From Antipodes to Antwerp: Actually – you are a foreigner!
Richard Croad discovers that accepting your foreigner status abroad is the key to leading a peaceful expat life.
It's taken me a while to get it.
For some time – actually since I got here six months ago until now – I was rather indignant at the thought and feeling of being treated like a foreigner. And then it hit me - that is what I am.
And now I've realised that, and will continue to do so for my duration here, life should be a little easier.
In New Zealand, generally I welcomed foreigners – OK maybe I snubbed a few South Africans around the time of a certain World Cup, but I never ignored the Aussies. I think most New Zealanders welcome foreigners. There is a difference. We know they are not likely to stay, are likely to be tourists, and if not tourists, likely to be useful (read employable or wealthy recent settlers).
Belgium, like much of the rest of Europe, North America and even Australia, has a rather different set of problems, mostly driven by the fact that protecting the border is a difficult – at times impossible – task.
So, who are you, where is your residence card, passport and so on, are quite reasonable questions to be asked, even if you're not anywhere near a border control.
Which brings me back to my post on expats.
It's rather humbling to accept yourself as being the foreigner, which, when I am as arrogant as I am at times, is rather a good thing (when the penny finally drops).
For a New Zealander, I don't think being in the UK brings this 'foreigner' reality home; Australia certainly doesn't and in the USA, you mostly just feel it at border control. And in part that explains why Belgium came as such a jolt to me. But I know I am, and will remain, the richer for it (and I apologise to the hapless Postal worker who faced a four letter expletive from me when he asked me for my passport to collect a 10 euro parcel).
So what is my point? Two main ones:
Firstly, it is very easy to have your mind feed you complete and utter discrepancies about your situation. This is valuable knowledge in all sorts of settings - you are not................. (insert as you see fit from the list below):
- In control
- The Font of All Knowledge
- More important
And secondly, people have a right and a natural inclination (as do I) to protect what they feel to be theirs. And in many ways I think all power to them.
So here is the trick.
Those two thoughts so strongly oppose each other that it is no wonder we have so many feudal battles in our past present and future. (And it could also explain why at times the Belgians seem aloof and direct - some would say blunt).
At the same time, I'll sleep easy knowing that last night we had a great night with the young Belgian couple from next door, who epitomised a spirit of warmth, friendliness and openness – which just has to be admired and we are lucky to be part of – and that you seldom encounter (anywhere).
Richard Croad started his blog From Antipodes to Antwerp after relocating to Belgium from New Zealand. His blog was an avenue to reflect on life as an expat, as well as to record a journal for his two young daughters. As a ‘later in life’ 50-something father, Richard believes leaving a trail of his own struggles and celebrations in a foreign culture is a valuable gift for his children, and is happy to share the same musings with others in this global e-community.