Bon Voyage

Hulu recently changed up their platform to make it harder to navigate and less user-friendly, which means when I have a free moment and want to watch a TV show or movie, I can’t because it’s too complicated. While I can’t find shows I regularly watch on Hulu, or search for movies without offensive violence, I have stumbled upon a season of House Hunters International.

I have been catching up on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown on Netflix as a sort of staycation, watching him travel the world from my living room, but after a while it’s hard to imagine myself getting on a leaky boat in the Amazon. The HGTV version of a travel show is more realistic, and while I know these shows are scripted and staged to some extent, I really enjoy these episodes, despite the intolerable buyers.

It must take a phenomenal amount of restraint to be a foreign realtor for American clients, because every buyer says the same thing: “this is much smaller than we’re used to.” Or, “the washing machine is in the kitchen? That’s odd.” No, Susan, you are odd, calling your dogs “the boys” and your cats “the girls” and deliberately confusing people who assume you have actual human children. I could see the realtor twitch when you suggested the second bedroom be redesigned as a cat-centered playscape. When you’re an American in The Netherlands with five pets and a fear of bike-riding, it is you, my dear, who is odd.

We are approaching our one year anniversary of life in El Paso, and while we love it here and have no plans to move, this is about the time I start to think about the possibility of relocating. As a child I moved about every two years; sometimes a change of home in the same city, but mostly a new city all together. I thrive on change and challenge, and while I certainly haven’t had enough of El Paso, the urge to move is instinctual. I think it’s contagious, because Robby often daydreams about the offices he could transfer to if we decided we wanted to leave. Working for the federal government, like working for a large company, has perks like that. There are offices all over the country doing similar work, so if we needed to leave, we probably could.

I fantasize about needing to whittle down our household to fit in a European apartment, being forced to pack up most of my kitchen equipment into a storage unit while we live a minimalist life in Copenhagen. It would be freeing, I think, and though I did clear out a lot of junk when we moved here, we also took our surplus junk from the family storage unit with us and bought more junk when we arrived, because our house is bigger and we have room for it all. That is the American way.

I’ve seen several episodes where people from the US and Canada move elsewhere specifically for this purpose; they need to simplify, disconnect, and spend more time as a family unit. I suppose if you move to Mexico, where you don’t speak the language and only know your immediate family, that would be a surefire way to improve your familial bonds. Or, a good way to convince your teenagers to learn the local language and make new friends as fast as possible so they can avoid long walks on the beach having heart-to-heart talks with their parents.

It’s fun to picture myself and my family in the wooden shoes of the family that moved to Holland, or as the couple that transfers to Shanghai and learns to eat all their meals with chopsticks, but we will probably never live abroad. My husband is a lawyer for the federal government, and as that government is located within the country it governs, there are very few reasons to move outside our borders. Unless maybe he could do some sort of cooperative work in Juarez, aka Murder Valley, and I’m afraid that is where I draw the line. It was one thing to live in Moscow when I didn’t fully understand how dangerous it was, but now that I have small children, I am not interested in living anywhere remotely dangerous because I would never be able to sleep at night knowing my children’s lives were at risk. It’s about my children, but it’s also about sleep.

I like to think I wouldn’t be the silly American housewife who complains that the apartments in Hong Kong don’t have ovens (ever had Chinese food that was baked? Nope, they don’t use ovens) or that the bathrooms in Europe never have bathtubs (seriously how do foreigners bathe their children), but there would surely be some adjustments. Would my toddler appreciate the amazing opportunity to experience a new country, or would he sulk that he couldn’t bring all 547 race cars to our new one-bedroom apartment? This is especially tough for Americans with multiple children, because that simply isn’t the culture in some of these places. “We need four bedrooms to accommodate our five children…” and the realtor’s eyes go wide with a look a horror.

“Why on earth would you have five children?”

So, we are used to more space, more stuff, more green, more family. However, I’ve never seen someone moving from Manhattan to Brussels or Paris on the show, and that would be thrilling. The New Yorker would be thrilled with the charm and the character of the studio apartment, and think the space was ample for the price. “It has a fan? How luxurious!” Poor, sad Manhattanites in their tiny apartments without a closet under the stairs or an island in the kitchen. I bet my house costs less than that studio in the sketchy neighborhood in New York City. Maybe I’ll stay in El Paso a little longer.


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