I’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.
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.)
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.
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
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.