Question: What is something that drives you crazy as an expat?
Answer: Being stared at for speaking English. It really drives me up the wall, and I didn’t realize how much it annoyed me until I moved to Poland.
When I lived in Japan, people stared at me no matter what I did. In fact, they probably would have stared more if I spoke Japanese than if I spoke English. And in Scotland, nobody really looked twice. Sure I had an accent, but we were all speaking the same langauge so no one really cared. But it Poland I was not expecting it. And to be fair, it doesn’t happen as much, or not as overtly at least, in a big city like Warsaw. But in Wroclaw, where I am? Oh yeah, it happens weekly.
The thing about Wroclaw is, it’s not a small town. We’re not out in the country somewhere. It’s a city – not as big as Warsaw or Krakow but still, a city none the less. There are 3 international schools within Wroclaw. That’s right, three. So why the shock at people speaking English?
But like I said, it’s the staring that bothers me most. People will openly watch you and sometimes even get in your face to watch you speak English. Often they will talk about you with other people, right in front of you because they assume that if you’re speaking English with your English-speaking friends, then you obviously don’t speak Polish. There’s also the assumption that I can’t understand body language and basic social cues that show you’re talking about me.
I’ve written before about life during Communism and how people weren’t allowed to even leave their city or town without express permission from the government and that’s why the idea of foreigners in Wroclaw is still so novel to the older generations. But if you’re clearly a college student and are staring, open-mouthed, at me while I speak English or at my students because they’re Asian, I mean come on. Get it together.
At first this really threw me off and made me not want to speak at all while I was in Poland. But as I slowly adjusted, I started to get used to it, though sometimes it still makes me want to scream.
ANYWAY, that’s the one thing that drives me crazy about being an expat – being openly stared at for being different.
How about you?
PS. I should add that not all Polish people do this. But like anything, it’s those troublesome few who ruin it for the rest.