The Insurmountable Picture Hanging Project

The one huge downside about being an expat is that you have to move to get to wherever your assignment is. And the one huge downside about moving, at least for me, is that you have to hang your pictures all over again. That’s right, in my mind it surpasses visa trouble and cultural barriers to sit right at the top of the pain-in-the-ass list of expat existence. I cannot tell you how often we’ve had to hang these same pictures, every time on a set of differently configured walls, to the point where I cannot even look at them anymore.

But what’s even worse here in South Africa, similar to Singapore, is that the walls seem to be made from titanium. When you go at them with something as obvious as a hammer and a nail, they practically laugh in your face. All you will accomplish is a stash of bent nails and walls that look like you’ve just survived the siege of Stalingrad. I almost cry when I think back to those cooperative American dry walls that are so soft you can practically push in a nail with your bare thumb.

So when I recently gave Noisette some photo canvas prints for his birthday – and when after about a month they were still standing in exactly the same place, attracting both dust and accusing stares from my housekeeper – I once again decided it was time to pull out our trusted tools of picture-hanging, South-African style:


Yep, you really do need a drill. To make the hole you’re then going to stick the nail in. And a vacuum cleaner for all the mess you’re creating. And some spackling paste for fitting the hole around the nail in case it is too wobbly. I realize that I can’t offer this as one of my expat tips, because it sounds way crazy, but honestly, it is the only way we’ve gotten this to work. We tried that Hilti tool and those special nails it comes with, but that was just as bad as a regular hammer and nail, just more expensive.


Making progress

It took about two hours of measuring, levelling, marking, drilling, vacuuming, hanging, and adjusting, but it was all worth it for the final outcome, I think:


It took me three trips down to our garage to put away all the picture-hanging gear. It feels good to be done and for all I care that drill can rot in hell for the next two years. But I know it won’t last. We are bound to forgive and forget and fall in love with a new piece of art all over again.

By the way, I will offer this tip: take photos of all your walls back home before packing up. It will help to know how you arranged your pictures the last time, even if the rooms are now different, and save time on planning the new layout.

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