You’re An Expat

Travelling is often a very selfish act. You choose when you want to go, what you’d like to see and how long you’d like to go for. Often as travellers we underestimate just how much our arrival is going to affect the local population. If you’ve ever stood at the bottom of the Borobodur temple in Yogjakarta and watched a bus load of tourists arrive – you’ll know what I mean. Like fresh meat ready to be devoured, key rings, bicycles and postcards are pushed into faces with the hope of a quick sale to feed a family. We clamber over ancient ruins and shuffle through historic tunnels, visit markets and drink on side streets – trying to learn the rules as we go along. And then we disappear with a memory stick of selfies and a suitcase full of washing, ready to head back to our everyday lives.

Unless you’re en expat.

Things are a little more permanent when there’s a resident stamp in your visa. The locals are your work colleagues and fellow parents at the school. You have a vested interest in the price of gas and what’s happening with the roadworks out near the new business district. You’re following the news of the virus that’s now confirmed to be transmitted by humans just over the border with great detail, and your decision to tip the waitress is not a one off moment of generosity – she’s become part of the weekly routine, you know the details of her family.

The expat is the opposite to the one night stand or the quick fling – she/he’s the long term relationship. The one you’re going to have to introduce to your parents and choose a new couch with. There’s the usual honeymoon period, the flutter of excitement and the sweaty palms of new discoveries – and then things inevitably begin to get comfortable. You’ve sat in your expat location in your tracksuit pants watching series three of Downton Abbey while scoffing imported chocolate from home.

You could be anywhere.

As you load the next lot of podcasts full of accents just like yours because you can’t bear the local radio, you begin to wonder if  technology has allowed you to be so connected, that you’ve disconnected from this local life. The call to prayer distracts you from your thoughts as you watch a man in a thobe make his way in the desert heat to the mosque.

No. You’ve just settled in, made yourself more comfortable. You’re not a tourist, you’re not a local – you’re a little bit of both. You’re an expat.

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