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Five Technology Dilemmas in Expat Life

Do you have trust issues with the internet? But, at the same time, do you love your smartphone’s GPS, which allows for spontaneity and less paper waste? Some of us tend to have a very ‘hot and cold’ relationship with technology. Being an expat can further complicate things.

When I’m in Austria, what international dialing code do I give someone in Germany who wants to call me on my UK cellphone?  Will my hair curler melt if the voltage doesn’t match up perfectly? How trustworthy are advertisements for apartments online? Technology has the potential to both improve and add utter confusion to your expat experience. I admit I don’t consider myself to be a technologically savvy individual, which is why I may have more problems in this department than other expats. The following are some challenges technology poses to the expat lifestyle and a few ways it offers improvements.

The Adapter: Expat Companion

With all technology getting smaller, slimmer, and sleeker, I’m still running around with massive, but also very useful, adapters. At least I’ve upgraded from toting an entire bag of adapters around to two single adapters, while retaining the power to turn any type of plug into a European- or UK-friendly version.

I was recently in a professional setting with a converter dilemma. I had two choices, (a) pull the entire mess of chords and converters out of my bag, or (b) elegantly stuff the pieces of paper I had been given into my bag. I went for the option (b) and after a few tries, it worked, however not unnoticeably.

Chargers also tend to have a fairly rocky relationship with adapters, physically falling out on a table, screaming for attention. On the plus side, figuring out how to stack things to act as a support for your lazy adapter does bring out your creative side.

The Online Apartment Search

So you’ve secured a job in a new city and you’re ready to start the next phase of your life? Enter flat searching. It can be an emotional rollercoaster; sometimes it can feel like the city itself is trying to test your worthiness as a potential resident.

After you’ve accepted the job offer, you’ll soon find that flat viewings are a continuation of the interview process you thought you wouldn’t have to go through for a while. And maybe I’m just paranoid, but I generally don’t enjoy walking around unfamiliar neighborhoods and into unfamiliar flats, to meet unfamiliar people.

A tip for apartment owners renting out rooms: If you try to tell me your flat is ‘lovely’ one more time, I might start doubting you. Adjectives aren’t exactly informative and tend to make me suspicious; what are you hiding under that adjective? ‘Quaint’ doesn’t mean the fridge is also the closet. No one likes finding mustard on their dress after getting to work.

Online Dating: Try, Try Again?

Are you single and ready to mingle? Or maybe just curious to see who the prospects are? Online dating and its corresponding phone apps make this possible for newly arrived expats.

Just remember, if you decide to go on a date with someone, meet them in a public place and tell someone where you’ll be; it’s better to be cautious. And maybe don’t go on a date with the guy whose profile picture is of his foot with a wine glass between his toes. There are other ways to prove how classy you are.

The Intricacies of Texting Protocol

Conversing via any mode of communication that isn’t face to face can always be a tad tricky, with possibilities for misinterpretation. Move to another country and throw texting into the mix, and you've got more social learning to do.

For example, coming from the US, I never put kisses (‘xxx’) at the end of my texts, however in the UK this is pretty common. I have a friend who gets offended when I don’t return the corresponding amount of kisses. And deciphering the meaning of how many kisses you get from someone who might be a potential love interest gives me a headache. To top it all off, sometimes kisses are used at the end of every text, while other times they are only used in the final text of the text exchange.

This confusion reinforces my, admittedly traditional, view that serious conversations should take place in person so as to avoid misunderstanding or accidentally sending the wrong smiley.

Smartphones: ‘X’ Marks the Spot

As a recent smartphone owner, I’ve joined the craze and there’s no going back. I’m convinced that it’s the key to navigating big city living. Another upside is that you don’t have to pull out a map and look like a tourist.

I went from the American grid system (practical) to winding European streets (prettier). Pre-smartphone, I could be seen stumbling around in the dark with a hand-drawn map, desperately trying to find that beer garden I told people I would be at half an hour ago. Now, my phone literally tells me where to take a right and how many meters I have left to my destination. See the light on the horizon? That’s GPS on my phone! I know, I’m a little late to the smartphone party, but I made it.

If you would rather go old school, or just make sure you caught the train going in the right direction, the compass app is there for you too. Transportation timetables on your phone are also invaluable. They won’t, however, warn you that there will be so many people in the subway that you will be forced to get cozy with strangers. But for someone who never gained her U-Bahn feet, at least in those cases there’s no need to worry about falling over.

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