How to be a Good Expat

Remedial Wife is in the mood for a rant today. So here it is.

The Expat Crowd is, by its very nature, annoying to be around. We’re a bunch of extremely privileged, lucky individuals. Usually well paid, these days not so much. But let’s not forget that we all chose this life. That does not stop many of us from complaining at every opportunity, however.

French expats have a particularly bad reputation for isolating themselves and complaining constantly that, “things are not as good in city X as Paris/Lyon/Calais”. Quite by chance, Mr B and I have found ourselves living in a hotbed of les personnes françaises. Time will tell whether or not the cliché is based on fact but after only 2 trips in the lift last week, Mr B declared himself already irritated, believing as he does that one on one the French are great but  concentrated en masse, unbearable.

It is all well and good to swap tips on where to find the best cheese/bread/bacon/wine/holiday getaway/bar or restaurant. Like the British discussing the weather, swapping this kind of information is the very essence of expat life. The unstated goal, of course, is to introduce those around you to somewhere new, thereby boosting your adventurousness/insider knowledge rating in the eyes of your fellow expats.

Where the ground becomes more shaky is when you meet that certain kind of expat who, for most of the time disdains his fellow foreigners, claiming to live a more “authentic” life. Yawn.

Notable sins of this breed and this trailing spouse’s reaction:

  • Talking loudly about how you only ever speak your native language on those rare occasions when you deign to attend an expat-heavy function=You bore me. Please go back to whatever village outside the 6th Ring Road you claim to live in. Even though I KNOW you live in a chic apartment in Sanlitun (aka Expat Central).
  • Referencing pre-Olympics Beijing, “of course, when I arrived, nobody knew what a German/Australian/French/British person looked like! And, of course, there were no supermarkets! And nobody spoke any English!” = Let me let you in on a little secret: nobody cares.
  • Dismissing the bar/restaurant suggestions of those who are Chinese and/or have lived in the city longer than you = You are rude. And probably missing out.
  • Talking constantly about the best places to pick up a potential tai-tai = Do try to be original. Everyone else is over the expat man + local girl combo. It indicates you are probably extremely lazy, using the local girl as a translator, while she uses you as an ATM. It is not likely to end well.
  • Frequent referrals to the last city you came from = unless you are telling a VERY amusing anecdote OR you arrived less than 3 months ago OR you are talking to another expat who has also lived there, this is just annoying.
  • Making references to some obscure Chinese region/dish/philosopher/linguistic point = you are pretentious. Stop trying to impress. Sometimes it is OK to just go out for a drink without trying to “educate” those around you.

In case it is not already patently clear, a good expat:

  • Helps newbies – particularly with language related stuff . Writing down key phrases or talking to taxi drivers by mobile phone is wonderful. And much appreciated.
  • Is friendly and open and listens to others and offers a sympathetic ear without encouraging any of the annoying behaviours outlined above.
  • Makes at least SOME effort to learn Mandarin but does not boast if they are a natural polyglot.
  • Has a sense of humour.
  • Retains a sense of adventure and willingness to try new things and new places (though not all the time because that is exhausting for the rest of us).

Please pipe up if you can add your own examples.

3 responses

  1. I agree entirely with the two of you concerning the French. We have discovered pretty fast that if French people are extremely annoying in Europe, in the US they become absolutely unbearable: Americans are stupid, the food is crap, everything is shit, this is their mantra. Well, how about going back home? I said it on a couple of occasions. The result is that wife and I are now perpetually banned from the Euro-trash circles of Chicago, which are French dominated.

    And you want to know a secret? We are THRILLED to have been banned. Since then we have met a lot more expats and locals who actually like the place they live in, or at least they make an effort to get to know it and understand it.

  2. It’s such a tough balance sometimes… around other expats I can complain about my frustrations whereas I would never do it amongst the locals, because I would not want to offend them. I guess other expats are seen as a ‘safe zone’ at times. Sometimes the relief of being in an expat crowd makes you act in a way that is totally different from how you would be the rest of the time in your adopted country! Certainly this decreases with time in the new place, but homesickness can intervene… even after a few years!

  3. Pingback: Expat-Friendly Links for July 12, 2009 | Expatify.com

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