Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Fails

Since it's just the two of us during the evenings; my wife and I spend the time talking about each other's day.  You know, like this Seinfeld clip....

There have been a few conversations where we'll describe a certain day as a "Fail Day."  Not sure how it started, but we just started using that term to describe a crappy day. Now, we all have bad days,  it's just life. But I got to thinking about how a "Fail Day(s)" might be different for an expat.  

It seems when you're living abroad the smallest stumbles can really break you down.  When something goes wrong, it just hits an expat harder. I think there are a number of reasons behind this:

1.) LIMITED SUPPORT SYSTEM.  My wife and I haven't been here long, so we really don't have a support network to share and compare our frustrations. It's just us. Blogging, expat websites (see below) and twitter, has allowed me to compile a small network, which has been useful for venting, sharing and learning. Thanks to @Momofthreeunder , @escapebrussels & @gjamh ! Give their blogs a read here & here.  

2.) EXPERIENCE.  You've done a task like the one before you hundreds of times back in your home country. So why is it so hard to do now?  Examples like: paying for groceries, making  bank transactions and doing the laundry are all routine things.  But for an expat these activities and others must be relearned all over again with the little nuances that come with your host country.

3.) FAST FORWARDING  While we were in Ireland, a co-worker presented a unique observation about the life of an expat.  When you are growing up, everything happens in stages. You learn to walk,  you learn to talk, you learn how to interact with others. Then you learn more complex tasks, like shopping, eating, banking, driving etc. All of these activities span the course of some 15-16 years.  However, for an expat all of these events occur again, only this time, they are in fast forward and you have to do them all in the course of a day or a week.

So I'm going to play around with the idea of a weekly post, called "Friday Fails."  But this post and future posts are not meant to be "whoa is me" like stories.  I'm not into that.  More like, here's where we screwed up and here's how we tried to correct it.  Hopefully there's something here that future expats can learn from.  Sound good?  Alright, here I go.  Hope you enjoy. 

This Week In Fail Days
  • Learning that our Dutch bank charges €7 Euro for direct deposits.  I thought I was pretty clear in my question when we opened the account about any associated charges. And the Dutch banker was very clear in his response that there were no charges with the account.    LESSON: Always read the fine print, even if it's in Dutch
  • Having your debit card denied at the Albert Heijn (grocery store) This has the be the worst, especially when the line behind you continues to grow and the stares feel like lasers on the back of your neck.                                                                                                                   LESSON: Make sure you have cash on hand at all times.
  • Spending days and days researching; translating, and tweeting to figure out how to apply for a discount train pass.  Only to find out after purchasing your subscription that it's not valid until weeks later.                                                                                                                           LESSON: The National Rail Company of the Netherlands, NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) is extremely responsive and loving via twitter, .  Just read their profile:  "This is the official NS Twitter account. We love you 24/7 at the height of the current situation. Monday / Friday from 8h to 18h we live for you."  For international rail travel questions try tweeting @NSHispeed, equally as responsive.  The funny part was I tweeted them both in Dutch with the help of Google Translate.  I never thought about writing them in English. 
    Another great reference for figuring out public transport is .  These guys run an up to date and well maintained site with helpful information for visitors and expats.  They were also very responsive through email to my questions.  
    To the denied credit card user goes the whiskey.
  • Watching powerless as your VISA card does not work at a restaurant that advertises they accept credit cards. LESSON:  This has happend twice and both situations really ticked me off.  When it happend the first time I begrudgingly accepted the machine failure and forked over all my cash. Even though I had used my card successful two days before at this very restaurant!  But I wasn't going down so easily when it happened again at another restaurant.  I noticed that a customer ahead of me paid with credit and it worked fine.  But when I confidently put my card in next, the machine decides to go on the fritz.  I was going to wait this one out and demand that they take the card.  Looking back, I felt bad for the young waitress, she did her best and was on the phone for 20 minutes trying to rectify the situation.  Seeing her struggle, my black heart softened and I told her I had enough cash to cover.  BUT!  "How about a glass of Jameson on the house?"  She obliged and proceeded to give me the largest pour of whiskey I'd ever had.  Moral of the story: If your card doesn't work, see if you can get something on the house!
  • Thinking train tickets for a trip to Cologne, Germany would be cheaper if you buy them a day before the trip?                                                                                                                      LESSON:  Buy early and save.  This is sort of a universal truth right?   

Feel free to describe your own fail days in the comments below.  

Ending on a depressed note is NOT something I want to do on a Friday. So, to use another Seinfeld reference,  I'll try to "Always leave on a high."  So here's a picture of me and a giant Lindt Truffle.  

Cheers to the weekend!

Some Great Expat Websites:


  1. Hi there,

    Regarding the NS_Online profile:
    'We houden je 24/7 op de hoogte' means 'We keep you posted 24/7'. It's just a saying. Normally, 'hoogte' would refer to a 'height' or 'altitude'.

    Notice that it doesn't say 'we houden VAN je', which, indeed, would mean 'We love you'.

    So, they're not quite as loving as you might have thought ;)

    A Dutch guy who happened to stumble upon this blog and can't stop laughing about your naivety.

    1. Hello "Dutch guy"! Thanks for reading and for the Dutch lesson. Sorry about the mistranslation. I've been heavily relying on Google for translation help. I thought that this might have been a very loose translation of the NS_Online's profile. Thanks for clarifying. Glad you're enjoying my ramblings and misadventures. I put up a new post about North Holland today. Enjoy.