In the early days when it was just the two of us, we moved without much thought. Would we move to Toronto, Ontario, Canada for my husband's first job out of graduate school? Sure, why not? When the job quickly proved to be a square hole for my round peg of a husband, he quit with my blessing, released from the misery of a job that didn't fit him.
Going back to The Company who'd previously wanted him, he was offered a job in Minot, North Dakota. Sure, "Why not Minot" we'd joke? Then with the mover half-way out of the door with our few secondhand worldly goods the phone rang. Turned out The Company didn't have an office in Minot, North Dakota, so we were to go to Aberdeen, South Dakota.
The mover thought I was a ditz when I told him the new destination, but I didn't care. We were moving, embarking on a new adventure! After one year in Aberdeen, we were off to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Four years later with a toddler daughter, sight unseen we accepted a transfer to Asunción, Paraguay. What a mistake that was! It was the wrong job, wrong place and time in a country afraid to open a door to a new neighbor.
Akin to a bad arranged marriage, it taught us one exceedingly valuable lesson. Never, ever move anywhere without first visiting the place. And no, it doesn't count if you visited the place 20 years earlier as an eleven-year-old boy, as my husband had.
Where we would go after Paraguay was up in the air until one part of The Company came up with a position in Madrid. My husband's eyes glowed at the very thought. His years of studying Spanish literature had led him to the moment he'd always dreamt of, the opportunity to live in España. Alas, it was not to be. Between the desiccation of the Spanish soul after years of dictatorship under General Franco and the lifestyle of businesses in Spain, where offices closed down after lunch and office hours ran till after 8 PM, we didn't move there. It didn't fit our young family lifestyle.
Back to The Company's headquarters in New York City, we had a second child and my husband was selected to become a General Manager. How would we like Liverpool, England? Now my eyes glowed in unfulfilled Anglophilia. Alas, England was dark, cold and sad. Pubs had seriously limited hours, WW2 bomb sites were cleaned of debris but not rebuilt. We didn't move there.
The Company's CEO lobbied my husband to transfer to Curacao as a General Manager. In our early 30s we requested a quick trip to the island to see if our family, both individually and collectively, could make a life there. We checked out the international school, the expatriate and Jewish communities, learning that since the island was quadrilingual we'd be fine with our English and Spanish. We moved there.
Within a couple of years in Curacao we were offered a transfer to the French island of Guadeloupe. Again, we requested a quick trip for the two of us to check it out. Imagining it would be similar to the Dutch island of Curacao, I believed the biggest hurdle would be learning French. I was wrong.
Our plan was to first go to Paris for intensive French study for all four of us, to ease our way into the French-only island. On Guadeloupe we found good housing, limited foodstuffs like in Curacao, but given the island was a part of France-the price of Champagne and wine was very reasonable. "At least you could drink Champagne every day," burbled my sunny-side up husband.
Our bubble of enthusiasm was punctured when we went to visit the schools. The only schools were parochial schools run by old-school, black habit-wearing, scowling nuns. When we explained our linguistic plans, we asked the nuns about help to assimilate into French for our 8-year old daughter. No help, no ESL or French equivalent, the nuns would have none of it.
They said our daughter would be put into kindergarten class until her French improved, after which she could move gradually up to her grade level. For some children that wouldn't have been a problem, but for our petite girl it would be the ultimate putdown. As Shakespeare had written about another powerhouse female in A Midsummer Night's Dream, "And though she be but little, she is fierce."
We declined Guadeloupe, later moving to another G place, Guayaquil, Ecuador where the English-speaking school was much more welcoming to expatriates. After three years we were back in Connecticut.
When that sucking sound of jobs going to Mexico hit, we went with it to Mexico City. The expatriate community was truly international, the culture deep and inviting. The American School was excellent, leading our son to Yale after graduation.
It was back to just the two of us as we moved from St. Louis to Chicago, but the decision process of whether to move or not continued. When a new company offered a job in Shanghai, China, I embraced the challenge after consulting with a friend who'd lived there. But first, we wanted to check it out. With direct flights from where we lived in Chicago, I just wanted to visit to get a sense of the place and learn firsthand how bad the pollution was.
After the new company declined our request to visit first, my nose began to itch. Often a sign that something was amiss, I hunkered down to learn more. Finally one forgotten person at the US Consulate in Shanghai responded that if Mexico City's pollution had been a problem for my asthma, Shanghai's would be too. Nix Shanghai.
As for Lagos, Nigeria, I was skeptical. At least I was until one of my contacts gave me a contact who living there would clue me into the realities of the country. When interviewed by the owner known as The Chief, my husband was asked. "Do you like black women?" Apparently there had been some sexual abuse of power of female employees by the previous white manager from Europe. We did not move to Nigeria.
Last there was the most culturally difficult offer to move to Mississippi. We didn't need a passport, I speak fluent Southern due to my upbringing, but this was a step too far. After being shown about, seeing real estate, we agreed.
We did not move there. It was too foreign.