If you want to live in a new country, get used to being embarrassed

It’s a little known fact that I am very, very, VERY easily embarrassed. By everything. For all my outward confidence, inside is an awkward teenager who can’t do, say or think anything without feeling some degree of shame. I’ve come to realise that it’s something that goes hand in hand with being British – we’re almost embarrassed to exist at times – but knowing you’re not alone doesn’t make it any easier. I am horribly embarrassed, a lot of the time, about everything.

I thought that my issues with chronic embarrassment would improve when I moved abroad for the first time. Lord knows why, I was probably drunk. They’ve actually gotten way, WAY worse. Navigating a new job is difficult enough wherever you are, but a new language and a new culture on top of that can be damn near impossible if you suffer from similar hardcore embarrassment issues. But for anyone reading this, I want you to know: IT GETS BETTER.

To help those struggling with expat-related embarrassment, please see below for a list of horrific things that happened to me in my first weeks in Spain:

  1. Pretty much every single conversation I had. My Spanish is improving, but practicing with very patient friends and a language app is not going to prepare you for an onslaught of full-speed European Spanish. You’ll mishear everything, ignore important words and typically answer any question with ‘yes’ before shuffling off into a corner.
  2. Food shopping. Several times I ended up with the wrong items, forgot to use the complicated weighing machine for fruit and veg which is so popular in Spanish supermarkets. I ordered a milkshake by mistake in a coffee shop (I’m vegan) because the picture looked like a fruit smoothie. I forgot the word for aubergine on SEVEN separate occasions.
  3. Making friends. Difficult enough when you don’t have much of a personality in your new language yet. Apparently even difficult when making friends with those who do speak your native language. A couple of weeks ago I went on a tour of some local street art, recommended to me by a colleague. I bought a bottle of home-mixed G&T because, why not? Also it was Tuesday. During the opening talk, I opened the bottle and, due to it being jiggled around in my bag, the top flew off, went about fifty feet into the air and hit another tour-goer on the head. I spent the rest of the tour hiding at the back pretending I couldn’t speak English OR Spanish.
  4. Speaking in general. I’m incredibly lucky to have friends who are patient with me, who help me when I don’t understand something. I still mess up though. I told my landlady I was ‘horny’ to meet our new housemate, not excited. I told another housemate we were having ‘dicks’ for dinner instead of chicken. I found out today that I’ve mispronounced a certain word every single time I’ve said it. Nobody has ever bothered to correct me.

Moving abroad is a wonderful idea, until it isn’t. There are a huge amount of obstacles to overcome and for many, it’s a daily struggle. Being chronically embarrassed at home means you’ll be twice as bad in your new country. But it’s all part of the fun, part of getting out of your comfort zone and into a new environment which will challenge you in ways you never thought possible and, ultimately, help you grow as a person. My advice is to go with it and write about it so everyone else can have a good laugh at your expense.

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