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Knowing if one has what it takes to be an expat
Old 08-14-2011, 12:39 AM   #1
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Knowing if one has what it takes to be an expat

First off, I don't know what it takes to be an expat but almost three years into this adventure has given me some clues. Any of you expats have clues that applied to you?

Googling turned up many self assessment check lists. Most of them seemed too general to allow for self evaluation when I read them before making the decision to leave the US. I've been realizing and writing down specific situations where such general principles can be applied.

First one came about from a frequent comment by expats about traffic in the Phils. The most frequent words used to describe it were chaos and chaotic. I knew it wasn't chaos otherwise they accident rate would be an order of magnitude above what it was.

Here's the test one can take while on vacation someplace where the driving conventions* are different than in one's home country. Observe traffic from both the side of the road and on public transit. Deduce some rules. Observe again to confirm the rules. Ask yourself if you could live with this without voices constantly screaming in your head things like 'you're all insane', 'We're all going to die', 'why don't you idiots do it the right way', or the most insidiously harmful to life as an expat 'if they just did <fill in the blank> instead of <fill in the blank> everything would be so much better'.

* I wrote 'conventions' because it doesn't matter if the drivers are following the laws or following the local customs regardless of the law. Either one is a set of conventions.
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Old 08-14-2011, 04:31 AM   #2
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As a temporary, 'employment expat', (7+ years in Saudi Arabia), I adopted the presumption that everyone else on the road was making a concerted effort to kill me, and undertook appropriate evasive maneuvers.

Although I've never played a video game I imagine that the experience was similar to being inside one.
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Old 08-14-2011, 04:58 AM   #3
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As someone who has spent 20% of my life away from the US - I would also add that once you get accustomed to the expat location, going back to the US can be culture shock, too.....I got flipped off 4 times on the same short drive in northern CA when I came back - sigh. I have to remember to be a different aggressive/defensive drive when in the US.
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Old 08-14-2011, 06:38 AM   #4
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If you go to a place in the world where they do things differently and say to yourself "hmm, that's interesting. lemme try that" you can live well as an expat. OTOH, when seeing some different, if you say to yourself, your spouse and your co-workers "these people have that all wrong" it's probably going to be a painful adjustment.

Another sign of a difficult expat lifestyle is food. If you are in a foreign city, see a KFC or McDonalds and think to yourself "hmmm, I now have a place to eat" that's not a good sigh. OTOH, if your first thought is "jeez, you can't get away from these places", then you have potential for expat success.

For me the acid test is the traffic police. If you can hold your own with them then you are a true expat.
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Old 08-14-2011, 07:57 AM   #5
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I knew it wasn't chaos otherwise they accident rate would be an order of magnitude above what it was.
If this is an important issue in your lifestyle then I'm not sure it matters where you live...
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Old 08-14-2011, 11:09 AM   #6
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Old 08-14-2011, 11:34 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Nemo2 View Post
As a temporary, 'employment expat', (7+ years in Saudi Arabia), I adopted the presumption that everyone else on the road was making a concerted effort to kill me, and undertook appropriate evasive maneuvers.

Although I've never played a video game I imagine that the experience was similar to being inside one.
I'm glad you didn't go to Pakistan when you were considering it a while back, even though this "video game orientation" might have been a good adaptive maneuver there. NOT my cup of tea.

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Another sign of a difficult expat lifestyle is food. If you are in a foreign city, see a KFC or McDonalds and think to yourself "hmmm, I now have a place to eat" that's not a good sigh. OTOH, if your first thought is "jeez, you can't get away from these places", then you have potential for expat success.
Exactly! Some people will spend thousands of dollars to travel somewhere and yet they bring their home with them through their attitudes.

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As someone who has spent 20% of my life away from the US - I would also add that once you get accustomed to the expat location, going back to the US can be culture shock, too.....I got flipped off 4 times on the same short drive in northern CA when I came back - sigh. I have to remember to be a different aggressive/defensive drive when in the US.
The same is true within the U.S. If you move to rural southern/middle America and whine about not having a Trader Joe's, Ikea, or Costco nearby, you probably aren't a good candidate for living as an expat.

If you move to urban east/west coast areas and still expect people in oncoming cars to wave at you and stop to let you turn left in front of them (like they do in some parts of the South), then you probably aren't a good candidate for living as an expat.

If you move to Hawaii and still pronounce it "Ha-wie-yah", or to New Orleans and still pronounce it "New Orleeeeenz", then I give up. (Hint: If your pronunciation of "Orleans" has three syllables, or your pronunciation of "Hawaii" includes a marked glottal stop, you are probably on the right track).
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Old 08-14-2011, 11:50 AM   #8
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I'm glad you didn't go to Pakistan
I was in Pakistan in 1963.....down through India, thence Sri Lanka, (then Ceylon...been there 3 times)..........last time I was in Sri Lanka, (1985), my late wife & I rented a car and drove pretty much all over.

At one point we encountered an Australian family who had hired a car & driver......the Aussie said "You've gotta be game, driving yourselves"....if the Sri Lankan driver hadn't been standing next to him I'd've said that I felt a lot safer with me driving than a local!

Which reminds me of arriving at work one morning in Riyadh to find a flattened Toyota Landcruiser in the parking lot........I asked the Irish guy who was in charge of the vehicles what happened........"Sure, and didn't your man try to use the roof as a brake" was his response.

Keep your sense of humor is rule one for expats.
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Old 08-14-2011, 11:58 AM   #9
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Oops, sorry Nemo2! It was Ed The Gypsy, not you, who was considering Pakistan recently. That's what happens when I post while still half asleep

Amazing stories.
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Old 08-15-2011, 05:42 AM   #10
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The same is true within the U.S. If you move to rural southern/middle America and whine about not having a Trader Joe's, Ikea, or Costco nearby, you probably aren't a good candidate for living as an expat.
If the whining is brief, followed by exploring your new location to see what it offers instead of what it doesn't, I disagree. But if one can't let it go that they can't get good | decent | any <blank> where they live then you will hate being an expat. Or moving to a different region of the states.


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If you move ... to New Orleans and still pronounce it "New Orleeeeenz", then I give up.
My mama was born in the Crescent City. She called it 'Nahhhlins'
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Old 08-15-2011, 05:56 AM   #11
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If you go to a place in the world where they do things differently and say to yourself "hmm, that's interesting. lemme try that" you can live well as an expat. OTOH, when seeing some different, if you say to yourself, your spouse and your co-workers "these people have that all wrong" it's probably going to be a painful adjustment.
That's the sort of general advice I've seen for prospective expats. Not sure it works very well if people think of themselves as being adaptable and open minded. It's being adaptable and open minded that counts, especially when the new culture hits too many of one's hot buttons at the same time. It's one thing to stand in a line, notice the inefficiencies and let it go. It's another, for example, to watch drivers run over puppies in the road with same amount of concern that I have when I realize I'm about to step on an ant. Or to see it and then talk about it with a local who knows English, only to find he doesn't understand why you are bothered.
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Old 08-15-2011, 06:27 AM   #12
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That's the sort of general advice I've seen for prospective expats. Not sure it works very well if people think of themselves as being adaptable and open minded. It's being adaptable and open minded that counts, especially when the new culture hits too many of one's hot buttons at the same time. It's one thing to stand in a line, notice the inefficiencies and let it go. It's another, for example, to watch drivers run over puppies in the road with same amount of concern that I have when I realize I'm about to step on an ant. Or to see it and then talk about it with a local who knows English, only to find he doesn't understand why you are bothered.
My post wasn't advice for prospective expats, it was just giving a short answer to this
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Any of you expats have clues that applied to you?
I have known hundreds of expats and was one myself for over two decades. It's not just US folks moving abroad, either, as people relocating to the US often have difficulties as well. BTW, your puppy example is disturbing.
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Old 08-15-2011, 08:02 AM   #13
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Embracing the culture and considering "not like back home" to be a good thing are two attributes to success.
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Old 08-15-2011, 08:03 AM   #14
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BTW, your puppy example is disturbing.
Having had to kill a kitten whose back half was deliberately squashed by a Saudi who ran over it, (again deliberately), such incidents may be disturbing, but they are by no means unheard of.
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Old 08-15-2011, 08:52 AM   #15
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Nemo, you have my sympathies. I've been witness to callous behavior here in the States, but it is rare and unusual, unlike in many parts of the world where life is not necessarily precious.

I don't have what it takes; and I know it. But the one place that resonated really strongly with me and made me pause to consider it was Mongolia. I am sure that I would find much frustrating about the post-Soviet bureaucracy there as well as the temperature extremes, but the gentleness of the people was incredible.

I saw 6 cars lock up their brakes on a busy main street in Ulaan Baatar to let a stray dog cross the road. I saw a man so drunk that he was more off the horse than on it be carried carefully across a busy road by his trusty horse in the wake of the Nadaam celebrations, I saw two women dressed to the nines strolling around during Nadaam, followed a few paces back by their menfolk, dressed in military uniforms and cradling tiny infants in their arms. I also saw meat animals, including the sheep destined for our dinner one night, being gently and without inducing terror, killed with such skill that she didn't make a sound.

There were many other moments that gave me a glimpse into the basic kindness of the Mongolian people, but these were at least a few examples.
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Old 08-15-2011, 10:29 AM   #16
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This reminds me of a story

A Brazilian friend was assigned to the Venezuelan sub as an executive – a “clean up the mess” role. He was a friendly guy, super-salesman type, thought he could talk his way out of any situation, and loved to improvise. As a child he lived a few years in Colombia and spoke Spanish with a passable accent – but it was quite rusty.

On the first day he assembled the management team to introduce himself and give a speech – a pep talk. His intended points were

Quote:
You people are smart and capable
This company and the country need people like you
I’m here to help you succeed
However, his Spanish vocabulary was weak and he didn’t do any prep work for the speech. Like I said – he loved to improvise. So his first day on the job, he told the management team in his best "Portuñol" (spanish / portuguese mix)

Quote:
You all have testicles or you wouldn’t have been hired
You all can be castrated
Your castrated parts have market value
I will work hard to make that happen
The day ended well because Venezuelans have a great sense of humor and he was the first to laugh at himself.

Mixing cultures often creates embarrassing and unusual situations. One important quality is being able to laugh at oneself and not take things too seriously.
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Old 08-15-2011, 10:33 AM   #17
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That is fantastic, Michael! I can just imagine the look on their faces!

I was having a party a few years ago and wanted to order fresh taco shells from our favorite Mexican restaurant. I thought (and still have no idea why) I need to ask the owner about ordering them in Spanish. So I painstakingly crafted and delivered this message to him, to his and everyone's eternal amusement: "Please may I order 100 corn skeletons?"
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Old 08-15-2011, 11:08 AM   #18
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Great story Michael. As an expat living in the USA I could go on for hours about the language gaff's that I have made.
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Old 08-15-2011, 12:03 PM   #19
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My mama was born in the Crescent City. She called it 'Nahhhlins'
There isn't just one way to say it, although all seem to agree that "New Orleeeenz" isn't it. After living here for almost 16 years, my own observations are in agreement with the following assessment from a lifelong New Orleans native:

Quote:
First off, <new or-LEENS> is generally a no-no. It's like putting a big, red neon sign on your head that says, "I'm not from around here."

Here are the major standard local pronunciations of the City's name: <new OR-l@ns>, <new AW-l@ns>, <new OR-lee-'@ns> <new AH-lee-@ns>, <nyoo AH-lee-'@ns>. The fabled "N'Awlins", pronounced <NAW-l@ns>, is used by some natives for amusement, and by some non-natives who think they're being hip, but actually I've come across very few locals who actually pronounce the name of the City in this way.
How to pronounce New Orleans? - Yahoo! UK & Ireland Answers

Most of my friends and neighbors who are lifelong natives pronounce it <nyoo AH-lee-'@ns>, as do I. It's kind of halfway between AW and AH I guess. And also, it has to have a particular rhythm/cadence. But really, there are many pronunciations of it and they vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and by economic class as well. Just don't say "New Orleeeenz" (<new or-LEENS>) and you should be fine.

And as Nords can tell you, the pronunciation "Haw-wie-yah" is equally disdained in the Islands. Part of acclimating to a new culture is learning pronunciations and words that may seem new or strange.
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Old 08-15-2011, 12:18 PM   #20
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Ask yourself if you could live with this without voices constantly screaming in your head things like 'you're all insane', 'We're all going to die', 'why don't you idiots do it the right way', or the most insidiously harmful to life as an expat 'if they just did <fill in the blank> instead of <fill in the blank> everything would be so much better'.
If everyone else is driving like drunken lunatics then perhaps you should adopt that style.

Don't think of it as a challenge. Think of it as an opportunity.
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