When an Expat No Longer Feels Like an Expat

I get daily 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.

Overlooking Oslo, Norway from Holmenkollen

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 discrimination (yes, when someone says ‘I hate Americans‘, that is a form of discrimination and xenophobia), 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.

Oslo, Norway

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.

Trikk in Oslo, Norway

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 on local bands, mascara brands, and who we like on X-Factor.  Those are conversations that make me feel more at home, not less.

Street art in Oslo, Norway

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…

Writing about my expat life is hard as it feels like my normal life these days.  This post gives specifics on how my expat life has just become my life.

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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Comments (37)

Alex @ ifs ands & Butts

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.

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 :)

xxx
Jenna

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!! :)

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.

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!

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