3 things to understand before you're a Suva Expat
Life in Fiji as an Expat is fun. Well most of the time, and especially once you've got the hang of it. I have a lot of email conversations with people planning their move to Fiji as an Expat or considering making the move, and I have to say, many don't understand just how different life will be. No offence to anyone as I was exactly the same - I even wrote about my first week as an expat in Suva and if you read it, you will see it wasn't pretty. My attitude was not all rainbows and lollipops.
So here it is, 3 things you should understand before you become an expat living in Suva, Fiji. It is unlikely you will avoid culture shock if you haven't already lived in a South Pacific island before, but being a little prepared can help.
It rains a lot in Suva.
Whilst the other side of the island is referred to as the "burning west" because of it's heat and seemingly relentless sunshine, from just before Pacific Harbour (as you drive to Suva from the West - Nadi side) the weather changes. You need to make sure you are willing to 'do life' in the rain. Be prepared with umbrellas, and even better a light weight rain jacket that you keep folded up in your day bag.
I wasted a lot of time and missed great opportunities in the first few months postponing our plans because as we were ready to walk out the door, it started to rain. Once I got over that mentality, the rain didn't bother us. It was actually a welcome relief to cool down for a bit. And.. once I got a rain jacket sent to me online from the US - wow - it didn't bother me even more! Having the rain jacket was a great investment in our happiness. I know that sounds ridiculous, but hands up Suva people - am I right?
It's tendency to rain quite a lot means you need to cater for this with your clothing/accessories. It is really hot most days, like stifling wet heat, and then it will rain for a few hours or a few minutes, so you need clothes which are light-weight and will dry quickly if you get caught in a down-pour, and easy to launder regularly (because trust me, they will get smelly at some point!).
Ladies, buy yourself an oil-cloth handbag. You know the ones that can get wet and you can just wipe down - Fossil have some nice ones. I would be leaving all leather behind - not only will they get wet at some point, but the mould in Suva is rife. Do not bring your leather jacket - you will never ever require it - Ever!
Check out my expat in Fiji guide to packing blog post.
GROCERY SHOPPING IN SUVA
If you're an expat from lets say, Australia, and are used to doing your groceries at Coles or Woolies, which are pretty much one-stop-shops full of quality (mostly!) items, you will need to get on board with this point really fast.
The food shopping in Suva is not at all like what you are used to. This can cause culture shock to set in rapidly, especially if yourself, or your kids are used to eating something regularly. Fast forward a couple of months and you will have 'doing the groceries' down pat, but at the beginning when you’re feeling down in the dumps or a bit lost with the food, please know it will get easier.
Just be prepared for everything you need to not be in the one shop. Expats I've spoken to all agree that their weekly shopping day often consists of driving to a few different supermarkets in an effort to get the weekly shop done thoroughly. Fruit and veggies won't be what you're used to buying in the supermarkets, no perfectly round Granny Smiths - moreso the big supermarkets in Fiji will try to sell you awful, old produce at extraordinary prices - but guess what - there is a light at the end of this granny-smith deprived tunnel.
That light is the fresh markets dotted around the place. The produce you will find at the main Suva Market is fresh from the farm. When I say that, I literally mean - fresh right from the farm into your hands. Not via a Woolies truck who has ripped off a farmer someone 30 hours drive away, spending 5 days in a refrigeration unit before being trucked days away - you get my point. If it is in season in Fiji, it will be cheap and plentiful. Learn to cook around the seasons in Fiji and grocery life will be easier.
I will say that since my first days in Suva, the grocery shopping has moved ahead in leaps and bounds, and you can even buy a BBQ chook now. Just expect to be a bit lost on your first shopping day and then you can remember this post and pat yourself on the back and say "it's okay, SJ from Me and Fiji told me it was going to get better!" (then shoot me an email to tell me, I love to hear stories!).
CONVERSATION IN FIJI
Not as in 'game, set, match' in the tennis world. Not as in 'get me that set of cards'. Not even when you 'set your clock to the Fiji time zone'.
Saying 'set' in Fiji is a common response in almost all your conversations. It is a way to say 'okay, I understand' or 'yes, I will' or 'understood, will do' - you get my drift. Here's some examples:
In the taxi: "Please take me to the Suva Market", the Taxi Driver may reply "Set" meaning he understands where you want to go and will take you there
In the shops: "I want 2kg of chicken wings", the shop assistant may reply "Set" meaning they will get you 2kg of wings
To your Gardener: "Can you please cut that tree down?", he may reply "Set" meaning sure I will do it
To your Husband: "Do you want a latte", you can reply "Set" meaning OMG Yes Please Hurry and Get It! Lol
This one is a strange one so I apologise in advance.
A lot of people in Fiji (not all) will refer to expats in Fiji, and tourists for that matter, regardless of what country they're from as "Europeans". Whilst an Aussie expat or an American expat will not think of themselves as "European", once you understand that it is you, or your New Zealander friend they're referring to, then conversations can move a bit faster.
I am laughing as I type because this is so trivial. However, after you've spent two hours in conversation with your new Fijian friend and they're trying to give you insight into someone who can help you, or someone you should meet, or someone you've already met - but the only distinguishing factor is that they're 'European', you will thank me for telling you this.
Yes, this did happen to us a few times at the beginning of our Fiji journey. When we realised we laughed at how stupid we must have seemed to our new friend.
'You know the European woman who wears the pink skirt, she has a daughter your child's age, she can help you with swimming lessons'
'Who is she?'
'The one you were talking to yesterday - the European one'
'Who? No I wasn't talking to anyone from Europe'
'Yes you were, she was the European one'
'No, I don't think so!' and blah blah blah
I guess to finish off this post, I just want to say that we’ve had a lot of adventures in Fiji simply just going about our everyday normal life living as a family in Suva. It's these things that in the moment may frustrate or annoy you, but I can promise you wholeheartedly that you will sit back at some point and really laugh. You will realise it is these moments that made your stay in Fiji so fun and so memorable.
If you are moving to Fiji as an Expat, my biggest piece of advice to you is to take each moment as it comes because it is inevitable that life will be different to what you are used to. Culture shock may occur, and it is going to take time to settle in and get with the Fiji flow of things, but once you do life is Fiji is great.
And lastly, Fijians don't take themselves too seriously so I can promise you that there will be a lot of laughs with your new friends if you are willing to adapt to the culture and change your pace of life.
Good luck with your move to Fiji - living in Fiji is amazing.
And please don't forget to let me know how you go once you get there!
Hello there! It's SJ here - did you find this post helpful? Or enjoy reading it? Please scroll down just a little bit and leave me a comment. I will really appreciate it! Have you read my post "5 things I wish I knew before going to Fiji" it may help you once you arrive in Fiji, and if you are arriving into Nadi International Airport check this post out.
Happy day to you, much love and Fiji rain (in Suva) or Fiji sunshine (in the West) to you, SJ x