Mad Dogs and Ex-pats

Have you ever spent any time in an “exotic” country and noticed how a lot of the expats living there seem a bit odd? (By the way, I say “exotic country” as opposed to “developing country” as the word “developing” doesn’t seem right…I mean, developing into what? Another capitalistic, polluting, consumer society maybe?? But that’s a rant for another time…) Well, it’s the conclusion I have come to after spending some time in Morocco and Egypt. Of course there are some normal people about, but the amount of odd expats to kooky ones seems a bit disproportionate!

I am obviously not the only one who thinks that either. Someone posted this picture of the seaside town of Dahab, Egypt  recently on a local community facebook page and titled it “open air mental hospital”. Dahab is bulging at the seams with expats from all over Europe. Of course it was a joke (kind of).

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So why and how do these Western misfits wash up on exotic shores? Here’s my theory on it.  When I first started spending some time in these places, I ran into expats and was eager to get to know all and any of them and to hear about their lives there and how they fitted in to this new exotic culture they had chosen as a home. But after a while I realized that some of these people were a bit weird, and the only reason they fitted in here was because they are perceived by the poorer locals as “rich, white foreigners”. Money is power in these places, so the locals see foreigners as being someone to benefit from. So as a foreigner you get treated very nicely, and because you don’t know the local mentality, you trust the locals and this makes you vulnerable for a good fleecing. (But the “getting fleeced whilst living or travelling abroad” story will take us down a long path, so we’ll leave that for now). All these locals greasing up to you, smiling at you and taking care of you makes you feel like royalty…whereas at home said odd foreigner would most likely just have been labelled “the crazy guy/lady down the road”. Suddenly here you are somebody… and you fit in nicely amongst all the other weirdos too, so you don’t stand out like a sore thumb. You are just not so weird anymore.

Now I am not saying that there is anything wrong with being odd! I am just saying…if you move to another country, don’t befriend every expat that crosses your path just because you are in desperate need for an English conversation. Be choosey about who you want to hang out with. Enough said

5 comments

  1. Very true Julie- i think you have to choose very carefully who you want to spend your time with. Looking forward to seeing you again in October & in the meantime will try very hard not to turn into a crazy lady!!!

  2. This is so true! I spent 3 years teaching on Aboriginal communities in Central and Northern Australia and the same notions apply. We called the people who washed up in such places the 3 Ms (mercenaries, missionaries and misfits). Ex-pats are a weird bunch partly because they don’t fit in anywhere. They’re out of synch with their home culture and always playing catch-up in their adopted culture.

  3. hibahowardlafoui · · Reply

    Agree! I’ve been in Morocco for three years and have come across soooo many ‘expats’ and so many oddballs! There is an conversation about why westerners who go to live in other countries are called ‘expats’ and why poorer, usually dark skinned people move to other countries are called immigrants. In my eyes, I am an American immigrant to Morocco. As are my friends. We become a part of the Moroccan society, learn the language, and engage with the locals as if we are one. The ‘expats’ on the other hand, live on the fringes, don’t really engage with the locals on the same level, and try to recreate their posh western lifestyle here in Morocco. What bothers me, is the way many expats criticize the community in which they live, as if they are still at home. it is a ‘developing’ country, as you said. Many of the luxuries of course do not exist, and nor should they.

    1. Well said, I agree entirely with what you say, and yes, have also read about the immigrants vs expats debate. The ex-pats I know in Dahab are just as you describe: criticize the community in which they live, as if they are still at home. They basically just live like they did at home (partying and living hedonistic lifestyles) and not trying to assimilate, learn about the local culture or language. Oh well, each to his own, I suppose!

  4. […] definitely goes against your better judgement. As a sane person (in this town full of kooks – more about that here) I decided it was worth a try. So my similarly busy 40-something friend Christine and I signed up […]

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