Moving Abroad Can Sure Mess with Your Autocomplete

We can tell a lot about each other by looking at our autocompletes. For instance, start typing “I can’t find my” into a text message and see what it thinks will come next. For me, it’s “keys,” “wallet,” and “phone.” That’s pretty insightful: I have a car, I’m a guy, and I’m absent-minded enough to have my phone in my hand and wonder where it is. But I’m not all that unique. You’re autocomplete may very well say the same thing (even if you’re not a guy). We, and our autocompletes, are products of the cultures that produced us.

So what happens when you relocate to someplace new and different? Your old autocomplete is now out of whack and needs to be retrained to match your new surroundings. Sure, some of it is dealing with single-word typing discrepancies like theatre vs theater or fighting spell-check battles over your friends’ names (Yes, I really do mean Mrak!). But it also goes deeper than that. It’s a change in how you live and act and think. It’s transitioning from normal to strange to new normal.

I just texted “I can’t find my llama” to my wife. On my third try my phone gave in and swapped out “wallet” for “llama” as one of my choices. It may take a while, but as you transition, your autocomplete will catch up—maybe just in time for a trip back home, far away, that place where the foreigners come from.

So what are your autocomplete settings right now? Where do you fit in with the sentences below?

It all depends on where you are, and where you are in your getting there.

From normal to strange to new normal.

Wow, you can speak two languages? You
. . . must be a genius!
. . . must be average.
. . . must be ready to move to another assignment where you’ll need to learn two more.

I had a panic attack when someone swiped
. . . my passwords.
. . . my passport.
. . . my passion-fruit green tea.

I’m freezing. It’s
. . . gotta be 15 degrees Fahrenheit outside.
. . . gotta be 15 degrees Celsius inside.

School is canceled today
. . . because of snow.
. . . because of pollution.
. . . because rebels are occupying the building.

Yikes! I
. . . found a black banana in the back of the fridge!
. . . found a black olive and banana pepper on my pizza! (I specifically ordered extra peas and mayonnaise.)
. . . found a black mamba and banana spider—as big as a pie plate—in my closet!

Everybody knows that
. . . driving on the right side of the road is the right way.
. . . driving on the right side of the road is the wrong way.
. . . driving down the middle of the road—and sometimes on the curb—is the only way to get where you’re going on time.

I hope you can worship with us next week. We’ll meet up
. . . under the banner outside Auditorium B.
. . . under the big tree next to the river,
. . . under the watchful eye of our neighbor, who may or may not be a government official.

You kids can have some brownies
. . . after you finish your vegetables.
. . . after the care package comes from Grandma.
. . . after we can figure out where all of Grandma’s care packages are going to.

Oops! How embarrassing! I just told the bank teller
. . . I wanted to deposit $1,000 instead of $100.
. . . I wanted to deposit 1,000 envelopes.
. . . I wanted to be the father of her 1,000 children.

I cut my finger. Can you run by the corner store and
. . . pick me up some Band-Aids?
. . . pick me up some gauze and antiseptic cream?
. . . pick me up a hypodermic needle, some lidocaine, a needle and suture . . . and some gauze and antiseptic cream?

I feel so lonely
. . . after we moved to a town of 2,000.
. . . after we moved to city of 10 million.
. . . after our third set of teammates moved away.

Have fun at the retreat, and just in case, you’d better
. . . take an extra towel.
. . . take a machete.
. . . take a water purifier, a GPS beacon, and four forms of identification.

My stomach isn’t feeling so good. I think it
. . . might be the flu.
. . . might be that fermented goat cheese I got from the street vendor last night.
. . . might be parasites . . . again.

We’ll go to McDonald’s
. . . as soon as you get ready.
. . . as soon as our next trip to the capital.
. . . as soon as the opposition wins the election and foreign trade is allowed again.

I can’t sleep
. . . with the TV so loud.
. . . with that rooster crowing.
. . . without fireworks going off outside my window.

It’s Monday morning, and I
. . . plan to change the world.
. . . plan to change my neighborhood.
. . . plan to change my socks, as soon as the electricity comes on so I can do a load of laundry.

[photo: “Qwerty,” by Xosé Castro Roig, used under a Creative Commons license]

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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

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