You Remember You’re a Repat When . . .

by Craig Thompson on June 21, 2015

Repatriation—to borrow a phrase from John Denver—is coming home to a place you’ve never been before.

In the hallowed tradition of “You Know You’re an Expat / Third Culture Kid / Missionary when . . .” lists, I offer my own version for repats. This is for the times when you’re reminded that your plug doesn’t always fit the outlet.

I wrote this list in my first year of blogging, with 91 things that remind repats that they’ve been out of the country for a while. As time goes by, more and more of them are happening less and less for me. But some will never go away.

Since I’m a former missionary to Asia who’s repatriated back to the US, much of my list leans in that direction, but I hope there’s something here for repats of every stripe (or voltage, as it were).

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You remember you’re a repat when . . .

  1. Your passport is your preferred form of ID.
  2. You comment on how cheap gas is in the US.
  3. You ask your friends who they’re picking to win the World Cup.
  4. Your CNN web page is set on “International.”
  5. You ask the clerk at the convenience store if you can pay your electric bill there.
  6. You don’t know how to fill out taxes without Form 2555.
  7. You accidentally try to pay for something with the strange coins from the top of your dresser.
  8. You find out that living overseas is not the top qualification employers are looking for.
  9. You don’t trust your friends when they say they’ve found a “good” Italian restaurant.
  10. You think Americans are loud.
  11. You talk about Americans overseas and call them “foreigners.”
  12. You learn to stop talking about the nanny and groundskeeper you used to employ.
  13. You have to ask how to write a check.
  14. You forgot how many numbers to dial for a local phone call.
  15. You tell your toddler, “No seaweed until you finish all your hamburger.”
  16. You try to order fried chicken at Burger King.
  17. You check prices by converting from what a similar item cost overseas.
  18. People say, “football,” and you ask, “Which kind?”
  19. You don’t know how to respond when people say, “I bet you’re glad to be back home.”
  20. You prefer to hear news reports from someone with a British accent.
  21. You wonder why all the commentators on TV are yelling.
  22. You wish you’d brought back ten of your favorite kitchen utensil because you didn’t know it’s not sold in the States.
  23. You realize international students are your kind of people.
  24. You ask where you can get a late-model, low-mileage Toyota for around $2000.
  25. You turn on the subtitles on an English movie because you don’t want to miss anything.
  26. You ask the clerk at the video store if they have VCDs.
  27. You wonder if “organization” should be spelled with an s.
  28. You load up your suitcase and you try not to “pack like an American.”
  29. You stock up on Mountain Dew because you never know when it won’t be available again, and you check the expiration dates.
  30. Even though you own a house, you still catch yourself turning the music down so you won’t “bother the neighbors downstairs.”
  31. You stop bringing your bi-lingual Bible to church.
  32. You just smile at people who say, “So I guess you’re all settled in now.”
  33. You think the public schools are great because the teachers are all proficient in English.
  34. You read all your junk mail because it looks important.
  35. You don’t hang pictures on the wall in case you’ll be moving again soon.
  36. You still have unopened boxes shipped from overseas, and you don’t have a clue what’s inside them.
  37. For Christmas, you open up one of those boxes.
  38. You give up trying to decide which shampoo to buy.
  39. You’re invited to a bar-b-que and your first thought is “I hope they don’t give me the fatty part of the goat’s tail.”
  40. You hand the cashier at Wal-Mart your credit card instead of swiping it yourself.
  41. You put your hand lotion in 3 oz. containers just to drive to visit grandma.
  42. You’re frustrated that you have to ask for chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant.
  43. You have to ask what’s the right amount to spend on a wedding gift.
  44. You ask your friends to take off their shoes when they enter your home.
  45. People ask where you’re from and you just answer with the name of the city where you live now.
  46. You skip reading the Facebook posts of your former coworkers overseas because it’s just too hard.
  47. You just smile at people who say, “So I guess you’re all settled in now.”
  48. You stop telling stories about your old host country because people stop asking for them.
  49. Now that you’ve returned, your family members can tell you they didn’t know why you went over there in the first place.
  50. You go to the hospital for surgery and you take your own towels and gauze.
  51. Your high schooler is pulled over for a routine traffic stop and gets out of the car before the policeman approaches.
  52. You question the waitress’s math skills until you remember she simply added tax.
  53. You realize that Taco Bell isn’t quite as good as you remembered it.
  54. Your daughter calls herself an “African American” because she was born in Africa.
  55. You look forward to mowing the lawn, because you have a lawn.
  56. You say “here” and you mean the US, not the town you’re in.
  57. You take an umbrella outside when the sun is shining.
  58. “Made in Taiwan” labels fill you with nostalgia.
  59. People correct you when you pronounce foreign names the way they’re supposed to sound.
  60. You describe a city as “small” because it has only a million residents.
  61. You hear yourself saying at the dinner table, “Where’s the garlic?”
  62. You pull out the winter coats when the temperature gets below 70 degrees; or you pull out the shorts when it gets above 40.
  63. People who knew you before you left ask if you’ve “gotten that out of your system.”
  64. You get a bill from the doctor and you call to see whose clerical error made the amount so high.
  65. Glade’s “Ocean Breeze” scent isn’t any substitute for the real thing.
  66. You assume everyplace in the US has WiFi, just like in the city you used to live in.
  67. Wearing your traditional ethnic shirt isn’t as much fun now that you’re not going back again.
  68. You ask at the grocery store if they have KLIM powdered milk. When they say “No,” you ask when they expect it to be in.
  69. You buy three cartons of Hagen Dazs ice cream because it’s one third of the price of Hagen Dazs in your old host country. When you get home, your spouse reminds you it’s still too expensive.
  70. You reset your new computer’s clock to military time.
  71. You need to convert to the metric system to make sure of distances and temperatures.
  72. You get fully dressed to sit in your living room because someone may be peeking in the window.
  73. Airports feel like home.
  74. The thought of moving again sends you into a panic attack. But your spouse feels the same way about staying put.
  75. Your college-age children resent that you took away their opportunity to go “home” for the summer.
  76. You can’t remember why anyone would like pineapple from a can, the same for orange juice from concentrate.
  77. You understand why the restrooms in LAX have signs saying, “Do not stand on the toilets.”
  78. A friend sends funds to a scammer who sent out an e-mail saying he’s you, stranded abroad, and your friend believes it because, hey, you travel all the time and you’re always needing money.
  79. You shed a tear after finally eating the last package of dried fruit that you brought back with you.
  80. You do your happy dance when you find another package of dried fruit in the outside pocket of your carry-on bag a year later.
  81. You don’t know what to buy your parents for Christmas now that you can’t give them souvenirs.
  82. You cringe because you hear someone say she’s “starving to death.”
  83. You realize that all the documents on your computer are formatted for A4 paper.
  84. You tell your waiter, “I’d like my water with ice . . . if you have any.”
  85. You get nervous about buying tickets at the movie theater, because you forgot what the “rules” are.
  86. You still can’t drink water straight from the faucet.
  87. Your children are happy to see that the US has Costcos, too.
  88. You miss the familiar sound of the daily call to prayer . . . or a rooster crowing . . . or late-night traffic . . . or the song the trash truck plays.
  89. You show up at a party 2 hours late because you don’t want to be the first one there.
  90. You put your favorite DVD in the player and it says, “Region Unsupported.”
  91. You understand that some things just take a lot of time.

Originally published here in August 2012, edited for A Life Overseas.

ctCraig Thompson and his wife Karen, along with their five children, served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan, for ten years before returning to southwest Missouri. His experiences, as well as conversations with other cross-cultural workers, have made him more and more interested in member care and the process of transitioning between cultures. Craig blogs at ClearingCustoms.net.

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About Craig Thompson

Craig and his wife, Karen, along with their five children, served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan, for ten years before returning to southwest Missouri. His experiences, as well as conversations with other cross-cultural workers, have made him more and more interested in member care and the process of transitioning between cultures. Craig blogs at ClearingCustoms.net.
  • Casey

    This was SO fun to read through! Thanks for posting.

  • Well done! I would have to change just a few things to adapt to where I lived for 8 years, but oh, how I relate!

    • Thanks, can you share some of yours?

      • The banks in the US are too quiet. The banks in Central America are full of people paying all sorts of bills such as telephone, cable bills, and even car taxes.

        I love the convenience of home mail delivery as the postal system in Honduras has all but collapsed, except in name.

        Libraries don’t exist as such as we know them here in the US. I like the US system of libraries where books are there for reading and for lending in most communities. Libraries in Honduras are very rare and tend to be archival and have books on display much like a museum.

        I miss the street peddlers who each have a distinct call or song for their business, whether it’s selling bottled water, fixing shoes, or carrying around brooms and such for sale.

        I don’t miss the sheer volume of armed, heavily armed police and military persons who often terrorize the public.

        I do miss the idea that traffic laws are gentle suggestions in Honduras to be obeyed or not. I have to obey them in the US as I have found out having been pulled over twice since moving back.

        In the US, I forget that one doesn’t need a waste bin next to the toilet. That’s a given in Honduras.

        I miss the fruit and nuts that are sold for a pittance in the streets, although it’s good to keep an eye out for the men and women who walk the yellow lines in heavy traffic selling their goods.

  • neighbor57

    20 years, and I still check to see how things are done “here”.

  • Sharon

    You have to go in the gas station store ( 3 times) to learn how to pump gas yourself. (An you are thankful that the nice older manputs on a jacket and comes out to show you on the third time.)

    • I hear you. One time I borrowed a car and had to go into the gas station to ask how to open the gas-cap door on the car.

      • Kara

        Eh, that can happen even when you’ve lived in the US your whole life. We’re having a vehicle repaired at the moment, and the first time I had to put fuel in the rental I had to Google how to open the fuel door. Smh.

  • Prescott

    You are teaching a class, a lady starts to bottle-feed her baby, and you can’t help staring.

    • Ha! Now I’m trying to figure out where you were abroad.

  • Miguel De Marco

    “You find yourself washing and saving a ZipLock bag”

  • David Drummond

    You are still amazed when you complete a purchase with only one receipt and a wait of less than ten minutes in a single line.

    You hear a tune, start singing along, and then realize that there is an English translation too.

    You hear a “foreign” news story and understand the eyewitness before the translation starts. Better yet, you silently correct the translator and then hope you didn’t say that out loud.

    • Thanks. Especially like the one about the news stories.

  • Brad

    Walk into a supermarket and stare at all the choices available, then leave the store without buying anything.

    • If you’re not screaming when you leave, then that’s progress.

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