There are several questions every expat gets asked when they move to a new country and get chatting with locals and fellow expats.
1. Where are you from?
Unsurprisingly, this is usually the first question every expat gets asked when talking to locals and other expats in their new home country. Rightly or not, we seem to order ourselves based on where we are from in the world. An expat is essentially living between two places; knowing where they come from can provide cultural context and help steer the conversation, especially if the one asking the question has visited the other person’s native country.
2. How long have you been here?
Once an expat’s home country has been established in conversation, the next question that naturally tends to follow is geared towards trying to understand that person’s relationship with the local culture and their experiences living abroad, so far. As expat life can be short or long-term, the answer can often provide insight into how embedded that person has become in the local way of life and what stage they are at in their expat journey.
3. What brings you here?
There are many different reasons why people move away from their home country and embark on a new life abroad; work, studies, a better quality of life, climate, and even love often come into the equation. Whatever those specific reasons are can indicate a lot about a person’s character; it can determine whether you have something in common with them. This can be especially true when talking to fellow expats who may have relocated for similar reasons as you.
4. What are you doing here?
If this wasn’t part of your answer to the previous question, then you might be asked how you are spending your time in your new home country. This can actually serve as a polite way of asking what do you do for a living. This is, of course, a natural thing to ask when you are looking to make new connections and find common ground with those around you. After all, this person could end up becoming a new friend or useful business contact.
5. How long are you going to stay?
This is one of the most pivotal questions every expat gets asked when they move abroad, especially by other expats. It often determines whether that person chooses to invest time in building relationships with them. For example, someone who intends to stay for several years – or even indefinitely – might be more inclined to establish a friendship with someone who also sees that country as their long-term home, rather that someone who plans to leave in a few months’ time. Expat life can either be a short-term or open-ended affair; this question helps determine who you choose to spend time with.
6. How is your [insert local language here]?
Nine times out of ten, the conversation seems to come back around to language. The woes of trying to learn the local language or sharing funny stories about adapting to the new culture can be one of the first bonding points for expats living abroad. If you’re taking language lessons, sharing information about your classes can help deepen the small talk and give useful information along the way. Hopefully you know more than just how to toast in the local tongue.
7. Do you like it here?
This answer is usually intended as part of small talk, as no one is really expecting the other person to say, “No, I hate it.” While we all understand that living in a foreign country can have its challenges – language barriers, culture shock, and so on – it’s usually safe to assume that if the conversation has come this far, the other person won’t vehemently discount the whole experience. That said, the answer you might receive from a local can be quite different. This is especially the case if they see this question as an invitation to complain about the weather – or whatever it is that niggles them.
Of course, every person is different and every conversation flows in its own way. It’s remarkable how often these seven questions come up in some form in the first few minutes of chatting. It can sometimes feel like a script; as tedious as it can be, it serves as the starting point for making friends and building meaningful connections. After all, we’ve got to start somewhere, right?