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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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    I lived in Doha last year so completely know what you mean about the radio!

    I try to explain this to my friends and family from home. They want to know all my ‘adventures’, but often my week consists of going to work, going to the gym, reading a book, pottering about the apartment, doing some house work and packing in lunch at the same time as finding time to the shopping on the one day off a week we had. Life goes on.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Ha! Downton Abbey and imported chocolate, guilty as charged! Have even corrupted my 2 daughters along the same path. ABC radio app in the car, but realising I read no African news, have branched out to the BBC world service radio, not on shortwave, but streamed through the internet. Thanks for making me feel a little less guilty about immersion, and sometimes you just need to retreat back to the bubble.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    I maintain there is a third category – travellers. I have a home in the UK where I spend most of my time. But when I go away I buy a flight and hotel for the first few nights, and then work out how to sidestep the tourist trail. I stay for a month (more if I can) in each country – not enough to get under its skin but far more than most tourists see. I may not know the waitress as you know her, but I do much more than clamber over her monuments and buy trinkets!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    I’m new to your blog, and am slowly making my way through – saving some for later 😉 I haven’t lived in such exotic locales as yourself, but having lived in several different countries, this post speaks to me. I’m about to make the move from one corner of the US to another, so I’m preparing myself for that honeymoon rush all over again.

    And you’re so right, technology does change the experience somewhat. The first time I lived overseas – more than ten years ago – it was pretty much just email, reading news from home online, and VERY expensive phone calls back home. Now, social media is all over the place and I’m much more connected with friends and family than before. I do wonder at what cost, though, and whether it’s made me less motivated to go out and forge new friendships here than in the past (or maybe I’m just getting older).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    Expats in the 70’s were hard core. I love hearing old tales of postings in far flung locations. I loved your comment Caroline, exactly how I feel.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    It’s never easy being an expat, is it? But thank goodness we do have all this technology now. It was the only thing that kept me sane all those years living abroad.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15026987107815016616 4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle

    I sometimes have to remind myself to look up in the taxi and take it all in, but nothing seems new anymore and yet there is still so much to see. Definitely loved season 3 of Downton but on to Suits, The Newsroom and The Bachelorette right now…..