Only a few days from our first visit back home for the holidays and because my
stupid title is perfectly topical (I’m sooo good with timing!) I decided to publish this article that was in my drafts folder for months!
Quite often, I receive messages from friends or family members that enthrall themselves about how lucky we are to live in New York. Far be it from me to say that is not an amazing thing, but everything is not a bed of roses! Crazy people, weird habits or simple cultural differences, today I tell you about the dark side of the force expatriation, which you can’t see at first, but the one that makes you think about home with nostalgia. Follow me, c’est par ici:
Welcome in the city that never sleeps, and very soon, you won’t, neither! Hysterical cabs, ambulance, firefighters with loud siren and crazy horns, helicopters, after work parties, crazy guy on the street: it NEVER stops. Even during the night. Especially during the night.
Anything you want to do in this city will cost you either a kidney, or will force you to mortgage your home for 10 years. Renting an apartment is extremely expensive (the why is here), a cocktail will cost you at least $15 and everything is about small expenses. A froyo in the afternoon, a girls night out in the night, and you’ll be broke by the 12 of the month.
The paperwork is terribly complicated. As everywhere else, you’re right. But for us, French speaking native, the English used by the administration is quite complicated and the US have their little specifics tricks. (Be sure that the info on our I-94 are matching the passport, understanding that we need to put 0 allowances in the W-4 (after understanding that we must fill a W-4 🙂 ) and be sure to get what deductible and OOP are, before signing up for an insurance.
A lot of procedures demonstrate a huge lack of good sense. Did you book a restaurant for 8pm? No one will let you go in 15 minutes before, even if the place is completely empty. You need to follow a procedure? Good luck to you if you want to change a part of it, even if there is an easier solution right in front of you!The temperature in the store are around 65° Fahrenheit, as my neighbor’s apartment is. Obviously, it’s a difference of culture!
You never know how much you are going to pay: prices are written without taxes, nor tip, if it’s a service. Whatever price is indicated, you will pay more, but never the same price! Good luck to handle a budget with that!
Every inch of The City is crowded. At any time. The misanthropic side of myself LOVES it! At the restaurant? You’ll be queuing. To get into the subway? You’ll be queuing. (Update: I even queue to use the bathroom at work. True story!)
The subway is hell’s anteroom: during summer, you’ll die of heat in these sauna-style and stinky halls, filled with rats and cockroaches before entering a 65°F train. During winter, the stairs are slippery, the trains are dirty and it’s as cold inside as it is outside.
At the end of the day, there is a pile of garbage on the sidewalk. If you’re lucky, everything will be magically gone by the end of the night. If you are less lucky, the magical effect will turn in a nightmare, in which a lot of loud garbage truck come and go under your windows. If you’re not lucky at all, no one will take care of those piles, and it will stagnate in front of your building for at least 2 to 3 days. During summer. When it’s 100°F. Knowing that no one in that city has a compost. Want to talk about the odor?
The lack of politeness and / or manners of… a lot of people, actually. Obnoxious salespersons,
stupid people letting the door go into your face when you’re walking just a feet behind them or crazy drivers who try to squash you when you cross the road.
And all the tiny tiny cultural differences that can be pointless at first, but kind of annoying after a few months: the toilet paper is so thin that you need to unroll the entire thing, same thing for tissues. The loss of your visual habits in stores: the color codes are completely different, the packaging that you need to study carefully before buying anything, the very personnal sense of punctuality, the impossibility to get a precise answer or the fact that you always need to ask 10 times to get something. The lack of things or the fact that some others are terribly expensive or hard to find (kiri cheese, gruyere cheese, crème fraiche) (do you feel the dairy-obsession of the Swiss girl?)And often, while walking down the streets, after yelling at a loud and crazy cab that almost killed you, and forced you to climb a pile of garbage when 100°F outside with your bags full of gruyere cheese costing $30 a pound, while your throat is still sore from the thermic choc between the store and the street, you suddenly see the Chrysler Building lighting. And at this precise moment, you realize that nothing is that bad and living in New York is kind of awesome!*
(*mantra that I need to tell myselft repeatedly when filling my I-9**)
(**I did not get what a I-9 is***)
(** but I filled it anyway!)
Next time, I’ll tell you a bunch of things not to say to an expat’!