The sun doesn’t always shine when living abroad – the difficulties too


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I read a post by Barry O’Leary the other day, 5 Things I Hate About Living in Spain and it prompted me to write this post.
Sara Alexi, author of  “The Greek Village” series, in her recent interview with me about her book  ‘The Illegal Gardener’    made a fabulous quote:

I think there are many expats in Greece who are there because they do not want to be who they are somewhere else. They all seek the fun and happiness that they found on their holiday, but when the reality of life hits them, they find they are just as discontented as they were in their home country.

I figured this as an important Lesson No 1:  it’s not just about getting your finances in order, a place to stay, a job, etc when you move abroad, it’s also about making sure your motivations for making the move abroad, whether it be Spain, Greece or anywhere, are correct.

Are we running?  Do we want to re-invent ourselves in a foreign country?  Let’s face it, it’s easy to do.

But if we’re running from ourselves, it’s pretty obvious ‘ourselves’ will catch up with us eventually.  And trust me, it’s harder in a foreign country because contrary to the first impression that you can ‘change’, you aren’t fooling anyone, especially the Greeks.  They have an uncanny knack of being able to see straight into your soul.  They take no bull, are not ingratiatingly, falsely polite.  If they think you’re an idiot, they won’t exactly say so, but you can tell!  I personally find this refreshing…it’s nice to find a nation of people that don’t bother with false niceties, yet aren’t exactly rude.  The country isn’t always perfect, though.

Greece is incredibly beautiful: the islands, the warmth of her people, and yet an incredibly frustrating one at the same time. I would go as far as to say if she were a person, she would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

If Greece were a person, she'd be Carrie Mathison - Claire Danes from 'Homeland: Bipolar, unorthodox in her methods yet somehow comes out OK.
If Greece were a person, she’d be Carrie Mathison – Claire Danes from ‘Homeland:
Bipolar, unorthodox in her methods yet somehow comes out OK.

Things are either going well ie; it’s summer, you’re guaranteed sunshine, days lazing by the beach, siestas, kind neighbours cooking for you, invites to peoples houses and can forget about that demon bubbling just below the surface: the faceless enemy—the State, the ‘Troika’ or the Public Sector who seem determined to make our lives a misery.

But then autumn arrives and with that, ‘reality.’

Strikes and demonstrations start, people can’t afford to pay for the heating in their buildings, hence they go cold.
On top of this, Greece seems to find a way to make the simplest of tasks incredibly difficult. In fact, I would say her bipolar nature gets some kind of perverse enjoyment out of it.

Sara Alexi once again offers a great way of coping with this. Here is another excerpt from her interview with me:

…the Buddhist philosophy of  Life is [that it is] a struggle, and once you accept it is a struggle, then it is no longer a struggle’ is the only way to live in Greece.

So, back to my point. Life abroad is not always perfect. Sonia Marsh of Freeways to Flipflops knows exactly how difficult it is to be an expat, raising a family in Belize.  She tells us more in her interview with me here.   Sara Alexi’s words ring true: we need to look at our motivations for going abroad in the first place.  If it’s just for sunshine and swimming and thinking you can re-invent yourself, you’re in for a nasty shock.

If we can open our minds and hearts to the culture we’re in, learn to take an almost fatalistic view of life and accept things/go with the flow, then we’ll be OK. Good luck everybody.


  1. Interesting observations – that Greece is a temptress, but trying to maintain anything long term with her is nearly impossible.

    It doesn’t have to be a sinister escape from one’s past – but if one was unhappy in their home country, it’s best to look deep at the reasons why, because sunshine will only go so far as to making one happy.
    Does anyone else have observations they’d like to share? Or does anyone disagree with me?

  2. I have always thought Greece schizophrenic. The economic implosion fraying the threads of society have made it worse. At her best she is the ultimate temptress, but maintaining a long-term relationship is “allo pragma” or another thing altogether. I knew expats who were indeed trying to reinvent themselves, but sooner or later, as you say, all is revealed. The Internet is such an effective paper trail it’s nearly impossible to hide your past now.

    And would you believe the antiquated, creaking, corrupt bureaucracy used to be worse? It could take all morning to pay a bill.

    The sunshine, Mediterranean lifestyle and glorious assets of Greece go some way to dispell the gloom and frustrations.

  3. Expat life is most certainly not all sweetness and light. It has its fair share of stresses and challenges, possibly even more than its share due to the added complications of a foreign culture if not also a foreign language to deal with. But to counterbalance that for the very same reasons it has many positive aspects to offer. You have to be tough and flexible to thrive as an expat.

  4. Well said Steph. You do, indeed, have to be tough to live in another culture. The sunshine does not take away our problems (as Travel Taster said, maybe only momentarily).
    Once yr balanced inside, it’s possible to overcome the hurdles of expat life: language, cultural differences, food (although Greek food is YUM) and bureaucracy – and overall, the positive outweighs the negative.


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