ExPat Life

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People say, “it’s the little things.” And, it always is, isn’t it? The small, day-to-day trifles of life end up making the biggest difference in your happiness, your comfort, your feelings of “home.” The things that you barely think about, the situations and items, places and systems that hardly register as part of your life – these little things – well, they’re the big things.

When we first found out we would be moving to Calgary for my partner’s job, we were nervous, sure. Uncertain? Definitely. But also, prevailingly, we were excited. A new opportunity, a new country, a new apartment, new city, new stores and trails and museums. A new place to explore and discover and leave our mark on. We were tired of the unrelenting Houston heat, sick of the humidity and the traffic, ready for a little cooler weather and some mountains.

Be careful what you wish for, as they say – you just might get it.

We arrived in Calgary in February and it was snowing. Of course, it was snowing! It was February! I’m a Michigander, after all, so I was expecting this. What a change! Sweaters every day, bundling up and playing in the snow! Hot chocolate and watching the flakes fall – heaven after the Houston humidity.

Until, well, snow becomes slush. And is filled with motor oil and dirt and all kinds of other gross unmentionables. When this happens, it becomes less charming.

And then, as we began our life there, we noticed all those little things that were different. Those small things that let us know we weren’t in the USA anymore. The postal system, for one, is extremely slow. It would take 2-3 weeks to send and receive a letter from the U.S. The post was expensive, too – so expensive that sending packages to relatives and even letters became a real issue. The healthcare system was different too, and although it was free and the healthcare professionals we saw were kind and talented, it was … just more difficult to navigate. Many of our favorite brands were unavailable in Canada, or so expensive to ship that it was basically not worth the money. All of our old familiars, those small things that provide comfort, well, those little things were gone.

Suddenly, it was May, and it was still snowing. The days weren’t getting warmer, summer felt a thousand miles away. And when it finally did arrive in June, it seemed to blow hot and cold, summer one day, cold rain and wind the next. As beautiful as the mountains were in the distance, they were also far, far away. Austere, windy and quite a journey to reach. The climate change had once been very welcome, but when snow fell in mid-September, it seemed harsh and inhospitable. Houston was hot and humid and sometimes miserable, and there were days when I wished I could wear a sweater; but now, that sunshine was looking a whole lot better than being buried under snow from September to May.

And so, over time, the adventure seems less exciting. The touchstones of home – a can of Vernors, our favorite brand of salsa, the cookies we used to get from the bakery down the street, that wine bar we went to on Friday nights, all those old favorites, those small things we took for granted, those things seem to matter a lot more. I miss my weekly letters to my mom, the greater selection of American Amazon and authentic Tex-Mex food right down the street.

In the end, it really is the little things, the barely significant things that mean the most. It’s those things that make it home, and honestly, we can’t wait to be back.

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