Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Expat Profiles - New Expats

This is the fourth in a series on Profiles of Expats. I hope to show the good, the bad and the ugly side of expat personalities. You may know them, you may have seen them or you might be one yourself. Disclaimer: These characters are not based on single individuals, but on composites of people I've met over the years.

Disclaimer: I have lived as an American Expatriate for more than 10 years in several locations and come across numerous “characters” in my travels. However, this is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

New Expats:

Just when you thought the wonderful expat life you were leading in an unknown sleepy Gulf Emirate was “our little secret,” planeloads of fresh, green expats start arriving en masse. The news got out! Didn’t you notice the sudden appearance of imported “American beef,” the Miracle Whip and more Starbucks? You didn’t notice the build-up in traffic? No, it’s not more people buying new cars, it’s new people buying more cars. You were sitting on a rainbow and so oblivious you didn’t notice the barbarians at the gate. It’s a wake up call to you, because a change is gonna happen and it ain’t gonna be pretty. You are so screwed! They are crashing your party!

Yeah, you were green once too, but this bunch is different. Though many of them will be sidelined by symptoms similar to Baku belly, after two weeks of worshipping the porcelain throne, they’ll be clearly spotted sporting panama hats, cruise wear, gaudy gold bangles from the souk, and snapping their fingers at the hotel beach club waiters, while now worshipping the sun. The newcomers think they’re the “neo-colonials.” Visions of the Raj dance through their heads, even though they’re not British. They are snotty, demanding, rude, impatient, and showy. To sum up their situation, a couple of sayings come to mind: “big hat, no cattle,” (but a lot of bull) or “all flash, no cash” (nor class for that matter.) Most expats who are brought in as secondees get an uplift in pay for hazardous (yeah, we all know how hazardous hanging out at the beach can be) duty, full tuition for one of the numerous international schools, free housing possibly in a large villa or apartment, money to hire out domestic help, no interest car payments, and they think they’re God’s gift to the locals (and everyone else.) As The Church Lady used to say sarcastically, "how special!” They’re so full of themselves and the wonderful life they’ve fallen into, they ignore many of the basic principles of arriving in a new culture. They’re nouveau riche and quite suddenly at that. Oh hell, they not only ignore the basic principles, they throw them in the trash.

Mind you, there are no written pamphlets on how to live abroad unless you read up on culture shock and the territory/locale yourself. Still, that’s no substitute for real life experience in the area where you’re moving, and that’s not included on the moving form you get telling you what you can and cannot take. And if you’re a know-it-all ignoramus to begin with, well, then you’re in for a major surprise.

Many newcomers have never even had passports before, much less traveled out of Texas, Kansas or the Outback. They’ve heard stories about how wonderful life is in these new lands, in the same vein as “Go west young man.” They know not of the red taped Catch-22’s they are about to endure. Most newbies very rapidly find that they are not the big fish in the sea, but one of the many bottom feeders fighting for leftovers, picking what meat is left off the bones. They make a profound discovery that they are not Kemosabe and the locals are not Tontos. They heard, they came, but were not the first to conquer.

They bring with them all the baggage they intended to leave at home – false hopes, secrets and fears.

Fears are number 1 with new expats. Before they left they had an earful of “are you nuts?” and “You’re crazy!” and “They’ll slice your throat ear to ear.” Fear of terrorism makes them suspicious of anyone acting suspiciously different. They will be the first ones pounding down the embassy doors, if they ever get that close, when a crisis emerges. (Just an F.Y.I. for anyone who has not lived abroad: The American Embassy will be closed during a crisis or emergency – they’re saving their own asses, sweetheart!) The new expats will be the ones demanding marines at the entrances of the school, 20 foot barbed wire fencing around the school, and, by the way, a few Patriot Missiles would make them feel so much safer.

These people will hang on to their new world by the skin of their teeth, if need be. They are more than willing to take the leftovers, the scraps, whatever’s left for dinner. They thrive on what has been created before their arrival and they're greedy about it too. They will squander all their money on making themselves look good, buying expensive jewelry, boats, multiple private beach club memberships, weekends at the Burj Al Arab, Dubai – things they could never afford back in their home countries. When it’s all said and done, they will return home, take out loans for their children’s college expenses, will have forgotten how to keep house and with little saved. They come for the here and now. They don’t care about the past or the future – just about the “me.”

Favorite Sport: Sun Bathing

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