Nine Expats You’ll Meet Abroad

movingI’ve just about recovered from June’s flurry of going away parties and leaving teas, yet here we are, only at the autumn break and they’re starting up again. Yesterday I dutifully put on my boots, my smile and my waterproof mascara to go and say yet another round of good-byes. One of the honorees made a touching speech about how much he has been able to grow as a person during his stint in CPH, and how much of that growth was due to the people he had come to know.

It got me to thinking about how much of your personal experience as an expat depends on the people you meet along the way.

I could write a touching tribute here, but sometimes a little satire goes further. I could do tears, but I’m hoping a little flash of recognition and wry smile will suit the occasion better. On that note, I sat down and came up with the nine expats you’re likely to meet in your time abroad. I’m betting if you’ve spent time outside your homeland, you’ll recognize a few.

Millie the Moaner

Millie is never happy. She can’t find a cereal her kids will eat. She doesn’t like the weather or the people or the way the meat tastes. She moans about the school, the climate, the lack of cleaning products, the local customs, the driving and the fact that everything is done differently. Millie counts down the days until her assignment is up. She spends her time reminiscing about home with her best friend, Connie the Complainer. You will often find the two of them whiling away the hours in perfect disharmony.

Babysitter? Sure! Hold on!
Babysitter? Sure! Hold on!

Greta the Go-To Guru

Greta knows everyone and everything. She can tell you where to get your hair done and who to call if your internet connection goes down. She has six different babysitter recommendations at any given time. She’s a fixture at school, holding court, doling out dollops of intel. She is the one with a phone full of contacts. If you need advice, you go see Greta. If you don’t know who Greta is, just ask. Everyone else does.

Linda the Loner

Like the Yeti, Linda is rarely seen. Her kids take the bus to school and she doesn’t engage in playground chatter nor does she attend any events. Sometimes you can put a vague face to the name but mostly she keeps to herself. When she does show up to coffee mornings or school conferences you often have to admit you can’t remember her name. Those who mention Linda’s name will often be met with a blank stare and a “Who?”

Nancy and Nora the Newbies

Nancy throws herself into anything and everything, stretching herself thin in order to keep herself from worrying that  moving abroad was the worst decision ever. Nora can be identified by the permanent smile she has on her face. Both Nancy and Nora attend all social functions and are often eager and enthusiastic to volunteer. (Side note: this early enthusiasm is usually sucked dry by others. See Millie or Connie above.)

It's your fault we're here!
It’s your fault we’re here!

Betty (or Barry) the Bitter Spouse

Betty (or Barry) hasn’t quite gotten over the fact that they left behind everything they worked for to follow their spouse around the globe. They are bored, don’t know what to do with their time, and that makes them somewhat bitter. Their complaints aren’t as focused as Millie’s; but spending time with Betty (or Barry) often leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth.

Sasha the Serial Expat

Sasha often hovers around the edge of the pack, exuding a BTDT vibe. Not quite world-weary, but definitely not as enthusiastic as Nancy and Nora, Sasha has been around the block too many times to get excited. She has had her fair share of run-ins with Millie, has done a stint as a Greta, may have been a Betty at one point and now sees the benefit of Linda’s lifestyle.

One-shot Wanda

Wanda and family are on a one-time only expat jaunt. In order to make the most of their time, they eagerly sightsee, travel extensively around the region and throw themselves headfirst into their host country’s culture. You will rarely hear Wanda complain, mostly because she is too busy soaking in the surroundings. She’s got a bucket list and she’s not afraid to use it.

Raquel, the Real Housewife Expat
Raquel, the Real Housewife Expat

Raquel the Real Housewife

Raquel is the stereotype of the expat housewife personified. Her speech is peppered with words like massage and maid, tennis and pool boy. She lunches, exercises and never bemoans the cost of a color and cut. Often her spouse travels extensively and Raquel views her lifestyle as payment in kind.

Tom the Token Dad

Tom is given special dispensation because he’s a male. Because of his special status as cock-in-the-henhouse, he is usually either  a.) the center of attention b.) tolerated as a pet project or c.) let off the hook because, well, he’s a Dad.

So, do you recognize anyone you know? I do.

I can see bits and pieces of myself in almost all of the above.

Most of us have embodied the majority of these characteristics at one point or another, which just goes to show you not only how multi-faceted life as an expat can  be but also how much our outlook can change depending on where we are in the Circle of Expat Life.

To the two fellow expats who we celebrated yesterday, may your adventures continue. May the friends you meet next be just as supportive and encouraging of growth as the ones you are leaving behind. Remember, it takes all kinds. Embrace them all.

Except maybe Millie. She’s just a drain.

Happy trails.



For more posts like this, check out There’s Some Place Like Home, Lessons from a Decade Abroad available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle forms!



74 thoughts on “Nine Expats You’ll Meet Abroad

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  1. I think I’ve BEEN all of these (except Tom). When I was moving over, someone told me that accompanying spouses do one of three things:

    Get a job
    Become an alcoholic
    Have an affair.

    I got a job!


      1. Ha ha ha. Not so much. ;-). We have a running joke about pool boys and tennis instructors in our house. Luckily we don’t have a pool and while I used to play tennis, I was more of a McEnroe type fit thrower than a tanned, toned housewife.


    1. My grandmother said the EXACT same thing back in the 50’s…they bounced about after WWII between Austria, Iran and Germany. She actually said there were two options back then, become an alcoholic or get a job. Funny things are still the same.


      1. It’s a pretty lonely existence being in a country where you don’t speak the language. Even though I knew lots of English speakers, it is very isolating struggling to get simple thoughts into words (I once when hysterical in a hardware store when I’d forgotten my French dictionary and couldn’t communicate that I wanted to buy some nails!).

        And there were several folks who DID have affairs. I think it is (strangely) easier to hide the alcoholism.


      2. Elyse, it’s funny (not ha ha, but strange) that you mention affairs. I wonder if the rate of marital infidelity is higher or lower among expats. My husband and I were talking about how if the normal rate holds how that statistically it must mean that various families we know are engaging in extra-marital activities, yet in my time abroad I’ve only heard of one example. I wonder if they’ve done a study….


      3. I knew two for sure and suspected several others. The two I knew were quite matter-of-fact about it, too — as in “of course that’s what you do!”. Strange funny indeed.

        Perhaps you could get a research grant to study it!


  2. Ah, you’ll always be my Greta (Sure, I can recommend Dr. Lucy and let me give you her number!) and I hope I wasn’t too much of a Millie. We’ll always have The Mall of Cyprus (and by that I mean IKEA). x


  3. There are a few more, like Jean, who knows all the locals, integrates, learns the local language, and attends the classes as configured for locals;
    Petra, who stays at ‘home’ with her family for most of the year, who doesn’t understand why her husband might have an affair; and
    Anastasia, who smothers her husband, calls at the office to have lunch with him, and wonders how soon he will be home to kiss the kids goodnight before they go to sleep; etc….


    1. Someone (rightly) called me out for not having any working expats in there–or men (excepting Tom) for that matter. Perhaps we can do a volume II down the line 😉


    1. Diahann, I was going to say that an adolescent, hormonal version would be even worse, but then I realized I’m a pre-menopausalhormonal version of some 😉 I think most of us are somewhere on the spectrum–but that’s life, right? You take the good, you take the bad, you take em both and there you have….(you probably weren’t in the US in the 1980s, were you?)


      1. During the 80’s, Dina, I lived in the U.S., Pakistan, Argentina, the Philippines, and Indonesia- but one thing you could always count on was American TV shows–although back then the episodes would be a few years old when we’d get them. Loved the Facts of Life wherever I got to watch it- and what a catchy intro song. They don’t write them for TV like they used to.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m an expat, but I’m not going back “home”.. My new country is my new home. Been here ten years and no desire to go back. I experience a lot of people like above and try to keep my interaction with them to a minimum.

    I never get people who whinge and moan about things, hide from day to day life or fail to take advantage of their rare experience, rather than finding the joy in their new life. Its a lot like moving state or from one region of the US to another. If you live on the East Coast its Hellmans, on the west its Bestmans.. Some people call it pop, others call it soda, tennis shoes/sneakers, etc…

    Life is what YOU make of it..


    1. True. Having been a Millie Moaner at one point early on in my expat life, I know too well how that negative energy can suck a room of joy in under 60 seconds. The funny thing is, even the people I know who detested where they were found something about it to miss when they left. (And I would venture to say that a lot of these stereotypes would apply to people moving from East Coast to West or Midwest to East ad infinitum….) But you are right. Life is short. Expat life has plenty of ‘downsides’, but a lot more fantastic opportunities. We should all channel One Shot Wanda and make our time the best it can be.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m afraid I might be Linda the Loner. But that’s because I’m a writer and book editor and have to work in my home office all the time. Does that count? I volunteer and run a book club, so perhaps I can blend with the Newbies?

    I enjoy your writing! Thank you for sharing with us!


    1. Thank you, my pleasure! I find myself more Linda than not some days (am working on a novel…for forever..) but I try to make sure I don’t spend too much time by myself. And as we only live 5 minutes from school, I can’t justify the bus ;-).


  6. I just came across your blog for the first time and this post is hilarious! I am an expat as well, Budapest for almost 2 yrs and now Dublin, Ireland. I can definitely relate to these personas!


    1. I think a lot of us that have ‘btdt’ can see bits and pieces of ourselves. But man, sometimes you come across someone who really embodies only one of them and they stand out like a sore thumb, and not always in a great way! I’m really happy you found some humor to relate to and really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Thanks, again! d


    1. Go forth with your bucket list and enjoy!! Lots of ups and lots of downs, but when you get the balance right, it’s pretty awesome! Thanks for taking the time to read and to comment! D


  7. About to share this with an expat forum of over 12,000 mothers! Having been an expat for over a decade, I have been all of these people at some point, I a, just trying to work out which one I am this week….. Thank you for making me laugh.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for taking the time to come over and leave a comment, I really appreciate it! I think most of us have experienced Millie moments and Linda moments when we didn’t want to leave the house and even Greta moments when we felt like, “hey, we’ve got it covered!”. I’m floored and happy the piece has garnered so much response! Thanks again! D


  8. I would say that all of these expats need to find FRIENDS – that is what makes life in any location a joy. But I will say you have made some very interesting behaviour observations. I can also say that a good first impression makes a huge difference and at the end of the day, a successful relocation requires all members of the ‘family’ to settle well.


    1. Oh, I don’t know, I think Greta the Guru and Sasha probably have plenty of friends and Raquel has her tennis partners…;-). This was taking a broad swipe at a lot of stereotypes. I think in the end most of us who have experienced life as an expat have experienced most of these characteristics on a spectrum rather than embodying one or the other. I’m very lucky, I find it fairly easy to make friends and even I had an extremely rough ‘first year out’. I do agree that a successful time out requires all members of the family to settle, but that’s easier said than done as all members of a family experience relocation differently and may be in different phases at different times. In the end, 99% of the repatriated expats I’ve met look back fondly at their time abroad, even if they hated it while they were out. I really appreciate you taking the time to come and comment!


  9. haha that made me laugh! To me it depends how long you have been in a place how your circumstances change. I have seen Millies turn into Gretas within 2 years.


    1. Yes! That’s the best part. Most of us have been more than one of these or at least exhibited characteristics of more than one. And then Gretas turn into Sashas and the whole thing starts all over again. Thanks for coming by to read and leave a comment, much appreciated!


  10. This is just hilarious, I’ve shared it with my expat friends and it’s going around and around. Well written! I’m also a blogger on Expat issues and would suggest you add the Pin button to your images, I’ve shared your article in Pinterest too. Best, Gaby


    1. Thanks, Gaby! Do you mean the images themselves? I’m not even sure I am technologically adept enough to know how to do that–Lisa Luddite for sure.Would love to read about your own experiences, looking forward to checking out your blog. Thanks! D


  11. Love it. I’m a Greta. Long time expat in one spot.
    I could add a few more for my friends. Lol (names changed but you know who you are, hope you can see the funny side.)

    Sonya The soccer mum! Often seen cheering on her children each weekend (3-5 kids who are all extreme natural athletes) . Dodging between fields to make sure each child gets a cheer squad. Rises before the sun 4 times a week to cart the kids to morning swim team and gold medals dangle on each child’s door knob. No time for the normal expat lunches and salons as yet another practice to attend.

    Zem and Zam the Siamese twins. Latching onto to each other in the early days of expat life. A fun duo but one can’t exist without the other. Doing everything together and if Zem can’t join for that long lunch don’t expect to see Zam. (Have met a few of these over the years)

    Gertie the G&T expert and her crew. Often found at very long lunches where the drinks, cigarettes and the gossip flow. Stiff upper lip but conversation that could make a truck stop seem tame. Not unusual to empty the gin bottle at these fun gatherings. Lot of laughs and great friendships to get thru the expat days.


    1. Brilliant, Lek! Thanks! Love the Siamese twin description, I too have seen a similar phenomenon. The Sonya soccer mom one made me laugh because I have become a soccer mom (and surprisingly enjoy it) but….I looked my son in the eye and told him there are certain sports I am not a committed enough mom for–namely things you have to get up super early in the morning for! Though I’ve quit smoking and don’t drink gin myself, I could probably give the gals with the truck stop conversation a run for their money 😉 Thanks. Still chuckling!


  12. We are one year into a two-year tour in Honduras, our first jaunt overseas. I think we are definitely One Shot Wandas (but mostly because I don’t know how often we’ll actually return to Honduras once we finally leave it!) but I am the Pollyanna. Not in a “Nora” sort of way, but because that’s just the way I’ve been my whole life!


    1. Oddly, the older I get, the more Pollyana I become—probably until I reach 65, then it’s all downhill negativity again ;-). In a way I envy the one shot Wandas of the expat world. My first year in Cyprus was not easy, and a lot of that was because we had no idea how long we were going to be there. Had I known we had an ‘expiration date’, I would have been able to relax a bit more I think and really enjoy the things there were to enjoy. At least that’s what I tell myself!


    1. Thank you! I am a bit peeved I never really got the chance to be a one-shot Wanda, I envy their enthusiasm! Hope you find some other bits and pieces around to relate to! D


  13. Hehe, I love this. This is my first time abroad, so I think I’m more of the one-shot Wanda type. I’m in Slovenia right now, and life is really wonderful here. This is the first of many tours, so I’m sure I’ll be able to see myself in several of these personalities as time goes on.


    1. I think the key to a successful ‘career’ as an expat is to recognize that you are going to likely be all of these things at one point of another. But you sound like you’re off to a wonderful start, realizing how lucky we all have it to have this amazing opportunity! Good luck and hope to see you back here!


  14. Great observations. And those of other commenters as well. Have you met the Special Sams? They are the ones who thrive on being foreign to the locals. They love being the only one who is different and unique thus they shun going home and avoid fellow foreigners at all costs.


    1. Thanks. Oh, Special Sam–that could be oh so many things! But I have certainly run across the type of expat who likes to avoid the expat ‘thang’ and go native as fully as possible. It feels very forced sometimes, for sure.


  15. Hi Dina, leaving in Indonesia for quite a long time, and working as a Parent welcome volunteer in an International; I tend to be the Greta the Guru. I love to discover new places (restaurants, salons, stores, others) to share with the newcomers. Also, I have to say … I had experience the downside of expat living that people tend to take advantage of you when you open your doors and your heart.

    Keep writing… totally meaningful & inspirational


    1. Thank you, Marie! Sorry you’ve had your share of downsides too. Like every other aspect of life, I think it’s essential to find balance as an expat. There are so many wonderful things about it, but there are downsides too. We all need a few Gretas in our experience. It makes it a whole lot easier. I know I am forever grateful to those Gretas I’ve met along the way!


    1. Welcome to the club! It’s amazing (and depressing). It’s full of adventure (and boredom). It’s the best thing you’ll ever do (yet you’ll second guess yourself all the time). In short, it’s life! Enjoy your time abroad!


  16. This was hilarious and so so true! I laughed at your comments about Cyprus and driving, I was an expat brat, grew up and learned to drive there. And now I’m an expat wife. Definitely a Sasha.


    1. Oh my, so you understand the Cypriot driving and parking! I think people think I’m exaggerating when I try to explain it to them. When I wrote this originally, I saw myself in most of the examples (with the exception of Racquel and Tom), but it sounds to me like you’ve found your true calling as a Sasha. Enjoy it!


      1. Ha, I’ve just seen this come around on FB again. Interesting how some readers don’t get they are phases many of us go through, not that we’re a type. I was Greta for years, most recently Sasha, but I’ve just found out I’m moving again and I am definitely ready to be a Linda. It does get a little old after a while.


    1. I have to say, there are more and more Toms, eating away at their uniqueness, but good for the feminist movement. There is even a chapter of SPUDS here (Spoused Traveling Under Duress..) or maybe it’s CHAPS…in any event. I think I’ve been most of these! Sometimes all in one day 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I was such a shitty ex-pat. I assimated and ignored the others; when I spied them from afar. In Japan, especially back in the day (umm . . .during the 1980’s and 1990’s) expecially where I lived, I saw few “outsiders.” I wasn’t helpful nor was I bitter– well a little bit at the end of the second round as I began to feel creeped out by Japanese men in general (a little PTSD on my part!)


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