Expat Expectations

October 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Americans abroad; it is generally assumed by their fellow citizens that they are living a life of glamour and luxury.  But this isn’t always the case, especially for the middle class.  We are over 300 million people and by way of our privilege to travel, we can be found in almost every county and any major city. Whether we are there to teach, to volunteer or we have moved for our jobs, middle-class Americans abroad are living anything but a life free of worries and troubles. Why?

Convenience and punctuality are two words refined by Americans but ignored by many others. American expats have to grow accustomed to waiting very long for services or people arriving for an appointment or meeting significantly late. And customer care abroad isn’t always primary focus in foreign businesses. Something that takes as little as 20 minutes in the United States could easily take 2 hours in another country or maybe even a day. It is just the way things are outside of our Americana bubble and it does take some time getting used to.

Prices are subject to change…based on your nationality. In the United States, prices are pretty much set. Very few of us are masters at playing the psychological game of bargaining. However, when living abroad or even just visiting a foreign country, bargaining skills are exactly what we have to learn and not only that,  if you let them know you are American, the prices may be set even higher. For this, you can thank the misconception that every American is rich. Yes, this is discrimination but hey, we are in their territory not theirs, deal with it. Recommendation: If you speak the language, use it and don’t tell them where you are really from…well, maybe after you make a purchase. Remember, two can play that game.

For us, short shorts are acceptable. But this is not the case for many other cultures. The American culture is the pop culture and has been for years. Almost everyone has heard of Michael Jackson and knows of Pepsi and Coke but this does not mean you should be flaunting your new above-knee skirt in a hot climate or playing with your new iPad in public. Respect the culture, if it means covering up a bit more and not playing with your fancy new gadgets, do it. It is going to save you from awkward stares and it makes you less of a target for petty crime or maybe even something worse. Remember, not every culture is accepting of showing skin and not every country consists of a population where the majority can afford the latest technology.

Americans abroad are privileged to travel so freely. Any American considering an expat life should consider these three points before making the life-changing decision of moving to a new country.  By being armed with knowledge of potential culture clashes and crashes, a life abroad can be fun, exciting and rewarding provided you are flexible enough to adapt and maintain the ability to stay open minded.

Are you an American living abroad with a story to share? If so, leave it in the comments or send me an e-mail at



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