Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Surviving yet another bad move – Part # 2

10 Bad Move Classics Every Expat Learns to Survive

Just like a long agonizing pregnancy, followed by hours of insufferable labor pain, every move I live through feels like labor day all over again. If you do the math: fifteen years, three children and five moves, that’s quite a toll on any human body, let alone their sanity.

Every mother knows there is no such thing as a good labor experience. So does every expat wife going through a move. There is no such thing as a good moving experience.

In all my moves, the bad ones and the worse, here are a few staples an expat wife suffers through:

1  1-    Wrong size assessment
I have yet to meet a fellow expat wife who hasn’t had her container emptied out at least once in her career as a roamer, because packers made a wrong judgment call on how big her box should be.

I’ve had one container emptied out in the streets of Manhattan and left to weather it overnight. Hanan my friend had hers shipped to a warehouse to be emptied out and reloaded into a bigger one. 

To add to the inventory of horrors, we had one stocked-up container loaded onto a vessel and out to sea, before the second one arrived to load up all of our leftovers. We ended with two small containers, double the costs, double the paper work, and double the pain. Why they never unloaded and waited for a 40 foot is beyond me!

2  2-    Not enough wrapping material
Movers arrived at my house four hours late and fifty boxes short...50!  I’ve heard of two, five even ten boxes short, but fifty? Really??

Beware of packers who come up with such lame excuses, as “my car battery went dead and strangely enough, my phone battery too.” Chances are, they got another quick job for the morning and will try to blame you for the shortage of material that they have incurred. 

My not-so-decent mover blatantly accused me of over-shopping between the time of assessment and packing day. To his bad luck, I was so busy with move logistics that I forgot to shop for over three weeks. When threatened to prove him wrong, he gave up the argument and focused on loudly cursing” that crazy bitch” aka me to all his colleagues instead.

3  3-    Over-charging for “special requests”
Decent movers would give you a proper assessment from day one, including required crates for glass frames, paintings and other delicate needs. Most movers however, would come to you on packing day and try to oversell.

This last mover wanted to charge me $400 for four closet boxes. When I asked him how he originally intended to pack dresses and coats, he gave me that (are you seriously packing long dresses and coats?) look and said that custom dictates they would be packed in medium sized boxes just like kitchenware and utensils! 

When every question you pose becomes a “special packing request”, know that you’re in for a really bad packing job.

4  4-    Over-packing
A novice expat can be fooled into thinking that the more bubble and crushed paper, the safer her things would be.  A practiced roamer knows that over-stuffing = more boxes = more volume = bigger space required = added costs

There is no formula for proper use of packing material. I can tell you to use your judgment but in reality, there is no telling if a packing job is well done until you start unpacking at your destination.  If 95% of your stuff makes it safe than you can start writing that Thank You note to your movers and go online to give them a good rating.

5  5-    Under-packing
Unlike over-packing, under-packing is easy to detect. Anyone can see when table corners are stacked uncovered; when chair legs pop out ready to dig through the closest available box. Better pray it’s not your china box.

Your biggest challenge is  NOT to identify under-packed objects. It is to convince an arrogant mover that that specific item needs further protection! Be ready to hear some condescending “who are you to interfere with my job” and “I’ve been doing this all my life and I’m the best at it” remarks.

6  6-    Bad stacking Strategy – How does an elephant fit into a Coca-Cola bottle again?
Your furniture is wrapped. Your canvas is crated. Your memories and whole life are boxed. Now you wonder: How does an elephant fit into a Coca Cola bottle again?

Watching your life-long belongings fit like 3D puzzle pieces into a container is quite the show.  But when one piece turns out to be a misfit; and when your packers have no clue which piece exactly has caused this imbalance, you know you’re in for more than you bargained for.  Unloading and repacking a container is the lamest and longest show that puts an expat’s patience to the test.. More often than not, your character fails you. But unlike a bad show at the theater. You can’t just walk out and leave.

77-    Step away lady.. We know what we’re doing
Another classic some of us humbly take on.  In many cases that man is right. He knows what he’s doing and you are just in his way. In most cases, there is no way you can stretch yourself to cover five or six packers, working simultaneously to kick the Energizer bunny out of business.

I’d say in that case, sit back and chill. You can’t tell a packer how to pack without stepping on a few big ugly toes. And believe me, you really don’t want to do that. So let them pack and focus your energy on praying that everything would be all right at the end.

8  8-    If I can’t stack it.. I’ll buy it.. at 5% of its original cost!!!!!!
That one did happen to me in Jordan. He walked away with a brand new 8 velvet seat dining table because it wouldn’t fit.  I was alone, with three kids and so eager to push that baby out.. Oops I mean to see that container gates sealed, that I was ready to accept anything.

When a mover offers to buy your left-overs, know that there will be left-overs; that he has an eye on a few; that he will get them in the end; that he will package the deal as if he were doing you a favor in the end.

9  9-    He said.. She said
Many expat wives like me never see their husbands’ back until the container is sealed. In Egypt, Walid was in Israel. In Jordan, he was in New York. This time in New York, he was in South Africa.

Packers rarely see the husband’s physical absence as a source of concern. Why do you ask? Because this provides the best alibi for a job badly done, with full pre-meditated intent. “But your husband said over the phone.”… “Your wife is the one who made those request, know get your cheque book ready.” And the creative list of he saids - she saids list goes on..

1  10- Split packing… Where are my nails?
Here’s a novel one that can seriously bring out the worse demons you never thought existed in you.

They pack your bed frame in one box; the nails to put it back together in another. They attach a bunch of screws and nails to a desk, only to discover that those nails probably belong to that bed frame they forced you to leave behind because “there is no room for it, sorry.”

You have that show rack missing a connecting piece; storage boxes missing a corner; your own master bed missing its nails!

Nothing I can say would help you should you face that predicament. Hopefully you have a personal toolbox, -a legacy of a UN husband who once thought he would have time to cultivate a Bob The Builder hobby. And with some look, you might find just the right nails to fix your immediate problems. I struck Nickel.. Which in that case was more valuable to me than gold.

One last thought before I go dig into some still-unopened boxes in the hope to find that shoe rack corner piece…  just like a mother’s memory of a long and arduous pregnancy, a roamer tends to somehow forget all about this trauma a few months after it’s over.  You curse and you scream and you swear you will never ever do this again.  I cannot recall how many times I promised to be out of home and out of country before the movers circle in. So far, I don’t see myself doing a good job keeping that one.

You get through it somehow. A piece of you breaks however: a kind of trust, a sense of fake security. I don’t know what it is but it does break. Miraculously, you learn to carry the damage with a lot of dignity and pride. You flaunt your misadventures on social media desperately seeking moral support, even if virtual. People tell you, you are doing a fantastic job. ..You are a hero.  And you truly are… Every roamer is a hero in my view. Every time we survive a bad move we come out more resilient.  You arm yourself with good friends and a supportive family and you go into it the same way you conquer a Mud Run.. You know it will be crazy, painful, humiliating at times. But you also know there is a finish line in sight and all you have to do is find a way to get there.  You’ll get a good hot shower after and get to brag about how incredibly brave you were for weeks to follow J


  1. Hi Cuz!
    I personally survived two moves on my own and i relate to this post. Although I am moving as a single bachelor still it was horrible; stuff disappears, things get broken and I also found myself at the entrance of my new residency with furniture in the middle of the street. Try to explain to the movers in dubai that door-to-door does not mean leaving them on the street. I also took part in two of your moves at their early stages and feel guilty i could not be there. Hopefully next time (not right away of course) I will be there. Till then enjoy South Africa and benefit from the positive sides of a new move!

  2. Dont feel bad Jo.. I survived this one and hopefully I don't have to worry about the next one anytime soon. having said that... I ain't doing one more without u :)