Moving Abroad Has Made Me Bitchier

February 14, 2011

in personality, reflection

My boyfriend calls me “Jersey” as one of my nicknames. He started the first day we met, when I revealed my feistiness, no-bullshit attitude and truck-driver mouth.

I’ve always been that way a little bit. It’s not just growing up in a state so often made fun of and shoved into the monstrous shadow of places like NEW YORK. Both my parents spoke their minds and stood up for themselves and for their kids. My seventh birthday at a bowling alley conjures up not recollections of the gifts I got, but of my mother reaming out the manager for trying to kick us out early.

But despite my proclivity as I grew older for outbursts, scathing commentary on everyone from classmates to the priest at my church — both in oral and written form –,  and a vocabulary as full of curse words as it was full of “words of the day” from my Advanced Placement English class, I remained a bit of a pushover in certain areas. Part of me likes to make people happy, but I would often do so to the detriment of my own health, well-being and sanity. I am a hard worker and a bit of an obsessive at times, and those traits can get squeezed to death when in the hands of a soul-sucker.

If I give you this look, you should probably run.

When I started as a journalist, people in authority unnerved me. There were things I didn’t know — things I had to report on that others knew more about. I lacked confidence early on. It happened again at the start of my freelance career. I was so desperate, err, hungry for work that I could live off of that I drove myself crazy doing things for less pay and recognition than I deserved. I was scared that if I didn’t, I’d lose my chance. I also thought if I promoted myself on Facebook or Twitter or via email too much, people would get annoyed. Though I’ve always been inquisitive and worked as a bloody Philadelphia newspaper reporter, asking questions also often made my palms sweat.

But in the year since I’ve settled into my new home in Sydney, I’ve let much of that fall by the wayside. When you move abroad in circumstances like I did, there’s a certain “nothing to lose” mentality attached to it. And if I have nothing to lose, why would I waste my time befriending anyone who finds any part of me unsavory or stifling my words? When you start life over somewhere so far away from what you knew, it inspires a newfound belief in yourself and your abilities.

So I’ve been a little more upfront with many people. I will call bullshit on something you say. I can complain to the person at Vodafone, Woolie’s or my health insurance company with ease. I used to dread those phone calls. Now I just make them, tell them what I think and what I think I deserve. I’ve started making more people in my life meet me halfway.

In my work, I’ve stood up taller. If I disagree with something an editor or web site says or does, I tell them. If a thought creeps in that they could drop me, I acknowledge it and think, “Then I shouldn’t write for them anyway.” I know that some people probably are annoyed that I largely use Facebook to post links to my blog and articles, but I no longer care. They’ll just hide me in their feed. Problem solved. I ask questions with abandon, because they are smart and deserve answers.

It’s in little things I notice, too. Less guilt about saying “No” or politely saying “No thanks” to people soliciting for money for various causes, less fear that I’ll lose something or someone just because I spoke my mind. It’s a rather nice feeling, really. It’s a feeling of being less censored and afraid.

Has traveling or moving abroad made you more confident or able to stand up for yourself?

Featured image by crabers.crab on Creative Commons

37 Comments - Add Yours!

  1. Ali

    You & I sound a lot alike, including the Jersey roots. I have definitely been in too many situations where I let people walk all over me. When I started traveling more I gained confidence. Something about being in a new place around people who don’t know anything about me makes me care less what they think of me. It’s still a work in progress though 🙂

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks, Ali! I already forgot you’re also a Jersey girl. I’m glad you’ve found your confidence increasing with your travels. I’m sure there are other ways you’ve grown that you haven’t even seen yet.

      Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Hi Berym. Good question. People here tend to be a little more laid back, so it’s almost like I should be less of a bitch. I think it’s just being away from old habits and people. You know, you get in a rut or stuck in your “role” when you stay in the same general area for too long. It’s like new blood when you go abroad.

      Reply
      1. Berym

        Hmm. As a native, I find that while we’re laid back, we’re also rarely prepared to compromise ourselves – we don’t see it so much as being bitchy or unpleasant as being straight up or honest.

        Reply
        1. Lauren Post author

          Oh, I def don’t think Aussies are bitchy as a whole. I haven’t encountered too many that are shrinking violets, though. Maybe your sturdiness has had an effect on me I haven’t realized.

          Reply
  2. Christine

    I’ve always been pretty straightforward (that’s my nice way of saying blunt), but I’ve found that traveling by myself has made me even more so. If I need something, I’m the only one who’s going to get it for me–so I just do it, instead of waiting for someone to help me out. It’s not the niceity-nice attitude that’s often expected in women in the States, but I prefer it!

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      I dig it. It will serve you well in Oz! I wonder if it’s the opposite for some solo travelers–you are, in a way, at the mercy of others, all these strangers in a strange land.

      Reply
  3. Dennis

    Its funny thing, the US is so vast, that even down here in Florida I feel a bit outside. Things like my accent and my attitude are different.

    There are things I want to hold on to. I may let my philly accent mellow a bit for the sake of being understood, but damnit I want to drink wooder!

    There are other things, but this is your blog, not mine! I just wanted to say I know where you’re coming from.

    -D

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Where is your blog, D? 🙂 Maybe you want to hold on to your East Coast grittiness. Are you liking it down there?

      Reply
  4. ayngelina

    Lauren I’m the same way – although I seem to have polarized.

    In some cases I have no time for bullshit people and I just decide that I don’t want to spend my time listening to them, but in other cases I find I’m much kinder to those who I may have discounted at home for being weird or odd.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Hmm, that’s interesting. So you’re a bit more sensitive to people you’ve known a while. Maybe travel teaches you how to love or accept better while simultaneously raising the alarm on strangers who might be jerks or liars.

      Reply
  5. Alexis

    Laur, I think although some of your changes came along with your travels, some also probably came about as a result of growing older too. Something just happens, I’ve seen it in myself too and am happy you are becoming much more confident and secure in yourself and your abilites and speaking your mind more fully. There is nothing like it…it’s so freeing, at least, in my opinion!
    Hope all is well and I love reading your blogs!

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Aww, hi Alexis! That’s a good point–maybe it’s something that would have happened back home anyway. I am happy for you that you feel like you’re coming into your own.

      Reply
  6. Frank S. (Hoboken)

    Living abroad has definitely had a profound effect on my confidence and decision making, though I’m not sure it applied when I was just vacationing abroad.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks, Frank. Interesting about living versus traveling. I’m sure long-term, RTW travelers may also experience some of these areas of growth. I think showing yourself you can do something on your own, no matter what it is, in a way, accelerates the process.

      Reply
  7. Bendos71

    Nice post, Lauren.

    I have no doubt the folk at Voda deserved your remonstrations…good for you.

    I, too, found the RTW trip made me more decisive (so much so that I tossed in a perfectly good career within weeks of returning) and willing to speak up about things, especially if instinctively you feel like something’s not quite “right”.

    I did occasionally, however, find myself repulsed by some travellers’ attitude to impoverished local people ( I think we really need to learn the art of non-combative haggling, for example), and fellow travellers. Especially those travelling packs. Their approach to the grand tour was disappointing, indeed.

    I guess my point is, there’s a time and a place for being abrasive.

    Happy travels.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks for your comment. Glad you saw growth in yourself from your trip. It’s interesting what you bring up about groups of travelers and solo ones and how they act–I wonder if the former experiences the same changes.

      Reply
      1. Bendos71

        Good point, Lauren.

        I’m not sure some of the battalions of independent travellers I saw even knew where they were half of the time. And I’m not talking about escorted groups…these were independent travellers from the same country, perhaps straight out of the military services, charging around giving the locals and other travellers a hard time. Almost like they just wanted to get this right of passage over and done with, then high-tail it home again.

        There was a real siege mentality about them which is a shame because I’m sure if they dropped their guards a little, I think they would have found their world flooded with pleasure, understanding and respect.

        Happy travels,

        Ben

        Reply
  8. Brooke vs. the World

    Hahahaha oh man. That look is scaryyyyyy 😉 Love you Fritsky and you’re no bull-shit attitude. It’s refreshing because people here think I’m ranty sometimes, but it’s just like if you piss me off, then I don’t let it go.

    Used to be good at hiding it, but why? It’s me and what I think. Different from the Aussies as a whole. I think I had a conversation about it with Anna before she left, and it’s the reason why I find it hard to play nice in the blogo-twitter-sphere as much as I could.

    But, I don’t think it had anything to do — for me — with moving abroad. I think I just realize it more here in Oz because my personality clashes with their “no worries” culture here.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Yay to being American biznitches! Good for you, for real. While we’re at it, and though I do still stand by what I said to Berym about Aussies being more laid back, yet not pushovers, I’ve seen my fair share of arseholes and bitches here. I think people are people everywhere, and there are some good, and some bad (more good, though, I hope).

      Reply
  9. Pingback: Tweets that mention Moving Abroad Has Made Me Bitchier -- Topsy.com

  10. Jessica

    Hey Lauren!

    I just stumbled across your post and I am glad that I did! I can totally relate to the “east coast” attitude. I wholeheartedly agree with you that people should meet you halfway. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and I was that person who went out of my way and did everything she could to please everyone. Long story short, you cannot please everyone; sometimes, you have to be abrasive, stand up for yourself, be a little more “bitchier,” and state how you feel whether or not they want to hear it. I think too many kindhearted individuals let people walk all over them. I think it’s great that you have gained more self-confidence moving out of the country. I on the other hand, have moved out of the state and now realize the negative atmosphere that I left (eventually I would love to move out of the country like you did!). I think it is awesome that you have taken the initiative to not take anyone’s shit. One thing I learned out of every negative event that occurs, there’s always something positive that comes out of it (sometimes it takes a while to reveal itself). It sounds like you are a great asset to the company you work for, more people should share their ideas. Good luck to your new experiences in Australia! 🙂 I cannot wait to read about them!

    Cheers,
    *Jessica

    Reply
  11. ML Awanohara

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post. Like Berym, I found myself wondering: was Oz itself responsible for some of the shift? I interviewed a London-based Aussie for my blog, Seen the Elephant, and one of the things she mentioned is how direct she is compared to most Brits: “Australians have a tendency to say what they think, and that can get you into some sticky situations.”

    I wouldn’t describe her as bitchy, but she sure is decisive. No shrinking violet!

    Whereas I spent my expat years in England and Japan, small island nations where people tend to communicate indirectly. Brits would prefer to moan rather than confront, while Japanese often leave their sentences unfinished–you have to guess at their meaning.

    When I eventually repatriated to the U.S. (my blog is about the challenges of repatriating after “seeing the elephant”), I found that I’d been anglicized and japanized to the point of no return. I kept wondering why everyone was trying to tell me their personal story, but felt I had no choice but to be polite and listen…

    That said, I was aware of being more confident in myself–and here I can really relate to your sentiments. As I say on my blog, no matter how bad things get, you can always tell yourself: “Well, hang it all, I’ve seen an elephant!”

    Reply
  12. Suzy

    You sound like you should have been born a redhead! ha I too have called out a priest in person and in writing. I love that feeling of telling people off which could explain the red hair. I definitely think travel instills more of a confidence in me compared to being at home. You have to confront people for there is not going to be someone to do it for you. I always say I pack passion and sarcasm wherever I go.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Haha, redheads rule! I love you’re “travel with a redheaded temperament” tagline. And I love the last line of your comment.

      Reply
  13. Sally

    I guess it all depends on where you move. I come from a long line of women who are not afraid to speak their mind and do whatever it takes to get their way. (My grandmother once backed up in the middle of a McDonald’s drive-thru right into oncoming traffic because she was unhappy with the soft-serve ice cream cones we had just been given). I think I did a pretty good job of following in their footsteps.
    But, since moving to Asia, I’ve learned that the in-your-face bitchiness attitude just doesn’t cut it here — especially when I lived in Japan. Instead, if you want your way, you have to learn how to be passive aggressive. While I am still no wimp (I’m sure plenty of my former coworkers would agree with that!), I did learn how to be much more passive aggressive — and it turns out I’m quite good at it! In fact, I’d say I’m a much scarier passive aggressive bitch than I am a bitch-bitch.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Sally, really interesting point of view. And you grandmother sounds like quite a firecracker! I hear a lot of people say “passive-aggressive” in a negative sense. It’s good to know that it can be a way for getting along and getting what you want in certain plains.

      Reply
  14. Vanessa

    I lived abroad from quite young, so I don’t know when I learned this, but I do notice that people who haven’t traveled or lived overseas are a lot less likely to complain. There sometimes seems to be an attitude of “complaining is mean” – yes, only if you are mean. If something is wrong, people can politely request to get it fixed. If they say no, well, you know where not to give your custom next time.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Vanessa. Where have you lived?

      I think I can see what you mean with a lot of people back home. They will not say something is bothering them for fear that people will say they’re bitchy or mean, which then can cause a lot of talk behind people’s backs. I can say that I’ve seen many people who are from or have lived in Europe who are assertive in a respectful way when they have a complaint.

      Reply
  15. Tom

    Interesting article! I’d say moving abroad has made me pushier…not bitchier. I can’t be openly bitchy where I have most of my problems (at work) as my boss owns my work visa…don’t wanna get on her bad side!

    I agree that when you’ve moved to a foreign country, you definitely start looking out for yourself more, because there’s no base of family or long-term friends to cushion a fall or to help you fight your battles.

    Although I’ve gotta say, a lot of my friends don’t seem to have developed this pushy/bitchy streak here in Korea. They’ll say things like “x, y and z is wrong but I just gotta deal with it” and I’m the one saying “NO! Don’t put up with that shit, sort it outttt”.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Hey Tom, really good point about not having your long-term pals with you. Didn’t think about that so much. Keep pushing your friends to be pushy, haha.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *