Moving to another country is a change that generates further changes. You cut yourself out of the fabric of your old life to be transplanted into a new environment, hoping for this operation to be successful.
Moving means seeing yourself through the eyes of new, different people: strange strangers. Back home even strangers were familiar. The looks and nods they gave you in the street were always so easily understood: silent communication louder than words. In your new life even strangers are stranger. And you are strange to them. Which is a challenge but it also seems like an opportunity.
For starting from scratch also means a chance at building a new and improved version of you.
After all, your awkward high school moments, ex-partners you never wish to bump into again, failed job ventures you hope to forget are all elsewhere now, and you are free to be whoever you want to be. You can make adjustments and become a better you.
There are two sides to being a stranger in a strange land observed by strangers. Both of them initially seem like something you can deal with if you have „the right attitude.”
On the one hand, to the outside world you seemingly have no past and therefore you can pretend you truly are as effortlessly perfect as you are trying to project.
On the other, you have no context (usually provided by your past, but currently absent) so you are constantly misunderstood and misinterpreted by the strangers you encounter. With „the right attitude,” though, you could navigate this complex situation: provide exclusively positive context for your new and improved self. It’s a learning curve, for sure, but where there is a will, there is a way.
Because you are basically perfect just the way you are (right?), and all you need to fit seamlessly into your new environment is a simple attitude adjustment. So you begin by noting the few things you could change (minor tweaks, really) in order to achieve your goal:
- Be enthusiastic in your job interviews and when meeting new people – you want them to know you have a great personality. But don’t seem desperate; remain laid back – your enthusiasm shouldn’t be too intense.
Copy that: Enthusiastic but laid back.
- Be grateful – appreciate the chances you’re given, but also stay reserved. You don’t want to seem needy.
Got it: enthusiastic, laid back, grateful but reserved.
- Have a “go get” attitude but don’t be pushy; remain determined, yet not defensive.
Enthusiastic, laid back, grateful, reserved, determined but flexibl… Right, what else can be adjusted?
- Be confident in what you can achieve but stay humble – nobody likes stuck up people.
Enthusiastic, laid back, grateful, reserved, determined, flexible, confident, humble.
- Be polite and friendly – personable people can really go places – but for goodness sake, leave your personal life at home, nobody wants to see your dirty laundry!
Enthusiastic, laid back, grateful, reserved, determined, flexible, confident, humble, personable and private.
As I went about settling into my new life abroad, I tried making adjustments to my attitude to better fit in and more successfully connect with my new environment. I have always had some of these qualities, but have now decided to be Bigger, Better and Brighter and make all of those adjustments all at once.
I did what most of us do when we are in a new relationship: I tried to be on my best behavior creating a streamlined image of myself for my partner to fall in love with.
Just like that, I fell in love with the idea of a better me, too. Turns out, all I needed was a simple attitude adjustment. Everything else was already there, because I can be pretty perfect if I put my mind to it! It all seemed so simple…
Well, it gets pretty disappointing pretty quickly, because eventually you find yourself farting in front of your new partner and the immaculate façade you’ve put up starts to show cracks. For me, it all began with a smile, or rather lack of there of.
I have a condition called RBF* and have been suffering from it most of my life.
In Poland it’s very common, but in Australia they seem to vaccinate against it and the majority of the population is RBF-free. My face is grumpy by default. I smile when I have something to smile about. My anatomy is partly to blame, I’m sure, but mostly I grew up around people who mock those who smile for no reason. So I’m not smiley. Is it a cultural thing?
Is the trauma from years of my nation’s violent history ingrained in my DNA making me smile-resistant?
I don’t know, but while my attitude might have been adjusted and I’m thinking and working very hard to put my very best foot forward, my focused, smileless face tends to spoil everything. And just like that my past (or even my ancestors’ past!) comes rushing to the surface and all of my unattractive secrets and missteps of my previous life are right there with me: on my face. And in that moment no amount of attitude adjusting can deal with how people perceive me.
And this, my friends, is a trivial migration/relocation problem. Why is it trivial, you might ask?
It’s trivial, because I’m white.
For the most part, my cultural background makes me a grumpy looking woman. That’s it. And yet it’s sometimes hampering my integration process. This small “problem” with my face puts some people off. And then I try to imagine what it would be like to not be Caucasian or to wear a headscarf or speak with a thick accent… If my RBF can negate all the work I’ve put into adjusting my attitude, then what would being a part of a minority group mean for me? What if I didn’t even get a chance to show the kind of attitude I have because I was quick judged and dismissed based on my looks before I could even open my mouth to speak?
An Australian right wing politician recently said that discriminating against and verbally abusing migrants is (in her view) an Aussie way of getting them to ”assimilate” with the community Down Under. Baptism by fire and racial slurs, I guess… Which brings me back to my trivial problem of struggling to deal with constantly being told to “cheer up” and “smile more.” Realizing how easy my transition into this new life has been makes me want to work harder on making one more attitude adjustment called: toughen the fuck up!
*RBF= Resting Bitch Face
When she first relocated to Sydney people told her she was opinionated – she took it as a compliment, silly Heart. Now she knows better but remains opinionated. Heart is all bark and no bite, though. She’s not that scary because she’s not all that committed. She’s almost. Almost: a blogger; an artist; a stay-at-home mother; an activist; a career woman; a role model; a leader; a writer; a producer; a photographer. Heart is obviously a self-conflicted loony, but since idiosyncrasy is en vogue, she’s rolling with it.