Expat Sat: Repatriation, Loss & What It All Might Mean or Not Mean

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writing. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing and publishing to expat writers around the globe.

When I moved back to the United States from China last October, I made a mind-boggling discovery. (Well, I made a number of mind-boggling discoveries, but for today, I’ll stick with just one.)

I can no longer park a car.

After nearly five years in Shanghai where to get from place to place I had walked, taken a taxi, or hitched a ride with our driver Mr. Chen, I can no longer park a car.

And I’m not just talking about parallel-parking—that especially challenging maneuver that eludes even some of the world’s finest parkers. Hell, lots of people who’ve never left their hometown can’t parallel-park. Nope…I’m talking about good old-fashioned parking-lot parking. I can’t do it. I cannot neatly and efficiently pull my not-so-very-big car into a designated spot (a generously wide designated spot, mind you, with bright white lines clearly demarcating where the heck I’m supposed to put my car).

Can’t do it.

Every time I try, I end up crooked (wildly crooked), in two spots, or hunched up so close to the car next to me that I could actually give the passenger a big, wet smooch if we both opened our windows at the same time. (Unlikely because the few times passengers have looked up and found me…and my car…nearly in their laps, they’ve start hollering or giving me the finger pretty quickly. So far, no smooches.)

Before China (or B.C., as I often call that time in my life), I could have parallel-parked a mack truck. An airplane. An f’ing tank if you’d asked me.

Thanks to the years I spent in Washington, D.C. driving a Mazda 323 that didn’t have power steering, I was arguably the reigning queen of parallel-parking. Sure, that Mazda had been small but I could wriggle her into spots no wider than a legal-sized envelope, pumping the steering wheel hand over hand, all the while chanting, “All I want is power steering. All I want is power steering.” That kind of training and discipline paid off. And B.C., I was sure it had paid off for a lifetime.

But then came China.

And then repatriation.

And now—A.C. (after China)—I’m unable to maneuver into the most generous parking spots at the grocery store, the bookstore, the airport, my daughter’s preschool. You name it, I can’t park there. After a few disastrous attempts at the mall, I began parking as far away as possible…you know, in those spots no one ever uses except at the holidays…because I don’t want to accidentally sideswipe a car or, truth be told, let anyone see how awful I’ve become at this simple task.

Here’s how an average parking attempt goes:

I arrive at a destination, pull my car into a spot, turn off the ignition, get out of my car, gauge my success or failure, shake my head at the fact that I am either straddling two spots or have six feet in front of me with my tail end poking out, climb back into the car, turn on the ignition, and try again.

And again.

It’s ridiculous.

And sometimes, I admit, I just give up and go home.

Though I’m humored by this strange, unexpected outcome of my time in China, I also recognize the symbolism in it. As much as I gained from my experience in Shanghai, I lost some significant things too.

Sure, I’ll probably get the hang of parking again…eventually…but it will never be the same. I’ve changed. Space has changed. And perhaps most importantly, how much I care about fitting neatly into a perfectly sized parking spot has changed.

I think I’m more interested in the smooch.





Q4U: Expats / Repats / Globetrotters: What have you lost as a result of your time out of your home country? What does that loss mean to you?



Lips: Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net