Remember that post I wrote a while back on expatriate living? If you haven’t read it, you definitely should. You can get the link here: Expatriate Moments of Brevity: Life Abroad! This next article is almost a continuation of this previous post; yet again, I write about my own experience and some observations as I compare first and third world countries. My intention is NOT to offend anyone or point out weaknesses. I only share my personal experiences (good or bad), and hope that you will be entertained, or encouraged!
When you relocate to a western country, some of the following things may be a true sign that you have indeed adjusted and feel at home in your new home. In this context, the western country is the United States. I haven’t lived in any other country besides the US and Rwanda. So, buckle up and enjoy yet another one of my life’s experience blog post.
In my opinion, you’ll know that you have truly blended in when:
- Your life absolutely revolves around a Calendar
In United States, every single person has a calendar. When I say a calendar, I don’t mean the one you hang on the wall or stick on the refrigerator and use it to remind yourself what day of the week it is. Although that one is good too, but that’s not what I am talking about. This is a list of plans and appointments one has per day, week, if not the whole year: it be meetings, doctor’s appointments, shopping spree, dinner plans, an afternoon at the park, going on vacation. I won’t even go there for those who have kids.
Seriously, you have to live off of one of those otherwise your life will be extremely complicated. A single day gets filled with so many stuff that can barely fit in 24 hours. Whether you have an easy or the busiest job, everyone just has a busy life around here. It’s normal to hear that someone cannot get together because their schedule for the whole week or several weeks is all booked up.
In Rwanda, a busy schedule like that is normally for important and super rich people. If you told someone in Rwanda that you will have to check your calendar first before responding to their dinner invitation, they may wonder if you just fell from another planet! If you are a foreigner living in Rwanda, they’ll assume that it’s foreign stuff; if you are Rwandan, you’ll definitely be called arrogant.
- Your patience shrinks over time
I often joke that my patience stayed behind when I left Rwanda for the United States. In Rwanda, everything is almost in slow motion, people are always late and have no decency to apologize or show remorse for their being late. When you arrive on time, it actually indicates that you have nothing better to do. Being on time doesn’t just mean anything to anyone over there. During one of my visits home, my siblings and I attended a service on New Year’s Day at a local church. A preacher was announced and given 30 minutes to talk.
Almost 2 hours later, the preacher didn’t show any sign of wrapping-up. It was very hot inside, which is normal there because most places aren’t air conditioned. As soon as the preacher finished his message, I made my way out as soon as I could. When it was noticed that some people started to leave (I wasn’t the first one to leave I promise), the ushers closed and guarded doors to stop people from leaving. I was in shock!
Then, I remembered that I was in Rwanda, where people can go on and on and ignore that others have other plans for the day or families to go to. Some religious or government events may last for 3-5 hours and people don’t complain or threaten to leave, even if it’s very hot! Like most Rwandans, this is something that never bothered me before, not until I moved to the US. Most events in Rwanda have a start time, not the end. Everyone knows that it ends when the last person leaves.
On the contrary, in the United States, you better be punctual in everything or you may end up in a room by yourself. Everything and everyone has a determined schedule. Unlike in Rwanda, a meeting scheduled to start at 10 am does actually start at 10 am in the US. As you drive down the street, there’s always someone in so much hurry to get anywhere but there. You certainly cannot be late for a meeting; everything is on time and according to the schedule. I am not saying that everything is perfect; but comparing to what I was used to in Rwanda, it’s definitely the opposite.
- You complain often about “simple things”
I like the name it has been given to justify the frequent whining reasons: “first world problems”. It does not matter who you are, there is always something to complain about around here everyday: a long line at the grocery store checkout counter, a long wait before you are seated at a restaurant or the meal arrives, how unfriendly the website browsing experience is, a slow internet connection, an order that took an extra day to arrive, a hard time finding a parking spot or parking too far from the door, a slow computer application, forgetting your phone/computer charger, no free Wi-Fi in a public place, and the list goes on.
If you live in United States, just recall one of your long days. If you live in a developing country just google “first world problems” and you will understand what I am talking about.
I have to admit that it makes me sad when I find myself doing exactly the same. For instance, I travel often on business and get to stay at very nice 4 or 5 star hotels. Perhaps because of my hotel loyalty status (frequent traveler) or my employer, sometimes junior suites type of rooms get priced the same as a regular room or close for my stays. So, when I book one of those but the hotel staff doesn’t honor my reservation, I get so annoyed.
I feel disappointed when a fancy hotel room has towels or a room that is not so clean, a small bathtub, a TV screen that’s not as fancy as the hotel, or simply when I get a rental car that’s not the same one I booked online. I complain about US Airways all the time; this airline services have been so bad every time I flew with them so far. I was very disappointed when I learned their merge with American Airlines, my favorite airline. Silly things like these!!
When did I become so spoiled, I often wonder!! How do I get carried away and tend to forget my past hardships, for example when I didn’t have a place to stay at some point in life or food to eat? I have to say this though, growing up in a third world country, I learned to keep my frustration to myself.
To be honest with you, it’s easy to get irritated here for reasons I still don’t grasp myself. I’m not sure if it’s because of the possibility to dream here (the American dream!), or the freedom of everything that tends to make you take life for granted. Whatever the reason is, when you move to the US, you will know that you are home when you experience the first world problems and you aren’t ashamed to freely express your frustration.
- You need some “ALONE” time
I don’t know how it is in your home country but everyone knows everyone in Rwanda. Whether you keep your life private or not, people will know where you live, the school that your kids attend, when and who comes over to your house, everything. Don’t worry, you won’t have to give anyone a memo. For things they are not sure about, they will map out a scenario sometimes to complete your life story, in their view point.
For example if you are my age and still single, they will come up with the reasons why you’re not married, even thousands of miles away. If you are too skinny, it’s definitely because you are poor and don’t have enough food. No explanation needed! Everyone is in everyone’s business. It gets better: when you have a ceremony, party etc., you have to invite everyone and their brothers. If you don’t, then there comes your enemies and you become a talk of the whole town.
Fortunately though, when you are sick or need help, everyone will be there even if they are not that close. They will visit and stay until you hope and pray that they will leave so you can rest your eyes and tired body. People will bring food and be there for you even if they are not your friends. So, that’s community in Rwanda as I know it. There is never a quiet time; there are always people in your home and everywhere, talking and whatnot. There’s no such a expression as “alone time” in Kinyarwanda, not for general use anyway!
SO, when you move to the US, you will definitely want some time to yourself, at home or somewhere alone, sometime doing absolutely nothing. If you have felt or been through any of these, welcome home! You are NOT into this alone! You have just been Westernized 😀
I love what both the American and Rwandan cultures have to offer; I enjoy learning new things and writing about it. What has been your experience when you moved or visited a first world country from a developing country or vice versa?