“I hate Seinfeld. It’s not because he’s Jewish, because there’s really nothing wrong with that, or because of his nasal voice, or his tendency to dump girlfriends over insignificant details like hands that are too large, but because I just don’t think he’s funny. When Kramer, his puffy haired friend enters the comedian’s apartment with his signature gusto… it’s the worst! It’s a goddamn show about nothing!”
The security guard just looks at me.
It’s late. I’m maybe drunk, maybe it’s late, and I’m definitely going to have a hangover.
It’s too early to talk to anyone at home, too late to talk to anyone here but the security guard and he’s here and he’s not talking to anyone so I talk to him.
He smiles pleasantly.
I suppose if I knew more about Thai culture I could talk to him, have a conversation, I could understand why he likes a band named after Ireland’s favorite starchy vegetable, but I don’t and I can’t.
“Good talk,” I tell him as I go back to my room and he salutes me.
I look up plane ticket prices for going back home. I’ll leave here soon. The next day I don’t buy the ticket, nor the day after that.
I don’t go back because I don’t belong there.
When I go back home, even though I’ve lived here in Thailand now for long enough that I should be calling Bangkok home, I can’t tell my friends about the slapstick comedy of Thai sitcoms or about Potato.
They understand the neurosis of George Costanza, they don’t understand slapstick Thai humor and sound effects.
My old friends look at me and stare as if I was from another planet, another place, and I am.
They certainly don’t get why Potato is a big deal; after all the closest America got to a chart-topping vegetable was the misspelled Korn.
So who do I talk to? About life? The trivialities and petty struggles? About not being able to figure out what the fuck is going on at the grocery store, or how to figure out the convoluted maze of immigration?
Expats live in two time zones, here and “home,” the present and the past.
We are like time travelers always looking behind us at the place that we left.
It’s why so many barstools are filled in pseudo English pubs that serve depilated fish and chips. It’s a chance to return home, or to a semblance of “home.” But home is far, far, far away. The distance home may be finite, a few thousand miles, 10 hours, 12 hours, 14 hours on a plane, but the amount of time to return to become acclimated again is infinite and so the expat is neither here nor there.
After a long period of time expats get used to living abroad. The constant conflict of not understanding what the hell is going on becomes the new normal and when expats go home, there is no confusion — everything is understood and totally alienating at the same time. It’s not the home the expat left.
The expat belongs neither abroad nor at home. This dislocation is isolating. It’s lonely and it’s magnified by the distorting lens of social media where all the joys are magnified into intense feelings of FOMO.
Expats aren’t there for the weddings, the births, and the deaths. Life back there is passing us by and expats are left out of it.
So what’s the remedy? Expats, like everyone else, curate their own best moments. They post shirtless pictures of themselves on beautiful beaches hugging drugged up tigers.
Who could possibly be miserable while saddled up next to an exotic beasty bestie?
Pictures of hugging exotic wildlife don’t help people get through the emotional difficulties of being abroad. There are a million hurdles to overcome when living in a foreign country, for example love lives. The hardships of getting into, falling out of, and being in a romantic relationship are difficult enough as it is. They become even more difficult when you have no one to talk to about it, and no one that understands.
The loneliness of expat life also folds in on itself. The more lonely we feel, the more ways in which we reinforce that loneliness by not going out, by not trying, by not making meeting other people a priority.
Maybe the expat does try. Maybe they go get a new mate and become friends with people they would never even bother with back home because they can speak the same language, they know the same football team, because they both know what the shitty 90s sitcom Seinfeld is.
It’s not that they share likes and commonalities with their new international friends; it’s more base than that. It’s that they are in the same isolating cell abroad together.
Friendship beyond the age of 6 is hard work. It requires making meeting people a priority because sometimes newfound drinking buddies don’t always have the same hours as you.
Unlike in Seinfeld, best friends probably don’t live across the hall from you.
But if the expat wants to survive they have to do the work. They have to learn the culture, they have to go out and make things happen because at the end of the day no one else is gonna talk to you about shitty sitcoms.
Featured image by Quin Stevenson (Unsplash)