When an Expat No Longer Feels Like an Expat

Everyday I get emails from readers of this blog asking me questions regarding their upcoming moves to Norway.  They ask about the weather, about what clothes to bring, about the food…  They ask how I learned the language, how long it took me to adjust, and more often than not, they ask why I don’t write about being an expat in Norway as frequently as I used to.

Well, here is the answer:

I don’t feel like an expat here any longer.

I haven’t for a while.  I think it took me about 5 months of living in Norway to actually feel like I was just living in my country, not a foreign one.  It varies for everyone, of course.  I know some people who adjusted as quickly as I did and I know people who have been here for ten years and still feel like the outsider.  Different people have different lives and we adjust, or don’t adjust, accordingly.

Sure, I notice the rotten produce in grocery stores immediately whereas Norwegians don’t.  I also get that insatiable desire for Mexican food on a daily basis whereas Norwegians probably don’t.  And I sometimes stay up until 5am to watch football games, debates, and awards shows, whereas Norwegians don’t.  But those differences are so minute compared to the larger picture.  My everyday life here is just that:  my everyday life.  It is not my “Norwegian life“, nor is it my “Life as an American in Norway” life.

While being American in a foreign land comes with the usual criticism and scrutiny, it can also have advantages.  I can communicate with anyone given they speak Norwegian or English, I have gotten several job offers just from being an American (the immigration department did not let me keep them of course…), and people know and understand my American-ness, whether they like and appreciate it or not.  I know we have all have had our challenges here, but I firmly believe that it is easier for an American to assimilate to the Norwegian society and its norms than someone from another land, pending they try.  While we do face the American racism (yes, when someone says ‘I hate Americans‘, that is a form of racism), we also have many people who like Americans because they have traveled to the US or studied there at some point and have had nothing but positive interactions with the American people.

I still carry a bottle of hot sauce around with me wherever I go.  I still get butterflies in my stomach when I see that first bottle of Julebrus pop onto store shelves and this is my third year getting to enjoy it.  I still think Norwegian food sucks (except the seafood).  I still enjoying learning pieces of a new language each and every day.  I still think the only good part of rømmegrøt is that it is completely acceptable for me to dump loads of cinnamon and sugar on it.  I still hate driving and will forever be a slave of public transportation.  I still wish bars stayed open until 5am here so I could watch football games there and not via my computer.  But all of these things don’t feel like quirks or burdens anymore…they just feel like part of my usual routine.

I have lived here for a year and a half now and I do apologize to those who still expect me to crank out posts regarding the differences in American culture versus Norwegian culture.  It doesn’t come easily because things don’t feel foreign to me any longer.  It all feels normal.  I am sure situations will arise here and there where I notice a difference in how things are handled in Norway vs. the US and I may choose to write about it at those times.  I consider myself well-traveled within Europe and I have also studied International Business at a master’s level, so many situations and decisions made within countries don’t actually surprise me quite as much as those who don’t travel or did not study IB, unfortunately.  I also hang out with mostly Norwegians, not other Americans.  While I have my few good American friends here, I have learned that when you hang out with other expats, your conversations often (not always) revolve around differences in your new home versus your old one.  When I hang out with Norwegians, our conversations are based around local bands, mascara brands, and who we like on X-Factor.  Those are conversations that make me feel more at home, not less.

Since I do get a lot of emails from people moving to Norway, I am slowly working on conjuring up a page of Norwegian goodness, resources, and information (you can find the link in the navigation menu) for you all.  And I will continue to answer any and all emails that come my way, of course.  I just don’t know how good at giving information I am anymore because I don’t notice the small things the same way I used to.  But I’ll do my best…

For all of you expats out there, when did your new country feel like home?  Or when do you expect it to?

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  • For me, this definitely feels like home. I don’t find it strange stopping at the bakery every morning on the way to work whilst riding my bike. These are certainly things I’d never do in the US, but it is so routine to me. I have also found myself missing home less and less – not even caring about missing events which once would’ve been unmissable. Heck, I’ve even stopped following football like I used to and I used to do it all: fantasy, blogs, reading every article on the Mannings, sports photography appreciation, you name it. It’s amazing how you can adjust to a lifestyle so different.

    The only thing I have not been able to do is really shift away from the comfort of my American friends. I always seem to be making new ones. This is obviously not good for my language development either, but I’m just always thankful for whatever new friends I make here, regardless of nationality, because lately I feel like so many people come and go.
    Alex @ ifs ands & Butts recently posted..karlsruhe quick view.My Profile

  • Jenna says:

    Such a cool post! I think it also took me about 6 to 7 months in Stellenbosch and then probably another 6 in Jo’burg, since the two are so opposite. Every once in a while I still notice something new or different, but most days it’s just normal everyday life :)

    Jenna recently posted..{On Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone} by DarylMy Profile

  • Satu VW says:

    I have lived outside my home country (Finland) nine out of the last 15 years, and the places where I have lived have felt home very quick, just like now Norway. I think the key is to find the local contacts, like you said. If you only hang out with other foreigners you kind of do miss out in the everyday life of the Norwegians. That said, my close group of friends here is quite a mix of Norwegians, Brits (including my husband…), Swedes, and one fellow Finn. It seems like over here many British men have found a Nordic girlfriend/wife, and somehow ended up in Lillehammer!! :)
    Satu VW recently posted..Life in Norway: Welcome Winter!My Profile

  • Amy says:

    I think it makes a difference how long you are planning on being in a foreign country. We know that our stay here is temporary. We are also here with children. We are trying to keep things somewhat normal for them. We are trying out new traditions, but there are some things that we have to try and recreate here. I really enjoy your blog, even if your focus is no longer an expat experience.

  • Patricia says:

    I’m glad you’re so well-settled in Norway. I think having a positive attitude helps (even while recognizing the things you still don’t like about Norway).

  • Christine says:

    I’ve been in Spain 3 years and still don’t feel completely settled. A big part is that I just moved from the south to the north (which is a completely different culture–and language!) and I don’t know if or when I ever will feel like this is “my” country…I’ll always be homesick I think!
    Christine recently posted..Spain Culture Guide AppMy Profile

  • I love that you feel like a local! :)

  • Karin says:

    If Julebrus is the same thing as Swedish Julmust (a 99% chance) I completely understand the obsession! I went to IKEA the other day and freaked out when I saw it! 6 bottles later I was one happy camper :)
    ps. Congrats on feeling so settled! The language skills are such a big plus as I found out from my brief stint.

  • What a great post. I’m nervous about my eventual move to Norway (starting the process next year) – but looking forward to it. I remember being sad in Denmark because I couldn’t find sriracha anywhere btw, lol!

  • Saleha says:

    Its comforting to hear that Norway feels like home to you. Before I moved to Oslo I lived in London for four years and although it’s not quite as foreign a place for an American, there was a short period that I felt like an expat, but not for long. I did my masters there and we bought a place and somewhere along the lines, it became home.

    I’ve only been in Norway a year and I don’t feel that way yet. I think it might take longer – part of it is just personality. I think I’m stubbornly holding on to London and Ohio as my home and haven’t been as good at finding more locals to hang out with. You’ve said several times in your posts that you hang out with more Norwegians than expats and I think you’re doing the right thing. Expats in groups only end up complaining and I try to stay away from that, but the only real way to assimilate is to find more locals.
    Saleha recently posted..How to celebrate Thanksgiving in NorwayMy Profile

  • Saleha says:

    Sorry I don’t mean to be leading to my own blog in a comment I leave for you, I didn’t realize that link would appear!

  • ehhhh… shit.. I guess I have to admit that this does feel like home.. & I will probably be here forever. – We didn’t do a single thing for Thanksgiving.. first year I didn’t even pretend… :-(
    I still have American friends.. but spend most of my time with Norwegians… – I have been here for 7 years… I don’t think I was willing to call Norway home – until I started working in my current job.. I hated doing all of the odd jobs until the right one came along.
    american in norway recently posted..Favorite Photo Friday… Faces of ThailandMy Profile

  • I’ve never been a true expat but it’s interesting to see that you so quickly feel right at home. The place where I felt most at home that I’ve studied or temporarily lived was Spain – I love the weather, I speak the language, I know how to cook the food and I have a lot of Spanish friends so it felt very normal to me.
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  • Melanie says:

    Well, I’m not an expat or anything, but I love the way you present it so I could understand what it would feel like!!

    And I haven’t been around much lately, but I wanted to tell you I LOVE what you have done with the place!!!
    Melanie recently posted..What Christmas Means to MeMy Profile

  • I actually don’t think I can answer that. It happened so gradually that I barely noticed, but maybe it was when I went back to Dublin for two and a half weeks after living over here for seven months, I missed France, I missed being here, and I guess that’s when I knew, I really lived in France. But of course those ‘expat feelings’ do pop up every now and then, and they usually involve Mexican food :)
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  • jorn says:

    What a great read! I guess the trick is to make anywhere your home, where my hat is… Differences can be good too. In any case, we at oslointernationalclub.com made this for expats and repats that wanted to do stuff w other professionals/expats crossing that local/expat line, 30 and up, 2-4 events/month. Great fun, even with an event tonite at 6pm. Welcome and spread the word!

  • What a great post, Megan. I feel exactly the same. I am not sure when it happened, it was very gradually, but after a while things just got normal. It’s so great to hear how well you are doing with the language and how integrated you seem to be! Lykke til videre :)
    New Life in Spain recently posted..NaNoWriMo 2012 – The End.My Profile

  • Julika says:

    What a great post! I’m convinced it takes a while to go from feeling like a tourist to feeling like an expat – and then to feel like a local eventually. (The first step is easy – nothing makes you feel less tourist-y than buying toilet paper and taking it with you on public transportation :)) I would really love to experience that local feeling you described here too someday! Very inspiring!
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  • It is nice to see that you adapted so easy to your life as an immigrant, or expat, to use the modern term that dresses up nicely now the immigration concept. Most people need more than 5 moths to adapt, so consider yourself lucky. I am happy for you.
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  • The Guy says:

    I suppose since you’ve been there for such a reasonable period of time it really does feel like home. You’ve immersed yourself in the society, mixed with the locals and to some degree live like a local. Saying you don’t feel like an expat is a clear sign that you feel at home. Good for you Megan, you are becoming an authentic Norwegianer.
    The Guy recently posted..The Return Of An Idiot AbroadMy Profile

  • Scarlett says:

    Great post… I think it’s good that you feel like a local. I think a lot of it depends on how long you’re planning to live somewhere for, clearly you have opened your mind and your heart up to Norway xxx
    Scarlett recently posted..Alternative Endings to Harry PotterMy Profile

  • Bernadett says:

    Hi Megan, there’s something about Norwegians I wanna ask you. Do they spit? I spent a semester in Finland while in uni, and there was so much spitting going on on the streets. Disgusting… I hope the rest of Scandinavia knows it better. :)

  • Sara says:

    I agree!! Now that New Zealand feels like home, I don’t know what else to share about it, partly because I take for granted that everyone else knows what it’s like. I still think they have the best sayings though, so I guess that will always be something to share, like pack a sad! Hilarious (means tantrum)!! Very cool that we feel like we belong, it’s a comforting feeling!

  • Agness says:

    You are definitely living like a local girl!!! Thank you for showing me around the city and taking to off the beaten path destinations, loved the park! Your stories about Norway rock!!
    Agness recently posted..Vang Vieng in PicturesMy Profile

  • I agree, I’ve lived in South Africa almost two years (in Feb) and I do feel like this is my “home”. It sis where my things are, where I lay my head every night, and where my baby will be born (in March). Fairly often, I get this question from locals “Why would you live here? When you could be in the United States!” Its a tough question to answer sometimes, and other times, it’s quite easy! Experiencing a different life in a different country is an amazing privilege.

  • elizabeth says:

    Great article and blog, just found my way here from some other blogs I read. I have been living in Asia for about 3 years and your words really resonated with me. I find it so weird that I also have a hard time remembering that this is my life and I am just living. I am back in America visiting now and it is such a weird feeling being here and not working or having a real life. I am already ready to get back to my house in Thailand and have some normalcy in my life! Such a bizarre feeling but I love it! America is cool and I missed it a lot, but I have built it up in my head too much and can now remember why I left in the first place :)

    Looking forward to following your adventures. Cheers to other Americans abroad :)
    elizabeth recently posted..west coastMy Profile

  • elizabeth says:

    Great article and blog, just found my way here from some other blogs I read. I have been living in Asia for about 3 years and your words really resonated with me. I find it so weird that I also have a hard time remembering that this is my life and I am just living. I am back in America visiting now and it is such a weird feeling being here and not working or having a real life. I am already ready to get back to my house in Thailand and have some normalcy in my life! Such a bizarre feeling but I love it! America is cool and I missed it a lot, but I have built it up in my head too much and can now remember why I left in the first place.

    Looking forward to following your adventures. Cheers to other Americans abroad :)

  • Seth says:

    Nice blog. I’m an American living in Norway for two years now, and while there are many things I love about Norway, there are things about the US that I never thought I’d miss, but I do. They can range from not-so-important aspects, like stores being open longer (and on Sundays), to much deeper, psychological aspects – the feeling of “belonging”, being better understood with views/opinions, and “accepted” more easily by Americans than by Norwegians. Even Norwegians will admit to this – that they find it much easier to get to know Americans than their own countrymen.
    On the surface, there aren’t major differences in modern life, but there is a certain camaraderie that is absent among many Norwegians that you can often find with Americans; unless the Norwegians have known you for years, or unless they get a bit drunk. I’m not kidding. I find it kind of pathetic. While I appreciate the sincerity, fairness. and civilised manner that Norwegians generally have (hugely lacking in the US), they can be some of the most emotionally stunted and naive adults I’ve ever met. And there is a huge amount of conformity here – from the way people dress to the way their homes look to an overall mentality of “not standing out”. Janteloven is the worst thing ever to happen to Scandinavians, in my opinion (and many natives, too). It is less present than it used to be, and found less among Danes, but still lying comfortably beneath the surface in Norway and Sweden.
    In general, I’m about 75% satisfied with living in Norway, but that 25% that’s not can really be magnified greatly sometimes. By the way, your reference to “racism” is inaccurate, I’m afraid. If people “hate Americans”, it is xenophobia, not racism. Having American citizenship is not the same as belonging to a racial group. We all know that Americans come in a variety of colours. ;)

  • Ehh? says:

    Why are you trying to get a job if the immigration department has made it obvious to you that they don’t want you getting one???!!!

    • Megan says:

      ehhh? i have a job. little confused why youre thinking to comment something so strange on a post from over a year ago.

      and the reason i want a job? so i dont have to live off the govt like other people enjoy doing. thanks ehhh?

  • Gitte says:

    Of course you don`t want to go home, the USA is a shithole country to live in and we all know it. Horrid healthcare, 2 weeks vacation for hard working Americans, pathetic minimum wages that cannot sustain a living, no maternity leave, no job security. Who the hell wouldn`t move out? I`m glad you found the jackpot living in Norway, you will never have to worry anymore or live in fear and despair for getting sick or being thrown out of your home after losing your job as a dishwasher. Besides, have you noticed, Norwegians hate the USA, and we hate Americans as well. Have a nice weekend. Hilsen Gitte.

    • Megan says:

      this comment speaks wonders about the education system of norway. thanks for leaving this. it is nice for people to gain actual insight into the xenophobia and racism problem that is extremely prevalent in this country. hope you enjoy your trips to syden this summer ;)

  • Petula says:

    As a Brazilian who imigrated to Canada, I hear you. I had found myself pretty comfortable here in an early stage of my settling and on the opposite side I see all my acquaintances from Brazil or other hot countries (African or latin American, usually) needing the food of their country, their soap operas, the need to speak Portuguese (or Spanish), the need to be around Brazilians and make a little Brazil of their own here in Montreal. All this after more than 4 years. I don’t. I love speaking French and English, I love Canadian traditions (and they have many!) and I embraced them. I even got myself a true quebecois to marry; no chance I would want a Brazilian husband.
    I guess it is just like you said in another post: it is about being the right place for the right time of our lives.

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