I can tell the kids are tired and ready for a break. For the last couple of weeks, getting them up for school has been increasingly tricky. At the weekend it felt like herding slugs just convincing them to get dressed head out to the supermarket. I know I’m ready for a break. I’m feeling antisocial and crabby. Yes, indeed, we have a severe case of First-Year-Frustrations adding to the annual bout of Expat End-of-year-itus .
Last year was bad because we were leaving South Africa, decluttering and packing up our lives with a slew of bittersweet farewells. Surprisingly, this year feels worse, I think year one in a new country is always the toughest as the learning curve is so steep. Finding somewhere to live, trying to round up a few friends and just pulling together those first few meals is exhausting.
End-of-year-itus suffered by families the world over. Cases soar at the end of the academic year when in addition to all their normal routine things like clean school uniform, completed school work and packed lunches, they also have to squeeze in school trips, concerts, galas, socials, dress up days, exam stress etc etc.
As parents you may be required to bake, volunteer to join school trips or head up school fair stalls, sign permission forms, create costumes, attend endless events and clap and cheer at the appropriate moment. Meanwhile school uniforms are looking a bit tight and tatty and need to last just a few more weeks or days. It all gets a bit too much.
Expat-End-of-year-itus is more severe than the common garden form. Additional stress may manifest in the form of farewell parties, packing up to move, packing up for a long summer holiday. There is the anticipation of seeing family and friends and the looming pressure to fit it as much as possible.
First Year Frustrations
Expat-end-of-year-itus is further exacerbated in the year that you leave (that was last year for us) and the year that you arrive (that’s this year for us). In the first few weeks in Hong Kong, I remember trying to use a flat pan on a wok ring and cobble together palatable meals in a minuscule kitchen. Before we were sorted with a water filter I was lugging 5 litre bottles of water back from the supermarket every day.
And there was the one day I was stuck on the opposite side of the city to where I needed to be to collect the kids from school. I was stranded on a highway (long story) and every bus that went past was full. Meanwhile my phone battery was waning fast. Eventually after waving frantically at every single passing vehicle (and I mean every vehicle, busses, taxis, trucks and motorbikes), I flagged down a random bus heading to a mystery destination and somehow managed to get where I needed to be on time. I arrived wild eyed, pulse racing, phone gasping it’s last.
Essentially, when you move to a new country, everyone else already knows how things work. We’re the last minute invitees arriving mid party, but it was a verbal invitation. Everybody else knew to bring a bottle of wine and a plate of food. They arrive in smart casual dress. Instead we were invited via a friend of a friend who gave us a vague run down of what to expect. We arrive late, with a case of beer, a bag or crisps in fancy dress and feel woefully ridiculous and unprepared. But by the end of the night, we’re having a blast and we’ll know better next time.
We had so many first year frustrations. I thought I’d been proactive and organised by setting up a Hong Kong bank account while I was still in the UK. Three long appointments at the bank and a number of phone calls over the summer break and my account was open before we touched down in Honkers. However, when I went to collect my card and cheque book in branch, I was told they had accidentally been sent to my parents’ house in the UK.
So they cancelled the card and cheque book and then asked me for the code I should have just received by SMS.
Me: But the SMS will have gone to my UK number.
Bank Clerk: Yes.
Me: But I’m in Hong Kong and I now have a Hong Kong number.
Bank Clerk: Yes, it has gone to your UK number. Maybe you can check the message when you are in the UK?
Me: I won’t be in the UK until December, it’s August and I need to use the account now.
Bank Clerk: Okay, no problem. We will now spend two hours together jumping through hoops to get replacement ones sent out, during which time your children will become hungry and behave like feral beasts.
Then you can collect your replacement card from this branch next week and then you can go to a completely different branch in a different part of the city to collect your cheque book. And I note that you have requested a left-handed cheque book. I will smile and nod at you, giving you a sliver of false hope, but in actual fact you will just receive a standard cheque book like everyone else.
Additionally you no doubt think that one card and one cheque book means one account. It does not. There is a checking account and a savings account. The card will work for both accounts, but you will have to discover by trial and error which of the two accounts your money is in and how to access it.
In the meantime while you are still clueless and can’t get your card to work because you’re trying to pay from the account that has no money in it, the first time you go shopping you will have to put half your shopping back and buy the bare essentials with whatever cash you have on your person. Your children will wail “but mummy, you promised we could have a treat today, you said that we had been really superbly well behaved because we moved 10,000 miles and just started a new school and we have to wear ties and we’re sweaty and we’re soooooo hungry….”. One of them begins to cry. Meanwhile an impatient and ever lengthening queue passive aggressively observes this precious family tableau at the check-out.
Just when you’ve worked out how to use your card, somebody will ask you for a cheque. As an extra surprise, the check book will only work for one of the accounts. Consequently, you have a 50% chance that you’re first cheque will bounce.
Me: Oh that’s wonderful. Thank you so much.
See, first year frustrations. Next year will surely be a doddle and we will experience a far milder case of end-of-year-itus.
Are you suffering from end of year its or expat-end-of-year-itus? Keep going, you’re nearly through it. See you on the other side.