Talking to myself – lonely expat behaviour?

I have started talking to myself in public again. The last two weeks have seen a resurgence of this habit, a behaviour I developed in Madagascar in 2006, but had lost during my stay in England.

I didn’t really notice I did it until I returned to England. I found myself doing it in shops and having to laugh it off when I got noticed.

It took about a month back in England to stop doing it.

So, why has it started again?

Self talking situations

I do it to a certain extent in the house but I’m most aware of it when out of the house. A typical situation might be the market.

Much of it is harmless enough; reciting what I want to buy – a sort of memory aid.

“Right, I need to get potatoes, carrots and beans”

However, it also moves into expressing opinions:

“Ooo, those pineapples look nice. Bet they’re expensive though.”

And it’s often used around some interaction with another person.

“Hmm, she looks like she’s having a hard day.”
“Shouldn’t those boys be in school?”.
“Ah, it’s the man who always tries to rip me off. I know your game mister.”

And sometimes it’s me expressing opinions on Madagascar life in general as I walk through the market:

“Oh my word, could there be any more chaos?”
“As if life wasn’t difficult enough already, they have to make the umbrellas low enough to poke my eye out.”

Etc. etc.

Why do I talk to myself?

I imagine it must give me some feeling of protection and buffer against the stress of being out and about in another culture.

I probably feel less alone and different by doing it (though no doubt look like a fruitcake). By expressing opinions I know my friends would share, I bring my ‘normal’ into the situation. Whereas, in fact, I am the thing that is not normal.

It also gives me a sense of power because I am speaking in a language that they do not understand. So, they can talk about me and I can talk about them. I often do it if being stared at.

Sign of stress?

It would appear to be a coping mechanism which shows that there is something to cope with. This highlights the underlying stress that is part of being an ex-pat. In England, I can switch off because:

  • I blend in
  • I understand 95% of what is happening without having to think about it
  • I speak the same language
  • I know exactly how my behaviour is interpreted.

So I can think about what’s in my head or just the unusual things that happen.

The percentage of things that are becoming automatic and understood instead of confusing is increasing.

However, daily life is still far more tiring than back in my own familiar culture.

The last 2 weeks have also been stressful as I’ve been ill and thus feeling tired and fragile.

Now I am well again, we’ll see if I will stop or whether talking to myself is part of the ongoing stress of expat life.

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