1. You bump into people you know. Everywhere.
Nothing lets you know you’re back in your hometown than the constant haunting presence of your past. When I lived in Madrid I didn’t have a whole network of ex-boyfriends, ex-colleagues, childhood friends and guys who used to date girls I used to be friends with when I was seventeen. Once you’re home, you see all kinds of people you know well enough to say hello to, but still cross the street to avoid.
2. You understand everything. And it makes your head hurt.
This isn’t only a language issue, though that can be part of it. You understand every word, every nuance, every connotation. You can read social situations from half a mile away. You can make an educated guess as to how someone will act because of how they dress. Living like this is exhausting. In a foreign country, you can filter out language, turning it into an agreeable background buzz, and social etiquette exists outside your happy bubble. At home, that’s impossible. You’re programmed for this life.
3. Nobody cares what you did when you were abroad.
They really, really don’t care. When they ask you how your time away was, they don’t want to hear how you struggled with foreign bureaucracy or did sunset yoga at the beach or saved orphans from miserable lives. They want an interesting anecdote, probably involving sex with a sultry local, and then they need you to play the role you are meant to occupy in their lives. You are a wingman or a confidante or a love interest or a sister, not an adventurer.
4. You dress weird.
You dressed strangely when you first went abroad too, but without realising your wardrobe choices slowly changed. Maybe you started to wear brighter colours or bleached jeans or wedge espadrilles. Then you come home and you find this mish-mash marks you out as different, but in a way people don’t understand. You are always dressed just slightly wrong for every occasion.
5. Your friends don’t hang out in the same places. Or even with each other.
Of course you knew things would change. But finding out one of your favourite bars has closed down or an arty neighbourhood you liked is now too gentrified for your crew stings. Plus, people have had all kinds of fights and misunderstandings no one has filled you in on.
6. But people are still queuing to get into places you don’t understand.
Not long after arriving back in London I went to a restaurant that I had always shunned in the past because of the huge queues to get in. People were still lining up. True, most of them were now tourists rather than locals, but I was surprised. Some things really hadn’t changed. Well, except that the glamour of the queue is now recorded on Instagram rather than Facebook.
7. You feel a sudden pressure to sort your life out.
When you’re abroad, you feel free from the constraints of family, friends and society at large. You’re foreign, so you’re exempt from the expectations of that society. You meet lots of adventurous foreigners who have eschewed social constructs like marriage and see the world as a buffet of new, exciting experiences. But now you’re home, your friends are getting married and buying houses and handing out impressive-sounding business cards. It’s depressing, but you’re meant to be a grown-up now.
8. Everyone says you look tanned.
It doesn’t matter whether you were in Copenhagen or Copacabana, everyone will comment on your “tan”.
9. You don’t get the slang.
When you lived abroad you probably had plenty of English input from TV shows, the news and foreign friends. But then it happens when you return home – someone says something you don’t understand. It’s just one word, but then your friend sends you a text with something else that isn’t quite clear. It’s not that you’re getting old or uncool. It’s just that things have moved on, and you’ve been living in a slang void.
10. Family is not as exciting at close quarters.
Oh, how you longed for your family on those lonely Easter Sundays and Mother’s Days.
But now you’re back family is not as fun as it seemed. They’re every bit as dysfunctional and annoying as before, the difference is they now want to see you all the time.