The Expat Personality


Whilst we are all expat here and might stick out like sore thumbs to the locals, it is important to recognise that all expats are not necessarily created equal.

Here is my guide to the expats you might meet when you move abroad…

The Bragger

Commonly heard saying “You haven’t been to Neuschwanstein/Berlin/newest restaurant in town yet? you really must go” and “My kid speaks five languages, he basically taught himself Mandarin on the Ipad”

Easy to spot, no matter how long they have been in the country (2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years) they will always have been to and experienced the places you simply MUST go to (in their opinion). Usually a bragger has very little imagination, they will have seen every sight listed in their guidebook, but not a lot else. Guidebooks are great, I love a good guidebook, but use them with caution, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

If they have kids, well, get used to hearing how amazingly they are doing at adapting, learning the language (and never once acknowledging that they should work on their own language skills), bringing their culture to a German school (by passing out Valentines to every kid in kindergarten, much to the confusion of their classmates and the irritation of their teachers). These expats will only adopt the best (in their opinion) of German culture and ignore the rest, their home culture is of much more importance to them. Braggers don’t tend to be in it for the long haul and will head home when life gets real, presumably to brag about their European life some more back in their home country.

When to call a Bragger – On your return from a fantastic holiday to a far flung corner of the earth, but do be prepared to find out they’ve been there, last year, and did it better. They make excellent advisors for sights and activities to enjoy when your friends and relatives come to visit.

Best friend – The Traveller

Mortal enemy – The whiner

The Networker

Commonly heard saying “I went to….and worked at…and…, where do you work?” sometimes “I volunteer at…and…and…” and always ” “I’m friends with…and…and…”

It can be hard to be away from your 9-5 for the first time, networkers react to this by treating their life like their job. Lists, lists and more lists are a sign of a networker, they never stop talking about making connections and have usually volunteered at every available place within their first six months in the country. If you aren’t visibly well connected they will probably look right through you, but once they find out who you are an most importantly what they can get from you, they will be all over you.

When to call a Networker – When you need help on a project that they could put on their CV or you hear of an opening that might interest them. They might even have some tips for you, if there is something in it for them.

Best friend – The Bragger

Mortal enemy – The Whiner

The Wannabe Integrationee

Commonly heard saying, ‘We are completely integrated here! We don’t speak German and the kids are very happy in the International school” and “I spend three months in the summer in Florida with my family and three at Christmas with his family in Texas”

Their idea of living abroad is actually being in the country for six months of the year, they do all their shopping in their home country and are never short of foods from home that they just can’t do without. This expat rides a bike, owns lederhosen, is friendly with their German neighbours (though they are not on first name terms after 5 years) and really enjoys their life in Germany, when they are in the country anyway.

The make great friends and will always help you out if you need it, but due to the amount of time they are out of the country it can be hard to maintain a decent relationship with them since they are constantly arriving or leaving.

When to call a Wannabe Integrationee – If you need advice about luggage allowances back to your home country, where to go to get a passport renewed or the number for a good cleaner. Generally these expats are a font of information but due to their part time status in the country can be hard to get hold of day to day.

Best friend – The Stop Gapper

Mortal enemy – The Traveller

The Integrationee

Commonly heard saying, everything in German, all the time

Generally they are married to a German or have given up their former citizenship for a German one. Their life is here and they have made it their home but they do still think of their former home and their family regularly. Their German is impeccable but they have also accepted that in their village they will always be ‘the foreigner’ no matter how integrated they are.

They have fewer expat friends since they have been here so long and made German ones through work or school. Oh and they probably own some Jack Wolfskin too.

When to call an Integrationee – Need advice about language schools, help with German customs or a natter about your past lives (in your home countries). They have been there done that and most importantly survived. Be aware that they may be wary of developing a friendship with you since you might not be sticking around long term.

Best friend – A Native

Mortal enemy – The Stop Gapper

The Traveller

Commonly heard saying “We are so lucky we get to travel so much, have to complete that bucket list right?” and “Have you tasted the pasta at…in Florence?”

These expats are here to travel, their weekends and holidays are planned months and years in advance so no a minute of time is wasted, well, actually enjoying  and exploring where they live. Always good conversation, about their travels anyway, but they can seem out of touch with their own city of residence, after four years here they still haven’t worked out how the recycling system works.

They are here for a limited time and are prepared to make the most of it, and if you aren’t that way inclined you might just end up being their house/cat sitter while they are away. The best people to ask for travel advice and to borrow guide books off.

When to call a traveller – Weeknights Tuesday to Thursday, the rest of the time you will go straight to voicemail. Need a cheap flight? They know where you can find it.

Best friend – The Bragger

Mortal enemy – The Whiner

The Stop Gapper

Commonly heard saying ‘Do – you – speak – English?”, “What if the kids start asking to go to the toilet and not the restroom? they will get bullied forever” and the old “My husband thinks I should be grateful to have to live in this godforsaken place!”

They are here for an allotted amount of time and make little or no effort to integrate (why should they?) and tend towards blaming their spouse for having to live in Germany, especially when they are having a bad day. One day they will just up and leave for good so reliability is not necessarily their strong point.

They live their whole life for holidays to their ‘home’, countdowns are plentiful and their problems can be anything from “everyone can see when I buy toilet paper because I have to put it on the back of my bike” to “I can’t come out (again) I’m waiting for a parcel”

When to call a Stop Gapper – Just before they head back to their homeland for a holiday, they will be at their absolute brightest. On their return however be prepared to deal with the massive comedown and try to distract them with shiny things, alcohol or hugs.

Best friend – The Whiner

Mortal enemy – The Wannabe Integrationee

The Whiner

Commonly heard saying (or rather whining) “I asked him so slowly, and he pretended not to speak English”, “I miss my family/pet/husband” on repeat, and “If one more person stares at me I’m going to lose it”.

These expats tend to be very reactionary in nature, and mostly over reactionary. They will always have a tale of woe which is longer and more woeful than yours, and despite your tea and sympathy they are actually very happy to be whiney and annoying to everyone around them.

Beware the group of whiney expats, boy can they suck the fun out of any and every event! Mix your friends well and make sure the whiners get their time to whine, and ply them with wine if they won’t shut up.

When to call a Whiner – Feeling emotionally strong? Call them and hear their latest long rant about everything awful about living in Germany and how much they want to go ‘home’.

Best friend – The Bragger

Mortal enemy – The Traveller

Which one are you? Of course most of us are a mixture of all of these at one time or another, at least I am anyway!

Not that I think you are a touchy expat but just in case you are, this is totally tongue-in-cheek but straight from my reality and not intended to cause offence.

Edited 16.07.15 First published on The Erlangen Expat 07.04.14

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