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Prose May 5, 2019

Some Things I Wish People Told Me About Moving Countries

Words:  James Royce . Photography:  Alexei Obolensky  &  Yentl Touboul .

Words: James Royce. Photography: Alexei Obolensky & Yentl Touboul.

After spending twenty-two years there, I decided to fuck off from the United States altogether.

I had enough. Broken political system. No healthcare. Needed to go somewhere with better surf. Loads of things that made me nervous and irritable really. Plus, I wanted to work as a writer abroad as well. A career move that’s more doomed than it is romantic but something I still tell my friends is a lot more interesting than what they do. It is, too. All my friends work in advertising. I’m back living in Los Angeles now and while LA is The Only Good City in The States it still sucks. It sucks because it’s not the south coast of Australia, where I was before. And it sucks because it’s not, well, anywhere else that’s exciting and vibrant and foreign.

What am I getting at here, though? Ah, well, see it appears that jumping countries is quite a popular move right now. Blame Brexit. Blame the far-right dipshits making a scene. Blame the “I’m moving to Berlin to work on my art because no one’s thought of that one before” thought that keeps lingering about in your mind.

And if you’re thinking of packing your whole life up in a big board bag and hopping on the next one way flight: good. It’s just about the best decision you can ever make. But just make sure to handle all that visa nonsense at some point before. Because if you don’t you will get kicked out of the country and that can be quite distressing. Nothing worse than watching some customs agent at Kingsford Smith International scan your passport and every light on their desk just goes red and starts beeping. It’s a unique mixture of shame and horror, that.

But if you’re thinking of finally going someplace where you don’t know anyone or anything and calling it home, there’s a few things you should know. What makes me an expert? Well, my credentials are: I did it. Did you not read that entire first two paragraphs up above? Anyway, here’s what to expect:

Barcelona. An all-time favourite.

Barcelona. An all-time favourite.

You’re going to miss your hometown no matter how bad it might be.

Listen, I like the “bashing on everyone from my hometown and everything about my hometown because it’s bizarre” conversation. A universal crowd pleaser, that. I mean, I’m from San Diego. Which I know is only considered to be lovely and nice and like a permanent vacation. And, like, it is. But also: no. Everyone who lives in San Diego moved there because they decided to get married, have kids, and retire at 25-years-old. Our entire industry’s built around overpriced medical supply sales and a big zoo. People think Anchorman is still quite culturally relevant.

Me, back home: “I love $25 craft beer flights.” Or: “Yes, the surf was fun! But there were 40 other people out there again and they were all riding the same Hypto-Crypto which was bizarre.” Another personal favourite: “It’s just so nice to be able to drive to Mexico so easily.” Never good when the roads out are what people are rating about town.

Anyway, the second I left it was all I could think about. I missed it entirely. The surf. The same three restaurants. How everyone went about their lives in a very Groundhog Day repetitive-way. You could be from the most <2,000 population town in middle-America that has nothing than one of those Taco Bell-KFC combo buildings and single municipal center that everyone gathers at just for school board meetings and I bet you’d miss it if you moved away. It’s just what happens. What’s nice is you can get rid of all those thoughts by literally just stepping outside. Walk around, explore a random street by your new flat, dip into a restaurant that you’ve never seen before. That sort of thing. It’s easy to fight those thoughts and the longing will go right away.

Prague. Another European city we strongly recommend.

Prague. Another European city we strongly recommend.

You’ll get very good at surfing/skating/whatever for very odd reasons.

Ever lived alone before? If so you know it always sounds nice until you go mad with the solitude. Days upon days, alone in a flat, the only noise just a steady buzz coming the fridge. You, tapping the windows. You, quoting your favorite movie lines to no one just so you get a chance to hear your actual voice that day. You, just staring and staring, at yourself, by yourself, in the mirror. Now imagine those feelings only it’s all the time and much more extreme. Moving to another country where you don’t know anyone? It all can be very: lonely.

An amazing way to combat it though is by surfing, surfing surfing surfing, surfing and more surfing some more. Can go for a bit of a skate as well. It’s a wonderful way to fill time and avoid going actually insane. It’s wild, you can just channel all that anxious energy into that and you’ll just get better and better and better because you’ll be doing it a lot. 

You’ll hit the pub? Like, all the time?

Yes. Remember that whole thing about being a bit lonely? Well, you’re not going to make friends pottering about in the water or at home, alone, all day. No. Where’s a good place to meet people, then? Oh yeah, that’s right: The Pub. Where else do you go, right? What are you going to do, start chatting people up around the park? No. You’re not an insane person.

So, yeah, you’ll find yourself hitting the pub more often than not. Sometimes with new friends and often with no friends. And it’s a good way to meet people, sure. Only tricky part with making friends on a night out is telling them how rad it’d be to see them, well, not just at night? Like: yeah, you’re now mates. But also: have you ever seen this person or people in the daylight? No. And that’s tricky because it seems a bit awkward to ask someone you’re casually going drink-for-drink with what they’re doing, “Daytime, tomorrow? Want to surf?” But it really isn’t.  

“No one’s ever got full-on fucking glassed for buying someone else a beer before.”

“No one’s ever got full-on fucking glassed for buying someone else a beer before.”

These people are here with their friends. They’re loose. They’re happy. They’re down to chat. You might think they don’t need the guy who just accidentally wandered into the women’s restroom after necking the wheat out of several pints in their life. But really, they don’t care. No one’s ever got full-on fucking glassed for buying someone else a beer before.    

And I mean, come on, The Pub is tempting. Walk by and it’s all loud and people shouting and everyone is having a laugh in the garden. Just go. Go to The Pub. Alone. Go to The Pub and sink a beer or two alone and see what happens. Not to be all, “sinking beers in a public place is a fantastic way to meet people.” But: sinking beers in a public place is a great way to meet people. Besides, anything’s better than going insane in the silence of your empty room. Just don’t sit at a single table with a half-empty glass while scrolling through your phone the whole time. No one wants to talk to that lad.

You’ll avoid all other expats.

So, I’m American. Which gives me every right to say Americans just don’t know when to fucking stop. We’re obscene. The most “American man abroad” thing I’ve ever done is one time I just walked into a room filled with people having breakfast and, like, introduced myself to everyone. It was at some bed and breakfast hostel deal, and I thought’d it be nice to learn everyone’s names? Because we were all staying under the same roof so I figured I’d get acquainted? Even though I would more than likely never see these people again in my life? “Ah, what’re you doing?” someone even said. “Oh wait, you must be American.” What? “Yeah, only an American introduces themselves to a bunch of strangers.” And I just thought: I have to get out of this hostel. I have to get out of Germany altogether, now. I have to get out and I can never return.

Anyway, the second I moved countries I became hyper-aware of every embarrassing thing Americans do. Which is a lot. And I just had to distance myself entirely. Things were particularly tricky at the time as well because Trump had just got elected when I moved so I felt like I had to start every conversation with: “Sorry, sorry, sorry.”

Tempelhof Feld, Berlin. One of the finest places to sweat your Augustiner-induced hangover.

Tempelhof Feld, Berlin. One of the finest places to sweat your Augustiner-induced hangover.

But whether you’re French, Australian, English, whatever, it’ll more than likely be the same. Walk into a pub crawling with your fellow countrymen? Find a different pub.

Because, like, mate, if you wanted to be friends with people from your home country you wouldn’t have left your home country. Right? Right.

Before you pack your bags and leave some self-righteous friend of yours who once lived abroad but, for some reason you can’t pin down, moved back will tell you all about moving abroad like they know everything, like that sort of stuff is objective and not very specific to an individual’s choices, experiences, and just, well, general existence. And they’ll talk and talk and talk until they just stop out of nowhere and take one of those big breaths in through their nose that are so loud you can hear it and go: “Yeah, wish I could move back. Would do it in a heartbeat.”

Hello and, yes, if you’re reading this and willing and able to sponsor it’s first name, last name and the number 23 at gmail dot com.

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