Maintaining Perspective (or, "How Instagram Cannot Accurately Convey How Sometimes My Overseas Lifestyle Blows")

I am a little bit of a traveler. Since 2003, my family has spent roughly half our lives outside our home country. It's a fun life. Yesterday I was soaking in a hot pea green mineral pool in the Central American mountains, keeping one eye on my kids to make sure that when they completely disappeared into the opaque water they surfaced again, and I thought, "Life, you are a-okay."

Birds in the U.S. would never do this. (Photo by Dan "Bird Poop Man" O'Rourke)

Human nature in the 21st century is to use the internet to ensure that, whatever you're doing, it appears to social media followers to be waaaaay better than it actually is. If you and I are e-friends, odds are that you only see photos of my family doing interesting things on pretty beaches or deep in humid rain forests. We are lucky to get to see and live in far-flung places that many don't get to experience. Lucky duckies.

That said, your life is waaaaay better than mine in a lot of important ways. That's because, while living overseas has an array of amazing perks that you're forced to behold via social media, photos can't really do justice to the downsides. And when they can, I'm not thinking to pull out the camera when, for example, the parking lot policeman at El Salvador's version of Costco is forcing me to re-park my minivan three times to ensure that I am perfectly within the white lines -- despite the fact that it's 8:30 pm and the parking lot is 20% full.

Here are some more ways my awesome expatriate lifestyle blows worse than your pleasant domestic one:

-- When I am taking a shower and I have the sensation there is an electric current running through my body, which there is, because the bedouin electrician failed to ground the electric box in the bathroom, so the water is charged.

-- When I turn on the bedroom light and it explodes and glass projectiles fly everywhere.

-- When I am about to order a Quarter Pounder meal at McDonald's but the cashier stops me in mid-order and says, "I'm sorry, but we'll have to finish your order in 30 minutes when the government-mandated prayer time has concluded."

-- When the policeman who just pulled me over for driving at precisely the speed limit won't give me back my ID card unless I pay a bribe or, alternatively, spend an entire Saturday at a police station working through the bureaucracy to receive a formal but grudging apology, along with my ID card.

-- When all I want is a cold shower but whenever I turn on the cold water, only hot water comes out because the water cistern is on the roof, in the incessant Arabian sun, all day, every day.

-- When I'm talking to my family back in the States and the foreign security guys tapping my home phone start whispering to one another, and I say, in their language, "Guys, I can hear you," and they get embarrassed and apologize and hang up.

-- When I'm doing 55 mph on the freeway, and I see a sign that there is a speedbump ahead, so I slow way down, but there's no speedbump. Then, later, when I'm again doing 55 mph on the same freeway, I bottom out over an unmarked speedbump and my minivan nearly flies apart.

-- When there is ferry that will take me from an island to the mainland, but the government shuts down the ferry because it's windy, then, later, it changes its mind and says, "these two ferries will leave, but maybe that's all, we don't know," so everyone on the island tries to cram onto the two ferries, and we stand on the dock in the sun for three hours trying to board.

I am totally zen standing in this cattle line, because the blonde, long-haired, bearded dude beside me smells great. (Photo by Heather "Monopoly Shark" Torriente)

-- When my kids have been attending classmates' birthday parties -- classmates who are literally royalty -- and then when it's my kids' birthday they ask why we can't just rent the mall for the night like Abdulaziz's parents did. 

-- When I'm driving at 70 mph on a well-paved freeway at night in a rural area and there are no lights at all, and without warning the freeway takes a 90 degree turn.

-- When I get a hotel room for my family and after they help us drop our bags at the room they tell us to make sure we finish dinner by 8 because that's when they turn the electricity off. 

-- When I'm stopped at a stoplight and a kid starts cleaning my windshield without my asking, and I say, no, thanks, I'm good, and he keeps cleaning it, and then I drive away without paying him, because I never asked him to clean my windshield, and he flips me off (maybe this happens too in New Jersey).

-- When I'm at a friend's house for dinner, and there's a boom in the distance, and then when I walk home there are cars riddled with bullet holes a block from my apartment.

-- When I think it would nice to see my parents, but it's a 24 hour+ trip on airplanes, and I have three kids under age 5.

My experiences are pretty tame in comparison to others'. I have colleagues who have toughed out major earthquakes, had rockets fired at their apartment buildings, etc. So next time you see a photo of my amazing life, yes, it's amazing. Until I'd like to pay my mobile phone bill online like a normal American, but instead I have to physically go into the store and wait for 45 minutes to pay my bill like it's 1990 or something. It helps us maintain perspective.