What to expect when you’re a returning expat
Moving home may feel like a triumph, but it can be a shock to the system too
“Having driven safely in the US on a full driver’s licence for 15 years, once I got my Irish provisional I was stunned to learn the insurance industry considered me such a risk it refused to cover me.”
Returning home as an expat is like searching out an old flame.
Who knows, he might still be as you remember him: ultra-fanciable, cosmopolitan, electrifying.
Sadly, it’s more likely the years have blurred that boyish figure and dimmed that intellectual vigour. Think shambling, self-obsessed, blah.
Which is why, if you achieve the emigrant’s ultimate triumph and return home for good, you can expect to wake up one night screaming: “THIS is the one I’m spending the rest of my life with? No! What have I done?”
Not at first, maybe. Not while the welcome-home pints are flowing, and you’re still grateful to once again find decent bread and teabags in any shop. But eventually.
I come from a family where, for at least three generations, we’ve wandered back and forth between the US and Ireland as the fancy took us. (Okay, as economic reality dictated.) Lots of Irish can say the same. I was born in the US but have divided my life between the two countries.
We all expect to be zapped by culture shock when moving to the US. But it works the other way too. When I returned home to Ireland after living with the mad Yanks of Chicago for 15 years of my adult life, many Irish ways seemed weird. Here’s a taster:
I moved home as a 30-something wife and mother. So why did landlords expect me to live with their sub-bedsit
-level tat rather than my own furniture? I could persuade most landlords to accept my cat and dog, but for many furniture was a no-no. Sorry, my days of sleeping on a mattress covered with a stranger’s stains are long over.
Is it Irish law that coffee houses have to close with the banks?
In American cities, coffee houses are places where students debate injustice long into the night, where new mums bring sleepless babies, where you find live music one night and poetry slams another. Above all, they’re where you go at 10pm when you want a non-alcoholic hot drink plus a slab of apple pie with whipped cream.
Am I the only one in this country who gets these cravings? Okay, now I really do feel odd.
Contrary to propaganda, Americans do drink. In Chicago, St Patrick’s Day is primarily a drinking holiday. But Americans are deadly serious about refusing alcohol to under-21s, with bizarre social results. I once attended a wedding reception where the bride was
refused a gin and tonic because she had no ID.
Fast-forward a few years to a university get-together in Dublin, where the head of my department was working the room with a bottle of white in one hand and a bottle of red in the other, filling students’ glasses. Cheers!
4. Deadbeat driver
Having driven safely in the US
on a full driver’s licence for 15 years, once I got my Irish provisional I was stunned to learn the insurance industry considered me such a risk it refused to cover me. Well, Quinn Insurance did give me a quote for €4,000, but that hardly counts. Reps laughed in my face, brokers didn’t want to know. Only by following the advice of one of those all-round experts, a taxi driver, did I escape this bureaucratic quicksand.
Funnily enough, at the same time the industry deemed me uninsurable, I was driving on Irish roads in a rental car. Insured.
5. Sweet shopkeepers
The first time I was short of dosh in the local shop and the shopkeeper told me to take my milk and drop the money in later, I knew I wasn’t in Chicago any more.
6. Taking care
I had my first baby in Chicago. He stayed in intensive care for a week, separated from me while I staggered home, because my health insurance paid for only 24 hours of post
When I fell pregnant with my second child in Dublin, I was so worried I waddled out to an office in Smithfield, where amused Department of Health employees gave me a letter stating I was entitled to maternity care. I kept this letter close, but none of the midwives or doctors seemed interested.
When I left hospital with my baby (after several days of care, not just 24 hours), I asked the midwife who walked me to the door about payment.
She handed me my baby and said: “Don’t worry about that. Take your baby home and enjoy her.”
That’s when I knew I was home.
Mary Feely is a freelance writer