ADVICE FOR WOULD-BE EXPATS.
My long, roller coaster of an expat experience is coming to a close.
Very soon, "Sal's Virtual Tapas Bar" will morph into "Fat Sal's Smoking Lounge" and my twisted tales of life in Spain will cease.
In fact, this may be my final Spain-centric post before closing this volume of the book and opening the next. The next most likely to be heavy on Q, pick-up trucks and Merle Haggard.
But before tugging the chain on the VTB's neon sign, I want to address all those would-be expats who have sent me the same email time after time after time during these past eight years.
That email being, "Hi! I live in the US and I want to be an expat. I so, soooo want to be an expat. How can I do it?"
Well, my young and idealistic friends, here is the best advice I can give you. And trust me, this the voice of experience talking here.
ADVICE #1: FORGET ABOUT BEING AN EXPAT. JUST BE A TOURIST.
Countries like Spain allow you visit the country for up to three months without a visa. So...if you so desperately want to leave your native land and live somewhere else, then come to Spain for three months and then go back. Trust me...three months will satisfy 90% of your expat fantasies.
But if that's not good enough, then stay the three months...go back home...do your laundry and water your plants...then come back for another three months. Trust me...a combined six months abroad will satisfy 99.9% of your expat fantasies.
But if you *still* insist that it's not enough, then you take the next step at your own risk. And don't say I didn't warn you.
ADVICE #2: THAT NEXT STEP.
If you insist on living abroard for more than (for example) a summer or a college semester, then here's the important thing to remember.
ALWAYS HAVE AN EXIT STRATEGY!
Know exactly when you will return home for good. And stick to it.
Do *not* move abroad with an open-ended return date--or, worse yet, with the idealistic notion that your move will be permanent.
Have an exit strategy! Know exactly when you will return. And stick to it.
Then--and this is the hard part, but the important part--don't do anything that would complicate or jeopardize that return.
Don't ship all your earthly possessions to your new country. Don't buy a house. Don't tie-up your savings in local investments that will be difficult to transfer back to your native country. Don't do any of those "grown-up" things that you would, as a matter of course, do if you lived in your native land. Just think of yourself as a wandering nomad--travelling light. As light as possible.
Why? Because every expat is like a carton of milk. There will be an expiration date stamped on your forehead. And when that date passes, you WILL start to curdle.
I know a lot of expats. I've seen it happen a million times. There is this syndrome amongst expats called "The Seven Year Itch." Few are immune.
You'll spend the first couple years in your new country being fascinated, charmed, mesmerized by the new culture.
You'll spend the next few years trying to make that culture your own.
By about year four, all those little cultural quirks that you once found so charming will begin to grate your nerves like an emery board.
By year five, you'll find yourself watching Fox News on satellite television each night and fantasizing about strolling down the "Lawn & Garden" aisle of Walmart. Any Walmart.
By year seven, you'll suddenly find yourself standing naked on the roof of your house--cloaked in a dusty coyote pelt--howling at the moon.
Trust me. I've seen it a million times.
Now, I'm sure that there are a couple of keyboard warriors out there who are reading this and positively frothing at the mouth. I can just see them--sharpening their talons and ready to pound-out a venomous message telling me how arrogant and wrong I am...and how THEY have been an expat for 897 years and it was the best decision of their lives, and yadda, yadda, yadda.
To those people I say, "Congratulations." You've achieved something that few people I know have managed. I am deeply, sincerely happy for you. So save your email. This VTB is neither a forum for debate nor a democracy. It's a dictatorship, and I'm Ming the Merciless. Your email will never see the light of day in the VTB Chat Lounge, so save your energy.
And that, my friends, is the best advice I can give on the expat issue.
And that, my friends, is also the end of my Spanish adventure.
This blog will continue (and it will continue to be funny), so keep checking in. But its focus is going to shift to other areas.
Spain was a great muse for a long time. But you know what what happens when a man gets the seven year itch.
He goes out and finds a new muse.