A tale of two (stereotypical) expats

Posted on 17/12/2012

In many countries, there is a rigid order within society when it comes to its’ hierarchy. In other words, “Where do you sit on the social scale?” In some areas, expats are not considered that special and can be a “statistical anomaly”. This is particularly true if you’re not wealthy. Wealthy people, it seems, have a culture all their own, no matter where they come from. The “culture” basically says, “I have money. Give me what I want and I will pay you.” Pretty simple. A rich person in one country will tend to get along with a rich person from somewhere else, even though in truth they’re each living in their own world.

But in the world of the less than wealthy expat who is tooling down the road in a used car, things are not that simplistic. A combination of homesickness and confusion can create a situation where the new expat attempts to create their own environment that is out of sync with the rest of the community. Here’s an example:

The middle-class hermit

This particular expat acts as if they are being hunted by Interpol and/or Mossad. You’ll see them make an appearance at a restaurant or in a duty free store. It’s only after repeated viewings that it dawns on you that they’re actually your neighbor and they live just down the road (behind the barbed wire and 9-foot vegetation). They will have a very small, select group of friends who come from the same country that they do. Unfortunately, they and their friends have little in common other than keeping up with what’s going on in the motherland and how ridiculous the local culture happens to be. There may be one who will open up a bar where the other expats like to congregate. This works out well, since their wives (if from the local population) don’t really feel like hearing them go on about how things are not as good as where they originally came from.

The world traveller

This particular expat has lived in a number of different locations, throughout the world and enjoys collecting as many experiences as they can. They’ll learn the local language, learn to appreciate the local cuisine and document their experiences better than National Geographic. This happy individual truly delights the locals who are usually surprised that they’re not over in the expat bar describing the latest “atrocity” that they have been subject to. 

These are the two extreme points of the scale of the common expats that you may run into. There are many intermediate points in this scale as well, of course. But the most interesting thing is they way they tend to evolve along a rather predictable path.