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So many times when I will hear people say that they would love to live (permanently) in this or that city or country. Usually this comes up if they have recently travelled or read about a city or country. A few years back I heard of a Montreal couple who retired, sold their home and got rid of all their belongings and moved to Prague in the Czech Republic. It is a lovely place to visit but would you seriously want to move there permanently? I know that they did not speak Czech which is a Slavic language very similar to Polish. All they wanted was to start a new life from scratch, that requires a lot of courage and perseverance.

A few things to consider, one being language, in any foreign country if you plan to live there or spend more than a month, you need to learn at least enough of the local language to be able to function on a daily basis. No the locals will not speak to you in English it is not their language and don’t expect them to accommodate you in this age of mass tourism.  Too often people believe that it will be no problem and they can learn the lingo once they are there. Not so, not so at all.

The other things to consider is culture, ways of doing things, mentalities and social norms.  Those can be big challenges to every day life, living in a country where you are a foreign minority. Trying not to sound like an Imperialist or a Colonial. Yes at home you did things a certain way because that is the way we live here, however elsewhere it is a completely different matter. No one will accommodate you nor see things your way, you will have to adapt or else be ostracized, you are after all a foreigner. It won’t help to remind the nationals that you come from a different country or make endless comparison as if to make a point of being superior.

Cost of living always appears to be the first concern, though cost of living in many countries is not as high as Canada. In Italy the average person lived on $1500 to $1800 CDN per month as of 2011. People live in small apartments, usually a one bedroom one bathroom with a larger room serving as kitchen, dining and living room combined. A single person may live in smaller accommodation and a family would have a two bedroom apartment. No family car and if you do have a car it is small and you park on the street. If you go to work you walk, take public transit, or have a moped to ride, the price of gas at $2.15 a liter or $8.60 per gallon. At any rate employers do not provide parking at work so the fall back is Public Transit.

A friend of ours in Rome came to work at a school where he occupied a management position. He found an apartment in a trendy neighbourhood called Pigneto on the Eastern side of the City. He lived in a small one bedroom apartment in a 6 floor building. He did not know the neighbours, but they were noisy and yes cooking smells and loud conversations late at night. That is life and that is the way it is, so get use to it. There was no A/C and no clothes drier, a very small clothes washer allowing you to wash only a few items, no dishwasher and a very small fridge. Given the cost of electricity in Europe, people are forced into saving energy unless you have a lot of money to pay the high rates. So these are things you need to consider when you wish to live abroad in a country where, though similar is not the same as back home. All this of course is not apparent if you are on a vacation just passing through.

We had friends who moved to Mexico to live in Ajijic near Guadalajara on Lake Chapala, an enclave of Canadians and other ex-pats. What I did not understand was how they manage to live in an area without speaking the language. It was similar to not being able to read or write, isolation ensues and your live on the margins of society. Many come only for the Winter Season up to 6 months but if you are going to do that every year because you invested into a property and own a business or simply live there, would it not make sense to try to integrate into the local scene and not simply sticking to the ex-pat  community, which can turn into a curse.

Food and Health care is another major topic most people don’t think about, however it is very important. In every country I lived in food was always a big question. Be it Mexico, China, Italy, Poland, Egypt or Jordan, the local cuisine is very different from what we know or what we think as their local cuisine. Everywhere I went there was problems with colleagues who served up to 3 to 4 years in a particular country but hated the food. Mexico has many regional cuisines unknown to us in North America, no it is not like the chain restaurant menu. Same in China, the food was so different from one region to the next, it was a learning experience, noting like Chinese food in Canada. Italy was another shock for many who bitterly complained, from the Lasagna to the Pizza to various other meat dishes with no pasta depending on the region or province. In Egypt and Jordan where lamb and chicken dishes are common, the preparation often with yogurt and herbs is different to suit the culture. The ex-pats stayed home and were resentful that the locals would not accommodate their North American palate. Restaurants did not have kids menus, kids either ate what adults ate or stayed home with a babysitter. Funny how the local kids had none of those problems.

Health is another sensitive topic, imagine having a major operation performed in a foreign language you barely understand and needing a translator to speak to the doctor.  The care is good and often better than in Canada, but you have to trust your doctor in a foreign language. I know that in the movies they always go to the American Hospital, the reality is very different. I had operations in Italy and Poland and the care was quite good.

When we left Rome, we were not happy, we did not want to leave, though most of my colleagues could not get out fast enough. We had integrate fairly well in Italy and had friends in the City, we spoke the language reasonably well to be able to move around without help. We returned to Rome twice afterwards for private visits and though we are very comfortable in the City and have all our favourite spots including a barber shop and favourite shopping etc. It suddenly became clear to us that living permanently there would not be the same for the long term. Life in Italy is easy, but again you are a foreigner, how do you fit in. Not only do you have to be fluent in the language but you must forget what life was like back in Canada and adapt to all the little idiosyncrasies of the group and place, that is very difficult to do and requires much effort.  But if you are flexible and open minded it can be done.

Having moved within Canada from Montreal to Toronto to Ottawa to Quebec City and now Charlottetown all of whom are very different from the other though always within Canada, imagine moving abroad. I have heard to many stories of people who did move to the USA or France or England because of the similarities with Canada only to be sorely disillusioned. Maybe having to face the bitter truth that they are not as flexible as they thought and more stick in the mud types.

It really is not for everyone.