s death in Dallas.
Of course it would be tempting to just pick up where we left off. How could it not be? I know that life inside out.
And of course I miss people, places, Twiglets. I miss Britain’s humour, the verbal cut and thrust of everyday life that defines who we are. (Doha is funny, but not usually on purpose)
But let’s not forget that we didn’t leave some idyllic island behind when we moved.
Case in point: in the past year, both my parents have taken up volunteer positions at their local Food Bank. Yep, even in the leafy heart of the allegedly prosperous south, people are being hit by the failing British economy – and hit hard.
You don’t need a lifetime’s experience as an expat to know that the sad, simple truth is that nowhere’s perfect.
So now, after an interminable round of packing up as we took full advantage of Qatar Airways’ increased baggage allowance (including not quite a kitchen sink, but a sewing machine) and a student-esque game of How-much-luggage-can-you-fit-in-an-estate, we’ve come back to the heat, humidity and dust.
Back to a new school year. Back to work. Back to blaring car horns and Rainbow condensed milk.
Back to Doha.
The adventure continues…