How Living Overseas Has Kind of Messed Me Up

A couple weeks ago I was in the grocery store and was (overly) excited to see they had orange sweet potatoes—a rare find here in Swaziland. I love sweet potatoes, and they have them here, but they are normally either white or purple-ish, and while they taste fine, they just aren’t the same. ANYWAY, I proceeded to buy some. Actually I proceeded to buy ALL of them, and considering we are a family of TWO, it was a little over the top that I walked out of the store with 15+ large sweet potatoes.And that’s when it hit me:

LIVING OVERSEAS HAS DONE SOME STRANGE THINGS TO ME.

1. As illustrated by the sweet potato incident, I have hoarding tendencies. There are things you can’t get here, that are hard to find, or that show up every once in a while, but then disappear for months or years.  When I make a rare find at the store, I feel compelled to buy in bulk. I am specifically a hoarder of Mexican food. Actually, I believe this whole ‘tendency’ was most likely brought on by the ‘Great Southern Africa Tortilla Chip Famine’ that stretched from 2004-2010.

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This is a picture of my shopping cart when I found an exceptionally large stash of tortilla chips on a visit to South Africa…17 bags to be exact. In my defense, I shared these (and the sweet potatoes!) with other foreigners who I knew would be as giddy as me!

2. When I enter an empty room I scan it like a government agent looking for the enemy, only I’m looking for bugs, spiders, lizards, and any random rodents (I would include the neighborhood stray cats in this category) that may be lurking in the shadows. Chalk it up to lizards in the cutlery drawer, millipedes in my bed, bats hiding in the curtains, stray cats making their bed in my guest towels, and you can add a dose of paranoia to my hoarding issues.  For instance this little guy was sitting on my kitchen cabinet when I walked into the kitchen one morning last week:

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I’m know there are bigger spiders out there, but this is big enough for me! This pic was taken after the large cloud of raid had dispersed.

3. Nearly every time I park my car I say a quick prayer of “Lord, let it be there when I get back” as I walk away. Most times that prayer has been answered, however 2 times it has not.

4. My feet have grown a size in the last 10 years because they are in flip flops 98% of the time. This is a bummer because they rarely carry higher than a size 9 in Southern Africa, and I’m an 11 these days. So, when I’m in the U.S. I hoard shoes that fit me.

5. I tell awkward stories. Most of the time they have something to do with strange bathrooms I’ve used,  strange foods I’ve eaten, or unexplainable cultural things that I always feel compelled to try and explain anyway. I’ve learned (sort of) that what I might think is interesting or funny, might just gross a lot of other people out, and it’s best if I keep my mouth shut, rather than endure a polite grimace/smile/nod.

Speaking of awkward…

6. I get greetings wrong 50% of the time. In Latin America you would shake hands and lean in for a little kiss on the cheek. In Swaziland you shake with your right hand while holding your right elbow with your left hand. Some countries aren’t too much into hugs when you greet. I do the wrong thing at the wrong time a lot of the time and have probably offended my fair share of people around the globe. Let me just tell you that leaning in for a cheek-kiss in Iowa or hugging an indigenous Panamanian pastor both make for awkward moments.

7. I now refer to some styles of burglar bars (the norm on doors and windows here and in Latin America) as “pretty.” Bars are for prison, not home décor.

8. I don’t push friends in wheel chairs downs hills in close proximity of croc-infested waters. Hahaha! I think this picture is hilarious and I just have to pull it out of the archives every couple of years!

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Taken in St. Lucia South…croc and hippo capital of Southern Africa!

9.  I have grown (pretty much) immune to people making comments about how huge I am. I’m 6’ tall, and I have traveled to lots of places where the people are exceptionally small (like grown adults up to my waist) and are also pretty blunt with comments regarding physical appearance, so I have heard it all! (Note to the guy in the Mexican market who would always yell, ‘Hey big lady! Come into my shop!’—that’s NOT the way to get my business.) Maybe someday the Lord will call me to Holland or Ethiopia where I hear the people are really TALL!

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Look how tall I am! (and how young I was!) This is from the San Blas Islands of Panama, about 10 years ago I think.

10. My standards are just ‘off’ in certain areas. For example, for my daughter’s 9th birthday party in January we had a swimming party at the pool in the picture below. It didn’t even hit me until I was posting the pics on FB later, that maybe we shouldn’t be swimming in such horribly GREEN water. And just to prove that I’m not alone in some of my strange-ness: On Wednesdays I’m in a Bible study with quite a few other American missionary women. A few weeks ago nearly our entire tea time conversation was dominated by funny stories of bugs we have accidentally eaten (i.e. ants in your granola), and worse yet, how it doesn’t really bother us that much anymore!

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Isn’t it a lovely shade of green? I’m happy to report that none of the children that attended Ellie’s birthday party contracted any horrible skin conditions as a result!

So, I have firmly established that living in another country can give a person (me specifically) a few (or A LOT OF) quirks, but let me share with you also that the blessings of a life overseas are immeasurable. I’m sure there are other paths that could reap similar results, but for me, God has used cross cultural living to give me a perspective on life, faith, friendship, trials, heaven, material possessions, and most importantly the Lord himself, that I am sure I would not have otherwise. There’s so much more to say on that, but this is getting a little looooonnnng. Maybe another time!

Do you live overseas? How has it messed you up?

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21 thoughts on “How Living Overseas Has Kind of Messed Me Up

  1. I loved your post, Julie! I could relate somewhat to #6 — they do the lean-in-for-a-kiss-on-the-cheek thing here in L.A., and it totally threw me for a loop when we first moved out here. And while living in the mountains of Topanga holds nowhere near the number and variety of critters you find in your household on a daily basis, your mom did indeed have a bat-in-the-house experience when she, Cindy, and my mom stayed at our place once. As I recall the story being told, Dixie just pulled a milk crate down over her head and screamed while Cindy and my mom chased the bat away. (The random milk crate was a leftover furniture remnant from my college days — I’m glad I was able to afford Dixie a bit of protection while her very life was being threatened!)

    • Thanks for reading my blog! I think California could be considered living in another culture 🙂 I seem to be getting more and more wimpy when it comes to bats etc the older I get…I must get it from my mother!

  2. Oh Julie, I so enjoy reading your blog!! I hope we get to see you and Ellie again before too long. Love Cherise

  3. 1. Always love your blogs.
    2. I laughed so hard I snorted at the line “…leaning in for a kiss in Iowa…”
    3. Love so much how the Lord has gifted you in so many ways and is using you for His glory around the globe.

    Love, Karen

  4. Awesome blog July. Thank you for a glimpse into the reality of serving God where you do and the glimpses of grace that you could not get any other way.
    -Paul in Sacramento

  5. Enjoyed reading this! And that sign from St. Lucia…oh my! That deserves being pulled out of the archives for sure.

  6. great stories. Our family of 5 lived in Swaziland for 8 yrs. We loved there. We lived there from 1988-1996. We worked with TWR. We also lived in Sri Lanka for 10 years and Guam for 4. We loved living overseas. We have learn so much from living overseas. Living in American, its about having more. When you live in different countries who have a lot less and seem so much happier. We are trying to learn to live on less in American. God bless, L

  7. Julie, these comments are exactly the things I’ve experienced overseas for 30 years! I laughed and said ‘Oh Yeah!’, as I read this post! Good memories of strange events, and remembering how ‘messed up’ I’ve become! 🙂 I wouldn’t trade it for ANYTHING, because through all of this, I learned how God is so sufficient, and everything I need! Now, I’m learning how to be ‘messed up’ in my own culture, and realizing that God is All-sufficient here too! 😉

  8. This is hilarious. Thanks for posting! I have been messed up by expecting a Dr’s visit to only cost between $4-12 dollars, and all day in the ER to only cost $50-$70. I come to the US and am shocked at the extremely long waiting period for expensive care!! 🙂

  9. my hang-ups after living 7+ years in Asia and returning to N.America… #1) being too friendly with the children of strangers in public places like grocery stores and playgrounds. I think I creeped a lot of parents out by commenting on their children and interacting with them. #2) not knowing how to properly stand in a line-up. The natural instinct was for me to shove and crowd close to the person in front of me so after returning to the States I had a really hard time knowing whether or not I was close enough (maybe people would think I wasn’t really in the line) or too close and invading the invisible (and holy) circle of the other individuals personal space and inevitably one again creeping people out.

    • Funny that you mention being too friendly with strangers children…the Asian tourists that come through Swaziland quite often just hug my daughter and start taking pictured with her without even asking me!

  10. Love reading your blogs! They are very informative and entertaining. However, we love even more having you here telling your stories in person! Love, Mom

  11. I’m a MK plus lived in Cameroon for 2 yrs after college. I resonate with thus GREATLY!!! My brother-in-law & husband have had to come to terms with the fact that if we’re all together we’re gonna bring up bodily functions/fluids at some point. It’s a given. And, my mom STILL hoards groceries. Her cupboards drive me nuts!! My husband has to remind me that if we forget to pack something on a trip it’s ok–Walmart or Target will be close. Some habits die hard…

  12. So comforting that someone is as wacky as me! My stories are either met with the “she exagerates a lot” look, or “that’s hilarious” when I’m ocasionaly trying to make a serious point!

  13. We live in Haiti, and we’re pretty sure our house is going to burn down someday because we thought somebody was just burning trash in the street and didn’t investigate the smoke. Also, I was in Oregon once with my family and their neighbor was mowing the lawn…and I thought, ‘Who’s running their generator, the power’s on!’ Sigh. So messed up.

  14. Pingback: How Living Overseas Has Kind of Messed Me Up | All These Things – Missionary Mamas

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