Become an ugly expat in 12 easy steps

Become an ugly expat in 12 easy steps

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Canadian repatriate Maria Foley proposes retiring the expression 'Ugly American', a pejorative and stereotypical term for US expatriates who alienate the locals, and suggests replacing it with 'Ugly Expat'.

You're probably familiar with the expression 'Ugly American', a pejorative and stereotypical term for US expatriates who alienate the locals with their loud and disrespectful behaviour. It comes from the 1958 book The Ugly American, a cautionary tale that tells the story of corrupt and ethnocentric American bureaucrats in Southeast Asia.

One of the characters in the book characterises Ugly Americans like this:

"A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They're loud and ostentatious."

Ugliness: it's not just for Americans anymore

Living abroadThis being the age of globalisation, it seems unfair to single out Americans as the champions of boorish behaviour abroad. In the spirit of inclusiveness, I'd like to propose we retire the expression 'Ugly American' and replace it with 'Ugly Expat'. Cultural disrespect is an equal opportunity sport, after all – one the entire world is eager to play.

Not all Ugly Expats are arrogant and ignorant (although that's the most dangerous combination); some give off the ugly vibe because they're paralyzed by fear and unsure of how to behave. Some merely lack the ability to translate their good intentions into culturally-appropriate actions.

You, too, can be an Ugly Expat!

Some expats come by their ugliness naturally. For those who have to work at it, here's a handy 12-step programme. I've tested out a couple of these myself (all in the name of research, of course!) and can pretty much guarantee their effectiveness. If you start at #1 and repeat as needed, you'll be an Ugly Expat in no time.

1. Don't waste your valuable time researching your destination or its people before you move – a country's history or dominant cultural values are no concern of yours. And for heaven's sake, don't throw away your money on any of that cross-cultural training mumbo jumbo – everyone knows what a scam that is.

2. Likewise, don't bother reading up on the causes and symptoms of culture shock, or how to alleviate it. That's what Valium is for. (Pack lots!)

3. Isolate yourself. Shut yourself up in your compound/condo and refuse all contact with local people. If there's an exclusive expatriate club nearby, rejoice: you're saved! Choose your new friends with care, weeding out any prospects who have ‘gone native' (being too chummy with the locals is a dead giveaway). Successful candidates will have already aced the 12 steps and will embrace you as a kindred spirit.

4. Show off your wealth, especially if you live in a developing nation. Your baubles and fancy toys will breed admiration and respect among the impoverished masses, who will revere you as a role model.

5. Under no circumstances should you eat local food. They eat that unsanitary crap because they don't know any better; you do. (You can't be too careful – who knows what you might pick up?) If you're offered anything unrecognisable, be sure to show your disdain by peppering your refusal with terms such as 'dysentery' and 'intestinal worms'. Gagging noises are optional.
Living abroad
6. Let everyone know how backward the country is, and how much better things are back home. I can't stress this enough – never let an opportunity to compare the two countries pass you by. It's your duty to teach the local populace a thing or two, and opening their eyes to their own inferiority will endear you to them. Bonus points if you can insult cultural and religious icons or other objects of reverence.

7. Speak your own language exclusively, especially if it happens to be English. (If the locals haven't bowed to global pressure and learned it already, that's their problem.) In a pinch, speaking very s-l-o-w-l-y and very LOUDLY should help them understand you. Trust me; they'll love being talked to as though they were five years old. If they still don't understand, throw your hands up in disgust and walk away, muttering under your breath. There's some body language that won't get lost in translation!

8. Don't try to understand – much less accommodate – local customs. If it's not The Way Things Are Back Home, it's irrelevant. (Let them know they're not fooling you with that siesta thing, for example. Everyone knows daytime napping is nothing but sheer laziness. The steaming midday temperature is just an excuse.)

9. Treat your household staff like the servants they are. They don't need a day off, and you and I both know that hot water would only spoil them. Since it's for their own good, I'm sure they'll thank you later.

10. Social networking was invented for people stuck in godforsaken places like this. Spend all day on Facebook, Twitter, and email, lying about how much fun you're having. Then log onto Farmville and spend some quality time doing whatever it is people on Farmville do.

11. Drink. A lot. It makes life so much fun, both for you and those around you.

12. Take your frustrations out on your partner. It's all their fault, anyway. If it weren't for their precious career, you'd be back home among people who matter, instead of wasting the best years of your life in this hellhole.


 Reprinted with permission from I was an expat wife.

Maria Foley is a Canadian who lived and raised a family as an expat for many years. Aside from writing for Suite 101, Foley still writes about her expat life on her blog, I was an expat wife. 



 Photo credit: Split shire (tourist photographer).


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9 Comments To This Article

  • Mo posted:

    on 16th September 2012, 16:57:16 - Reply

    Ha! I like this. I´ve been an Ugly Expat Scot myself in the past (and maybe tomorrow too). A sense of humour is an essential piece of baggage even for people who never leave home. [Edited by moderator] PS I drink white wine and admire edgy, incisive writing like yours.
  • Pamela posted:

    on 12th September 2012, 19:15:37 - Reply

    I don't think this article is funny or informative at all. I am Canadian though. People are same all over the world, some nice, some not so nice. Most expats do the best they can when they have to change cultures. I have lived in many countries and some locals are nice and some are not so nice at well. I did not find this to be useful for moving to another country. I don't drink and have tried my best to learn the language. If people just all tryed to understand other cultures it would be better a better world. This paints a bad picture of all expats. and does nothing to promote understand. [Edited by moderator]
  • Parisian Thinker posted:

    on 28th April 2011, 12:09:34 - Reply

    I am an American expat who has lived in 7 countries. Today, long time expats are easily history buffs with the wonderful help from WIKI, have the app "Culture GPS" on their IPHONES, and have read at least Edward Hall and Geert Hofstede's works.

    They do indeed compare all countries food, radiation levels, medical care, customer service or lack thereof, prices, resources, sanitation, and ways of organizing. Afer all, this is the story of the world for anyone who wants to see the big picture.

    Countries really are just like department stores. Some sell this and others sell that. If you are intelligent, you can make use of all of these differences by cherry picking what is best for you. Just follow the money and do what the capitalist do.
  • Nancy stout flemming posted:

    on 20th April 2011, 16:33:12 - Reply

    Such a perfect description!!! [Edited by moderator] I love trying to immerse myself in another culture through their food , their architecture, customs, markets, etc. I have been guilty of laughing loudly with friends at table and realizing how uncouth I must have seemed! Thanks for a great article. Nancy Flemming
  • Francesca posted:

    on 20th April 2011, 14:19:52 - Reply

    You are right, Maria, the Ugly American is long overdue for a name change and the Ugly Expat fits well. There should also be the Ugly Tourist. We are starting to experience a bout of that in Paris now and my former home, New York City, seems to continually suffer from that problem especially around Christmas.

    I would be slow to lay any blame on social networks for the ugly expat syndrome. FACEBOOK and Farmville are highly addictive. There are even Farmville addicts support groups. I was totally addicted to FB both here in Paris, where I am by choice and love, and in the U.S. Rarely did I see the sun. If anyone asked me what I did on FB, I really couldn't tell them. It's pretty mindless. I finally quit. Happy to say I didn't go through a painful withdrawal. Fortunately, I never succumbed to Farmville.
  • posted:

    on 15th April 2011, 21:48:27 - Reply

    I think you've covered just about everything! Great article, very funny.
  • Maria Foley posted:

    on 15th April 2011, 20:46:40 - Reply

    Sarah, you're absolutely right that expats come in many flavours. However, this piece was originally written for my blog, I Was An Expat Wife, which, as the title implies, is pretty tightly focused on female expat spouses. No offence intended.
  • Sarah posted:

    on 15th April 2011, 11:04:45 - Reply

    I was right there with you until I got to the last one. It's 2011! Why are you assuming that expats are "trailing wives"? We have men that follow their wives now and, god forbid, single people out there too!
  • James Drew posted:

    on 15th April 2011, 09:40:40 - Reply

    This is an excellent article, Maria - funny, witty and wincingly accurate. I have lived in Brussels for ten years now, and I have met many expats that fit your description. :-)