Short-timing, that mental state that we enter before departing each post, is necessary, and probably healthy. After all, we all have to detach somehow. Departure happens, whether we like it or not. The mind does what it needs to do in order to cope with the stress of change.
However, in order for short-timing to do its job well, it must be acknowledged—and occasionally managed. It has to progress at the right pace, which is practically impossible to identify. You have to care enough, but not too much. Leaving is a work in progress, no matter how many moves you’ve been though!
Much depends on the person—and the post. It stands to reason that it will be harder to detach from posts that you love, and easier to detach from posts that you might not have been all that crazy about in the first place. But it’s never truly easy.
I’m short-timing on two fronts right now. I have finally set a date for my departure from Warsaw early this summer. The FSO has a “drop-dead” date for leaving the Foreign Service a little later on. Both departures are basically welcome, but neither are going to be entirely smooth. (I don’t personally feel like I’m having any trouble detaching from the Foreign Service, but of course it is more complicated for the FSO!)
The weird thing about short-timing is that there are always mysterious and powerful forces swirling around us during these periods. No, really, there are!
Pretty much any expatriate will agree that as departure from any post approaches, things start to happen. Annoying, irritating, sometimes disastrous things. But not randomly. Oh, no. These events are actually designed to help you leave, and never look back.
For example, last week I couldn’t go walking through the park with my expat friends because the air was too nasty. Again. So, I decided to go the gym instead. Not as much fun, but better than nothing, right?
As I left the garage to drive out through our ridiculous, always-jammed cul de sac, some guy had suffered a microscopic dent to his car and decided that it couldn’t be moved until the police arrived (I guess). I speak almost no Polish, he spoke no English. So, after a bit of hand-waving, and being dismissed entirely (wow, am I over that), I backed up all the way around a J-turn into our garage and went upstairs to change into long pants in order to take the bus to the gym in freezing weather.
From our balcony, I could see another person try to leave as well. Except he was Polish, and was having none of it. His solution was to simply lean on the horn until the first guy finally backed up just enough to let him out. (Why didn’t I think of that? No Polish required!) At which point, I went down, drove out of my garage, inched my way past this guy who was literally sitting in his car watching me almost put another dent in his, and went to the gym.
My gym is a treat to myself and a coping mechanism for getting through winter. It’s one of the more expensive in Warsaw, located in a swanky hotel. I enjoyed a workout, accompanied by the usual pole-dancing videos on the screens above the treadmills (an exercise routine called “high heels dancing” which I really cannot explain). Then, I left in my sweaty clothes and very not high-heeled sneakers, and tried to pay for the formerly-free parking with the newly installed payment machine.
Which wouldn’t accept my credit card. So, I tried to pay with a 50 zloty note (about $12). The machine wouldn’t accept that, either. It probably didn’t have change, because NO ONE IN POLAND EVER HAS ENOUGH CHANGE, NOT EVEN THE PARKING MACHINES.
I went upstairs to the front desk of the hotel. The concierge told me that none of the parking machines accept credit cards yet. Which I do read enough Polish to puzzle out, if someone had been so kind as to post a note to that effect on the machine. I paid the concierge in cash, or so I thought. Then, I drove to the garage exit, and the ticket wouldn’t work. I got out and attempted to explain the situation to the parking attendant, who, because he works in an international hotel, of course speaks no English. Cars began piling up behind me because there is only one exit gate for this garage with payment machines that do not accept credit cards nor contain any change.
The guard was finally moved to emerge from his booth and push a button on the gate which called the front desk. I told a different concierge that I had just paid for parking not five minutes earlier. Went back and forth about this a couple of times, then finally put on my privileged expatriate don’t-eff-with-me-voice and got her to open the gate. I really hate doing that, but sometimes you just do what you gotta do. In this case, to avoid physically breaking off the parking gate, driving out, and not stopping until I got the German border, which may or may not have occurred to me at the time.
You might think all of this was just bad luck. But it wasn’t. The universe actually sent me samples of all the things that drive me crazy about Poland: toxic air, crazy drivers, my ridiculous cul-de-sac, being unable to communicate, people (and machines!) never having change, and pointless officiousness, all in one morning. Coincidence? Of course not.
Oh, I thought, when I got home. That’s what just happened. I’m short-timing now.
This isn’t actually about Poland, of course.* There are things to drive you crazy in every country, you just notice them more when you are about to leave. In fact, some things about America can drive me crazy from halfway across the world. Take, for example, the State Department. Or the US postal service.
The next day, I tried to send a package via USPS, the only domestic service available to us at post. To do this, I had to print a label, because embassy post offices do not sell stamps for some reason. I am already used to not being able to print out a label at home, even using a VPN. The USPS is the ONLY website that will not let me pay for an American thing, with an American credit card, even from an IP address that is located in America. Because homeland security. Or something.
Normally, we resolve this problem by my weighing the package at home and lining up the label online. Then, my husband logs in to my account from the “official” computer in the embassy post office, pays for the label, and prints it out. But this time, he got blocked, too. His whole account with USPS was blocked three years ago at our last post, and now we can’t even use mine. So, I asked my daughter in California to log in as me, print out a label as a PDF and email it to me so I can print it out and stick it on the package here in Poland. (Of course, a terrorist would never think of that, right?) Looks like that is how we will be sending mail from now until wheels-up.
Getting blocked by the USPS is not, in itself, that big of a deal. Clearly, a US government agency refusing to print postage for federal employees posted overseas, absurd as it might be, cannot compare to other problems faced by the Foreign Service community that are only going to get worse over the next four years. I only mention it because it happened last week for a reason. The USPS website blocked me in order to remind me of the many stupid little inconveniences that I will not miss about expatriate life!
So, thank you, great and powerful forces of the universe, for giving me perspective. As I say goodbye to good friends over the next few months and leave our expatriate adventure behind, I know that you will toss other events in my path to help me along the way. No, seriously, I’ve done this a LOT, so I know. Stuff will happen, it’s only a question of what and when.
I just have one small request. Since it’s my last rodeo and all, how about you take it easy on me this time? I really am ready to leave this summer. It won’t take much to get me to leave. I’ll go nicely, I promise!
*Poland is obviously not all about smog, bad drivers, and lack of change. There are many good things to say about Warsaw as well, which I will miss after we leave. I’ll be writing a Five Pros and Cons post for bidding season soon. Stay tuned.