Saturday, November 17, 2007


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.

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 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.

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.


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.


At 9:41 PM, Anonymous Alexandra said...

Congratulations on the move; you seem very happy and excited with it. I feel sad though - the Spanish content was what attracted me to your blog in the first place so I feel like someone has just pulled the plug on one of my favourite tv series...

At 10:03 PM, Blogger Fat Sal said...

Hey, thanks Alexandra. Sorry to pull the plug, but there are 380+ posts in my backlog--the vast majority of which are Spain-centric.

I'll just have to now turn my attention to the rest of the world.

At 11:07 PM, Blogger Headless Blogger said...

Hello, hello.

Fat Sal now has one less excuse for missing my Smoke Day IV Party. I'm happy you are moving on your own terms. I'm preparing to burn a barbecue friendly CD for you right now.


At 11:12 PM, Blogger Fat Sal said...

Hey, Jim:

I've warned you before. The day will come when you'll be forced to feed me.

Given your growing prestige on the BBQ circuit, I'm looking forward to it.

I'll see you on Smoke Day with the requisite bottle of wine or whisky. But unlike Dad29, you're gonna have to give me an address. Otherwise, I'll end up in Minnesota sniffing around for thin blue smoke.

See you soon.

At 6:48 AM, Blogger Franje said...

this was shocking to read. I never thought you would leave Spain. To me, this decision of yours is such a surprise, as was the news that you are divorced. It hit me like a brick out of the blue.

This post was also beautiful to read because, while I enjoy your humour, it is nice to see you serious when sharing your experiences.

I once had the dream of working in Europe, but after reading your blog and the blogs of other expats, I realized that I am better off here, in Canada, a land of efficient bureaucracy and where feast days of saints are rare.

I was so relieved to read that you will continue to blog! :)

Tell me, did this decision (itch) come to you suddenly?

At 9:47 AM, Blogger Fat Sal said...

Hey, Franje:

I've lived here eight years and had been itching to leave for the past three. But quite honestly, I wasn't expecting to leave for another several years. has a tendency to turn 180º on a dime when you least expect it. In my current case, I got a job offer in the US that I couldn't--in sound mind--turn down.

Moving back to the US *feels* like moving to an exotic country at this point. When I last lived there, I think that Lindsey Lohan was in diapers; rather than prison blues.


At 12:25 PM, Anonymous Victoria said...

Sal - I've been reading your blog for a while now.. years maybe?.. and when you say moving back to the States is like moving to a foreign country, I can totally relate. I grew up in the States; I guess, for lack of a better identity, I'd call myself Californian. But I left there 15 years ago to move to the UK and now Spain. I think about going back, but can't image what it's like! (And if they'd let me in with my green card, who knows!)

Many congrats on the move and best of luck with the job. Given a good job offer back in the States, I probably would seriously consider the move as well!

All the best.

At 1:25 PM, Blogger Fat Sal said...

Man! Had I known that all these lurkers would come out of the woodwork, I would've moved back to the US years ago.

Thanks, Torie. This blog will certainly continue, so don't be so shy in the future.


At 1:29 PM, Anonymous King da Cat said...

If you're fat...what da hell does dat make me?

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Fat Sal said...

Ah, King! With whom I'll be sharing a pillow in a few weeks.

I should look as good as you when I'm the equivalent of 14 in cat years.

Perhaps I should've spelled it, "Phat Sal."

At 8:05 PM, Blogger Ms Mac said...

Good luck with the big move. I'll miss the virtual tapas but the smoking lounge will surely be a new place to enjoy.

I'm not so happy about this 7 year itch though. I've only just started learning to love and be charmed by Switzerland after nearly five years. Surely I have a couple more years before I get itchy, Sal?

At 2:21 PM, Blogger christina said...

Amen, amigo! You KNOW that I *totally* get it. We've talked about this many times but reading your post makes me want to cry my eyes out on a number of levels. That, however, would be a serious waste of Kleenex, so I'll just sit tight and wait for MY 180°. I know it's out there somewhere :-)

And now to cheer myself up I'm going to go check out Angie's update!

At 6:14 PM, Blogger Angie said...

The end of an era! Hemingway would say it's just as well:

"You're an expatriate ... You've lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You're an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes."
-The Sun Also Rises

At 11:54 AM, Blogger christina said...

Boy, that Hemingway sure knows what he's talking about!

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Wow, all the expats are no longer expats...what is the world coming to?

Good luck on your next chapter!

At 1:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I just started reading this a few months ago. I learned so much about a place that I never been to. So where are you relocating to? Doug

At 9:55 AM, Blogger an aussie in mondragón said...

Ah, Fat Sal... your post made me sad... as an Aussie expat married to a local and living in Pais Vasco for the past year and a bit, the virtual tapas lounge has been a great source of comfort on those days when I'd love to run screaming to the nearest airport... in fact you were the inspiration to start my own blog, and yes writing pithy little comentaries on my daily humiliations has helped stave off the psychotic moments!! Now what am i going to do? My inspirational expat is leaving to become an expat in his own country!

Seriously though, good luck with going back, i'll keep checking into your blog, which i'm sure will be just as hilarious (plenty of source for material in the good ole U S of A)...

At 11:42 AM, Blogger Di Mackey said...

Well written, to the point and no argument from me, sweetpea.

Good luck with the move home :) Looking forward to you blogging again

At 1:04 AM, Blogger Pam said...

A quiet hallelujah from this re-pat.

Also, wow, Angie, thanks for that Hemingway quote! Woot.

At 11:40 PM, Blogger Angie said...

Random quotes are one of my many (questionable) talents, Pam. That one has a special place in my heart, since I used to it justify everything I did in the summer of 2004 while living in Spain. I'm not sure that was what Hemingway meant when he wrote that, but he wasn't one to judge, anyway!

At 12:12 PM, Anonymous Renee said...

I have been an ex-pat for 1 year, living in Naples, Italy and I wish I had read your blog before I left! Is it possible to have the 7 year itch after only one year?

On a different note, I really enjoy your blogs and look forward to reading about your new adventures soon!

At 1:31 PM, Blogger Speedy said...

Enjoying yer blog, Fat Sal! And I lived in Deutschland for 1 year, and I have to say, I had the entire experience you describe, but in months, not years. When I landed in JFK and finally got off the bus somewhere in Midtown Manhattan, I literally got on my knees and kissed the filthy, stinking, god-blessed-American concrete.

But Germany was nice, don't get me wrong. Keep writing!

At 8:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah yes, Dorothy said it best, "there's no place like home!" (certain restrictions may apply)


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