Nine (More) Expats You’ll Meet Abroad

Victoria the Veteran Victoria has seen generations of expats come…and go. She’s been around long enough that she’s practically part of the furniture. She knows her way around, navigating not only the place, but the relationships that make up the place. Vic has ten different toes dipped in ten different circles–because she knows just how fleeting expat friendships can be. Some think she’s ice-cold because the constant goodbyes don’t seem to faze her, but it’s more that years on the scene have hardened her….just a little.

Freak-out Frannie. Frannie finds it hard to breathe deep and…relax, no matter how many hot yoga classes she signs up for. It doesn’t matter how smooth things seem to be going, there’s always cause for a freak-out. If it’s not the math curriculum, it’s the school lunches. Or something on the news. Or the cost of living. Or the way the traffic light doesn’t give you enough time to cross. The local propensity for liberally dropping the f-bomb into conversation sends her into convulsions. Her heart’s in the right place–it’s just always beating too fast, set to semi-permanent outrage mode.

Homesick Harriet  Harry gets monthly parcels sent from home, keeps up all her magazine instructions at exorbitant prices, and subscribes to whatever local cable package that lets her watch her favorite shows. She travels home at every given opportunity and brings food back in her luggage. She shops online–from stores in her own country. First-year Freyas are usually half-Harriet by default, but true Harriets never really embrace living abroad, they always have one foot where they’re living and another one firmly planted at home.

Traveling Tony It’s a stretch to call Tony an expat, as he’s usually not in town long enough to sleep in his own bed more than three nights in a row. Tony usually heads up family of ‘lifeboat expats’–women and children only–who stay behind in one place while he plies his trade all over the globe. Sometimes it’s hard for Tony’s spouse to convince others he actually exists. Perhaps those wedding photos you see when you go to their amazingly furnished house are just props after all?

Never-Going-Back Niamh. Niamh, like many expats, was skeptical at first, but took to expat life like a fish outta the Atlantic and relocated to the Pacific. So much so that Niamh never plans on going back home. Ever. In fact, Niamh will do anything, including moving internationally three times in a year, just to avoid it. Whether it’s the life, the opportunities, or the bonds, Niamh has embraced life as expat to the fullest extent and you’ll have to pry it out of her cold, dead hands.

Repatriating Rena–While Niamh settles in for a life of transient relocation, Rena is getting ready to move home and experiencing the nausea of the repatriation rollercoaster. Whether she’s been gone one year or ten, life outside has made her question what life will like back ‘inside’. Will she re-fit in? Will her kids be ok? Rena’s worries often gets lost in the two-step expat shuffle because people assume going home is easier….but as Rena worries, it may be anything but.

Pam the Polyglot A round in Russian? Да! A stint in Shang-hai? 好! A post in Paraguay? Si! Pam picks up the local language wherever she lands–and not just enough to order a coffee and a cup of the Bolshoi borscht. Pam can carry on conversations with the locals, understand and answer when folks stop her on the street, and get around by taxi no problem. Pam’s linguistic gymnastics often make her English-speaking compatriots feel guilty for not trying harder-the ones who rely solely on their mother tongue to get by without making much of an effort beyond nej, tak…

Superiority Complex Sam Sam never has a good word to say about the place she’s landed. Not one. Oh sure, there’s nothing an expat coffee klatch likes more than a little bitch about little annoyances and cultural quirks, but Sam’s insults take a much broader focus. There’s nothing about her adopted country that suits her, everything is better where she comes from.

Fay the Fantasy Fay is the expat we all aspire to be…and fail miserably at. The one who settles in with ease. Who speaks the language within months. Who has no trouble finding the expensive cheese she likes at the market in Uruguay that doesn’t even sell cheese. She travels extensively, her kids are involved in local sports programs, and she still Skypes her family back home twice a week. She takes every shock that a new culture sends up her spine with a smile and can pack up her family and move at the drop of a hat. With grace. Fay doesn’t really exist outside our collective expat imagination–but it doesn’t stop us from wanting to be her anyway.

Since I penned  Nine Expats You’ll Meet Abroad a few years ago, and watched it circulate the globe itself, I’ve cycled through a few more of these stages myself. And some of these as well…Nine Expats You’ll Meet in a Galaxy Far, Far Away. As for where I am now…well, it depends on any given day, really.

More importantly though, which expat are you?



Nine Expats You’ll Meet in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

vintage_victoria_star_wars_portrait_art_prints_3When I heard the news that a scion of our school, the original impetus for Greta the Guru, was packing up and moving at the end of term, I was at a momentary loss. It felt like our community was losing it’s wise, information-rich Yoda. Then I got to thinking (always a dangerous prospect): when it comes down to it, the Star Wars universe is basically just a world full of intergalactic expats. Sure, they move between planets rather than countries, but substitute a heaven for an ocean, the Millennium Falcon for a Maersk Shipping container, and the same principles apply.

Here are nine expats you’re likely to meet in a galaxy far, far away.

Yoda, the all-knowledgable. The grande dame, Dowager Countess of your international galaxy. Yoda has been around so long no one remembers when she got there, she’s just always been there, sitting in a corner. Sometimes she talks in cryptic Yoda-talk, referencing a time long gone populated with strange names you don’t recognize, i.e., before your time. But she’s the one who’s got all the dirt on expats past, present, and possibly future.

Han Solo, the too-cool-for-school rebel. Han’s been around the galaxy a few times. No stranger to long-haul moves, Han’s used to moving at warp speed on short notice, or in the dead of night. A bit cock-sure, a bit swag-a-licious, Han comes across as a little aloof, but the teflon attitude is usually just a by-product of a life hopping from one place to the next. Han doesn’t get too close to others, because at the end of the day, leaving folks behind is tougher than you think.

Darth Vader, the evil head of HR.  You know Darth, the one who wants you to move to Burundi. Tomorrow, in the middle of your kid’s senior year of high school. The one who needs your spouse on the ground in East Timor next week, which is Christmas. The one who seems to be lacking in any humanity in regard to moving small children, pets, and teenagers across borders and seas. Soulless, bleak, and an easy villain to hate.


R2D2, the fun expat from the country you can never remember the name of. You introduce them as Russian when they’re really Ukrainian, or Czech when they are really Slovakian. Azerbaijan? Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan? Tajikistan or was it Turkmenistan? Often their name is a confusing strings of letters you are not used to seeing together and so in your head, you develop a coded nickname. It’s not lack of caring as much as the fact R2 holds a passport from a country that didn’t exist when you were studying 8th grade World Geography.

Obi-Wan, the do-gooder. Obi-Wan is the expat who travels to places most of us have never heard or of have no desire to visit, all in the name of good. Usually attached to an NGO or other international organization, Obi-Wan packs up and heads her family to the deepest jungles and barren plains of places you vaguely hear about on the news–usually related to pandemic outbreaks and civil wars. A slight aura of virtue hangs above Obi-Wan’s head, but most of us happily allow it—because we’re glad it is her and not us.

Princess Leia, the spoiled expat. Chef, gardener, maid? Check. Check. Check. Leia has usually  done at least one stint in Southeast Asia where household help is part of the contract. Sometimes Leia finds herself at a bit of loss when she’s posted someplace where the gardener doesn’t come with the lease. She also looks pretty damn good in a gold, lamé bikini. This is usually due to devoting her days to looking her best.

C3P0, the know it all. Whether c3 has been in six countries or one, this opinionated expat will insist there’s one right way to do things, from moving to assimilating, what to eat or dealing with local custom. Armed with books and articles and surveys and lists, C has processed all of this information and filtered it down to black and white, right and wrong. C is just waiting for someone to slip up to offer an “I told you so.” There’s little room for nuance in C’s bubble, but if you can stomach the sometimes righteous attitude, there’s a whole lot of info in there too.

Rey, the rookie. Rey vacillates between bug-eyed amazement and practiced nonchalance. Her first time out, Rey is desperate to experience everything but doesn’t want to seem too eager. She’s heard the stories, and only half-believes what life as an expat is like. But just because she’s young and green don’t sell her short. Dismiss the new girl and it’s likely you’re missing out on something special.

il_570xN.740908068_ien1Boba Fett, the mercenary. Boba is the expat who takes postings based primarily on the money. Ruthlessly planning their global journey based on the exponential growth of their stock and retirement portfolio, the Fett family bounces from post to post chasing the cash. Hardship duty stations, war-zones, the far-flung corners of the globe. There aren’t many places Boba won’t go if the price is right.

I’m guessing whether your expat time has been somewhere cushy or in a country far, far from home, you’ll recognize a few of these folks from your own journeys, whether they are intergalactic or just plain intercontinental.


Nine People Yule Meet During the Holidays

Holly's sometimes so jolly you want to punch her.
Holly’s sometimes so jolly you want to punch her.

Jolly Holly. Holly puts her green and rose-colored glasses on before Halloween rolls around. By mid-November she’s decked the halls, the walls, and glitter balled the entire place into a winter wonderland. She is so freaking jolly about donning her gay apparel and rocking around the Christmas tree that sometimes you want to punch her in the throat just to stop the fa la la la las.

PC Pat. From pagan partiers to Kwanzaa carousers, Pat is obsessed with making sure no winter festivity is overlooked. Pat is so careful not to offend that she’s managed to take out not only the Christ out of Christmas but the m, the a, and the s as well. Even songs about snow and snowmen are off limits to Pat lest she offend southern hemisphere dwellers with her assumption of snowflakes and scarves. Despite good intentions, Pat’s run out of room on her Festive Cold Season Wishes card and try as she may, she just can’t seem to get Merry Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/Three Kings Day to all, and to all a goodnight to catch on.

Lara the Last Minute Shopper. Every year Lara promises herself it will be different. Every December 1st, Lara swears she won’t wait until the last minute to buy gifts. Every December 23rd Lara finds herself yet again fighting over the last Star Wars Body Wash set and waiting with hundreds of others in hour-long lines to buy the first perfume set she can find and a dented box of salted caramels.

Touch my freaking place settings and I'll sick twelve lords a leaping on you...
Touch my freaking place settings and I’ll sick twelve lords a leaping on you…

Priscilla the Perfectionist Your days will be merry. And bright. Damn it, Priscilla will see to it that all your Christmases are white as well. From turkey with all the trimmings to a table set three days before, Priscilla has a vision and no one, I mean no one, is going to get in her way. She’ll fight you for the frankincense and maim you for the myrrh and woe and behold the shop clerk who tells her they’re out of partridges for her pear tree. Her bells are all silver, her perfume is pine, and she drives herself and everyone around her batty with never attainable vision of the perfect Christmas.

Ellie the Early Bird. The opposite of Lara, Ellie starts stock piling holiday goodies on December 27…for the following year. Marked down gift wrap? Ellie’s got twelve. Scarf and hat sets? She’ll take three, thank you very much. By the end of January Ellie has most of the next year’s shopping done. By August, she’s got everything wrapped and ready to go. By November, she can’t remember what she bought or where she’s stashed it.

Dora the Donator. Dora only wants donations to be made in lieu of gifts. She adheres to a strict no gifting policy for her kids and is rigid in her insistence that the holidays are about helping and giving and not receiving. Instead of gifts, her children help in homeless shelters and collect donations for those in need. Her social media feed is full of links to donate, how to help, and the inner glow that comes from the spirit of giving. Like Pat, Dora means well, but she gets too caught up in cutting the rainforest to save the Christmas tree she forgets that sometimes giving and receiving go hand in hand.

Scratch-ticket Stace. Stace doesn’t stress. Stace doesn’t fret. Stace has one go-to-gift for everyone from her grandma to her mail carrier. One stop at the convenience store, a bag full of dollars and a dream and Stace’s holiday shopping is done and dusted.

Did I tell you about that time under the tree?
Did I tell you about that time under the tree?

Christine, the Christmas Party Confessor. Christine uses the season to get rather merry and bright and confesses to everyone who will listen that it was her you saw kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe last night. Sipping and slurring her way through a month of parties, lunches and jingle balls, Christine has a few bubbles, shows off her baubles and proceeds to tell all. There’s no such thing as silent night when Christine gets going and most of the time, her fellow partygoers are left open-mouthed singing O’ Holy Shite…

Ginny the Grinch. Ginny hates the yuletide season and all its tinsel shedding detritus. The evergreens are ever too green. The festive fun is far too festive. Shopping is hateful and the lines are unbearable. She’ll be cleaning up pine needles in March and oh, the cost of it all. She hates chestnuts, yuletide carols and folks dressed up like Eskimos make her gag. If it were up to Ginny, she’d hitch a ride with a couple of kings, traverse afar and get away in a manger until the new year rolls in.

Let the countdown begin.


Nine Dads You’ll Meet at the Playground

Danny_Thomas_Angela_CartwrightDon’t worry Moms, I wasn’t going to let the Dads off the hook.

My firstborn was a NYC kid until the age of four. Tiny apartments and no backyards = a lot of time spent in the playground. A LOT. Things didn’t change much when we moved abroad. The playgrounds in Cyprus were dusty, the ones in Denmark are designer, but the Dad archetypes are the same wherever you go.

Paul the PC Pusher

Paul makes sure you know how comfortable he is with his son pushing a doll stroller and wearing hot pink. He buys his daughter light sabers and Spiderman water bottles, even though she screams for Barbie. Paul is so hyper attuned to gender neutrality he brings a tutu to the playground just in case his son wants to wear it one day. Almost exclusively caucasian, Paul’s kids often have names like Mandela or She Who Flies with the Moon. Somehow he manages to get the words gay, transgender, multi-cultural and race into just about every conversation. He means well but…

Hal the Hot Mess 

Hal shows up at the playground wearing mismatched socks and stained cargo shorts. He’s forgotten snacks, water bottles, and toys for the sandbox. His diaper bag is held together with duct tape. Hal looks like he’s five minutes away from a social services visit at any given time. Fellow moms are constantly ‘rescuing’ Hal. No Goldfish? No problem, share ours. Messy diaper and no baby wipes? Here, don’t worry, I’ve got plenty. Hot Mess Hal is such a mess he gets mothered more than the kids he’s responsible for.

Gorgeous Geoff

You know who I’m talking about. The model/actor/sports star Dad, or the one who just looks like one. Geoff may have an exotic accent but wherever he’s from he manages to make sweats look….good. He strolls into the playground looking like he’s just done a GQ cover shoot. He has a posse of moms who follow him around, fawning over his every word and an anti-posse who refuse to have anything to do with him; not because he’s not a nice guy, simply because they don’t want to be seen as groupies.

Malcolm the Mr. Mom

Malcolm is so readily and easily absorbed into the group of moms that he talks about labor pains and episiotomies with gusto. Sleep schedules, sore nipples, division of household labor–Malcolm doesn’t shy away from any of it. He is invited out for drinks with the girls, feels right at home in Mommy and Me classes and can bitch about how his spouse doesn’t appreciate what he does with the best of them.


Ed the Enthused

Ed throws himself down the slide, runs through the sprinkler, plays ball with a group of three years olds and draws to scale chalk roads for racing. He spends hours pushing swings, spotting sliders and organizing group games of tag. Among the playground mothers he is generally mistrusted because well…no one really likes doing that stuff, so why does he appear to enjoy it so much? Ed cheerfully spends hours doing what the rest of us feel like we should be doing….but aren’t.

Too Cool For School Raul

Raul shows ups at the playground in skinny jeans and a retro band tee-shirt, looking like he just rolled out of bed. Don’t be fooled, it took him hours. Raul’s child is named Arlo or Patsy or Zepplin or Skynard. He is constantly rubbing his head and yawning and telling everyone who will listen about the amazing band he saw last night. Raul is clinging to the last vestige of cool with his bitten fingernails. He lives in fear of Dad shorts, a braided leather belt and a colonial in Connecticut.


iPhone Ian

Ian is constantly on the phone while at the playground. Pushing swings, catching a ball, refereeing a sandbox scuffle. He’s got half an eye on his kids and half an eye on his phone the entire time, texting, scrolling, reading, talking. Though he’s mastered a diaper change with a phone tucked under his chin, it’s only a matter of time until little Isabella wanders out of the gates or brains another toddler in the sandbox with her shovel while Daddy’s checking the game score or sealing the deal.

George the Grandpa Dad

George is on his second family. George is tired, and gray, and constantly mistaken for little Georgina’s granddad. From the slight hitch of his mildly arthritic knee to the artful silver hue of his hair, George has nothing in common with the younger, more energetic Dads around him. But George has accepted it’s easier just to do what his much younger second wife has told him to do. Publicly he talks about how great it is to have a second chance, how he never got to spend quality time with his older kids. But anyone who is paying attention can hear him inwardly screaming, “I thought it would be different and now it’s exactly the same… only I’m paying alimony to boot.”

10106Dave the Drill Sergeant 

Dave is constantly putting his toddlers through mini-boot camps, barking “encouragement” at them from every piece of play equipment. You can hear Dave’s stentorian shouts of “You can do it! Don’t give up! One more rung to go, don’t quit on me now!” from across the park. Other famous Dave-isms include “Walk it off”, “No child of mine” and “Stitches are for wimps.” Dave’s kids usually have a look of mild terror in their eyes while they swallow their fears and plunge into the abyss of the covered slide.

I’ve come across them all in my decade plus of playground attendance. I’m sure you have too.

Special mention to RB who sent along some truly inspired Dad-types. I wasn’t able to include them here, but I got a huge laugh out of them.