More Strange Habits I Picked Up Overseas

Sometimes it takes being back in the United States to see the ways I’ve been changed by living overseas. Here are some new things I’ve come to learn about myself, for better or worse.

(Here is the original post: 15 Strange Habits I Developed Overseas)

A slightly obsessive attraction to anything brightly colored. I made the kids drive around Djibouti with me and photographed them beside every shade of container we saw – pink, green, rust, blue, yellow…They were really excited about it. Or maybe not.



Tucking my dress into my underwear. Its all the rage. At least in Djibouti in the summer.

Not saying please or thank you. Why should I thank you? Everything comes from Allah and I will thank him, thank you very much.

Elbowing my way to the front of the line. How else do you get to the front?

Writing my restaurant order on a piece of paper. Why do we make waiters and waitresses remember everything in the US?

Checking both side mirrors of the car and looking over my shoulders while turning, fully expecting a car, donkey cart, or goat to run into me on either side.

Forgetting the need to schedule coffee dates or play dates or any kind of meeting weeks or months in advance and the need to actually make that meeting before just showing up at someone’s door or suggesting that they just swing right on by.

Honking the car horn. When our horn broke I refused to drive until it got fixed, too dangerous. In the US an accidental beep can be interpreted as road rage and responded to with fury.

Asking if something listed in the menu is actually available. I once went to a brand new restaurant in Djibouti. The menu had beautiful photos of fried chicken, juicy burgers, grilled fish, french fries, spaghetti. Preemptively the employee said everything on the menu was available. So when I asked for fried chicken, she said, “Except that.” I asked for a cheeseburger. “And that,” she said. I asked for the fish. “And that,” she said. I asked what was available. “Spaghetti,” she said. I ordered spaghetti.

Moving maybe a little too much for midwestern evangelicals while singing during church. And I restrain myself. But if our little church community sang some of the songs I’ve sung since being in the US, they would blow the roof off the building and there would be dancing until kingdom come.

Sleeping opposite my husband. By that I mean his feet are at the head of the bed and his head is at the foot while my feet are at the foot of the bed and my head is at the head. This is because of the fan situation. He prefers it on his face but fans on my face while I sleep make my hair tickle my nose and so I prefer the fan to blow at my feet. Somehow this has transferred and even here in Minnesota, without a fan, we have our feet all up in each other’s faces. Gross, but it works.

Noticing the slant in showers. I doubt that many Americans comment to their hosts on the fantasticness of their shower drains. But when we stayed in Somaliland, I was super impressed with the construction of our host’s showers. They actually slanted toward the drain. Like, intentionally. Like, so that the water would run down the drain instead of pooling in corners and needing to be helped toward the drain. This was worth commenting on. This applies to all manner of construction like the evenness of stairs or when tiles match or when doors shut and door frames fit into their space without warping or leaving spaces.

Snooping through cupboards and shelves. The best way to find out what is new, useful, trendy, and can be shipped to the Horn of Africa, or what is available in the market and can be purchased in the Horn of Africa, is to open cupboards and exam the contents of bathroom shelves, book shelves, kitchen counters. I find myself automatically eyeing these things in people’s homes now, all over the world.

I know there are more and I know you have more, too.

What are some of the strange habits you developed overseas?

15 Strange Habits I Developed Overseas

This post, 23 Strange Habits, is the inspiration behind today’s blog post. I have not lived in 23 countries but have certainly picked up some strange habits. Here are a few of the strange habits acquired after eleven years overseas, habits that are hard to shake and of which I am barely conscious.

  1. No shoes in the house. People in Minnesota tell me to make myself at home and leave my shoes on. I struggle. I want to take them off. In Djibouti there could be goat/camel/sheep poop on those shoes, or road kill juice, or simply a lot of dirt. A house without a pile of shoes at the front door is a lonely house.
  2. Kissy-face or tilted chin or tongue sticking out. Instead of using a ‘pointer’ finger, I use ‘pointer’ lips and ‘pointer’ tongue and ‘pointer’ chin.
  3. Cupping my hand to call someone. Waggling one finger is how you call a dog. I hold my hand out, palm down, and bring all four fingers toward the fleshy part of my palm. I watched a movie recently in which Liam Neeson called a military officer with his finger and I cringed. I thought the officer would attack him for being so disrespectful.
  4. Farmer-blowing in the street (only while running though!) and spitting. Gross. Sorry.
  5. Kissing cheeks and no hugs. I used to view the French-style cheek kisses as inherently sexual. Now I much prefer them to full-frontal hugs. Which is more invasive: Brushing cheeks together while making juicy smooching noises or full body contact and squeezing?
  6. Inhaling. I inhale often, and sharply. It means something like, uh-uh, or I’m listening. Lucy tells me to knock it off, apparently it is annoying.
  7. On-and-off showers. I turn off the water while shampooing, shaving, sudsing and then turn it back on to rinse. Off again. On again. This isn’t because of temperature issues exclusively. Showers are not designed to keep water in a certain space. A shower means the entire bathroom gets doused so to minimalize the pool-effect, I turn the water on and off.
  8. Insha Allah. When talking about the future I feel incomplete if I don’t add something like insha Allah. God willing. Hopefully. As far as I can tell. Maybe, maybe not.


    exchange money with a lady on the side of the street, not a bank or ATM

  9. Using the optative. May you be healthy! May God heal you! May you not hit that donkey cart! May you lower the price! Strangely, in Somali, this is sufficient. But when I use it in English, hand motions accompany the words, salute-like, and I feel like I’m sending the person I’m speaking to off into battle.
  10. Layers. The hotter it gets, the more clothes I wear. This is because sweat is ugly. So I wear one or two or three layers that soak up the sweat while the outer layer still looks fresh.
  11. No public displays of affection. Tom and I rarely hold hands and when we do, it is awkward and limp. We only recently started kissing in the airport upon arrival or departure and then a chaste peck on the cheek with a shoulder pat.
  12. Irregular toilet flushing. If its yellow, let it mellow. If its brown, flush it down. Sometimes flush toilet paper, sometimes put toilet paper in the garbage, sometimes hide toilet paper under the nearest rock. I promise not to do that while visiting your home. Unless you live in Africa, then you just never know.
  13. Sleeping in the middle of the day. Lovely.
  14. Bizarre exclamations and hand gestures. Ish! Hoh. Waryaa. Sow ma aha? Wiggling my earlobe or poking the side of my nose, all tacked onto the end of otherwise normal English sentences.
  15. Twirling conversations. Americans don’t tend to face each other while talking, but stand shoulder to shoulder. This feels strange and cold so I turn to face them, possibly step closer, may even make physical contact. They then rotate slightly, back away, and flinch. I respond again. All this is subconscious, but it inevitably means we turn in full circles while talking.

Have you noticed any of your own strange habits? Or any of mine that I didn’t mention?

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