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For the folks in-country
Ask us how we like living here.
As an American expat living in Germany, I get this a lot. In the beginning, the question seemed like a good opportunity to socialize, but four years later, I can tell you it’s not.
First, it’s a loaded question, the subtext reading: Hello, foreigner, person who doesn’t belong here, humor me with your thoughts about my country. Thanks, but I’d rather go home and clean my oven.
I’m not singling out Germany. Every country has these small-minded people who like to play the role of ‘host’ or ‘representative’ of the entire country when they encounter a foreigner. To be fair, some genuinely are curious to know what we think. When they ask, I say, “Most often it’s great, but sometimes it’s not.”
Ask us how long we’ll be staying here.
“Forever! I like it here, remember? [Crazed laughter.] I live here. This is home now!”
As a legal resident, we have as much right to be in this country as you do. And not to sound like a dick or anything, but quit hassling us. We aren’t crashing on your couch. We’ll stay in the country until we leave. We don’t know how long that’ll be, but for now, we’re staying, so please stop asking.
Ask us where we’re from before getting to know us.
This is an old trick, designed to slot individuals into some preconception of a nationality. Because I wear a lot of tweed and never go anywhere in sneakers (except the park), people rarely peg me as American. “England,” they’ll guess. Usually I’ll answer China. Not because I’m ashamed to tell these people I’m American, but because I know what they’re doing and I choose not to participate. If I get strange looks, it’s not my fault. I didn’t put those ideas in their head.
Ask us if we miss family and friends.
Yes, of course, but this is part of expat life, and that’s why God invented Skype.
For the folks back home
Ask us if we’ve eaten dog / cat / scorpion / etc.
The secret’s out: People from other cultures eat more than just chickens and cows. The sooner folks back home come to terms with this the better.
Just to set the record straight, while living in Asia, I’d sometimes order using the Point and Pray method (no English menu available) and though I can’t be sure, I think I once ate cat. It was very light, this meat — spongy in a way I’d never experienced. It tasted a bit like chicken, but then again what doesn’t?
Ask us what it’s like living under a king / queen / communism / socialism / etc.
We could talk politics or the word on the street, but you can learn a lot by the way governments regulate the internet.
In China, for example, the Communist party monitors people for “inappropriate” behavior, and censors “vulgar” content, which, roughly translated, is “any body part sexier than an elbow.” In America, on the other hand, porn pops up automatically, and corporations monitor your online behavior so they can mail you coupons. In Germany, you can download any TV show or movie you want. However, a month later, you’ll receive an official letter in the mail with lots of scary red ink and a €600 fine.
All effectively control behavior, just in different ways. As an expat, I find humor in the contrast. But as a human being, they’re all kinda unsettling.
Threaten to leave the country if [insert political event] happens.
This one was popular on Facebook when America’s healthcare reform thing was going on. People I attended elementary school with (folks who never left the States) posted this and I thought, Really? You gonna escape to Canada?
People become expats for many reasons, but I’m calling bullshit on this one. Chances are, if you can speak out against the politicians in your country (on Facebook, no less) without fear of a government agent knocking on your door, you don’t need to flee the country. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for freedom of speech — as an American, that’s your right — I just hope Obamacare will extend health care coverage to morons.
Don’t know geography.
While it’s rude to whip out your phone while talking to someone, if it’s to look up on a map the place we’re telling you about, we’ll forgive you. But, please, don’t comment on our photos with: “So, where in the world is Maastricht, anyway??”
Here’s a quick tutorial: Step 1: Type your question into Google. Step 2: Press enter.
[Hint: Repeat this process for EVERY PLACE you don’t know.]
Explain why you can’t visit.
You said you’d visit “someday,” but we get it, bro. Money is tight. Bad economy. Besides, we know you totally had to splurge for those tickets to see Phish at Madison Square Garden…both nights. You’ve only been to like, what, 134 shows? We totally understand why you couldn’t put that money toward a plane ticket.
If you must make up an excuse, whatever you do, please don’t tell us you can’t visit because you can’t leave the dog. Getting passed up for an animal that licks its own ass is a surefire way to feel invalidated as a family member.
Expect us to attend your life event.
So, you’re getting married…in Minnesota…in January…and you sent us the announcement over Facebook? Bless your heart.
I’m sorry, but please don’t expect us to drop everything and fly back for your life event. Especially if we haven’t spoken since the Bush administration. And I know it sounds cruel, but unless you’re immediate family, we probably won’t attend your funeral either. Missing some life events is, unfortunately, part of expat life.
When I was growing up, if the phone rang, you answered it. But not anymore. When we call and get sent to voicemail, this is what we imagine you doing:
OMG!!!!! A strange number is calling me. Is it a terrorist? What do I do?! I know, push ignore. Whew, that was close. Good thing I didn’t — wait, there’s a message. [Hears voice of friend overseas] Oh, no, I should have answered it. I’ll answer next time — But how will I know it’s him/her? Strange numbers make me SO…SCARED….
Quit being a pussy. When your phone rings, answer it, and revel in the thrill of being a risk taker.