5 Tips for an American Expat

8:02 AM


    I've been an expat for awhile now, (mentioned casually, while secretly hoping to induce street cred.) Except for a short stint in America, I have spent the better part of the last decade outside of my home country. For the most part, it's been a blast. It was always a dream of mine to settle on this side of the Atlantic. As a teenager, I would cut up Irish calendars and post them on my walls as a sort of prehistoric dream board. I can still recall sitting outside my college cafeteria, drinking the finest vintage of Diet Coke and chatting with friends about how we "belonged" in Europe, obviously. 

     Maybe while adoring the good old "Red, White, and Blue," you too secretly feel you belong somewhere else in the world. You can just envision yourself wandering the streets of Paris, chatting with the locals and stunning everyone with your New World flair. Or maybe, like me, you've been doing this expat thing for awhile and you've seen and done it all. The bad things. The cringeworthy things. The things you never tell anyone in the world because you want to die just thinking of them things. 

Whatever category you may fall into, here are my 5 Tips for surviving as an American Expat:

 1. Don't Offer Unsolicited Genealogical Tidbits

     As soon as I left college, I was off like a shot. First stop IRELAND!! As my new Northern Irish coworker drove me from the airport into Belfast, I regaled her with the full saga of my family history and how I actually was "Irish" and therefore pretty much coming home. Needless to say, she welcomed her newfound countryman with a wry smile and an inward laugh at a typical American. 

   The first thing I learned about being overseas is that no one cares a fig about your family tree (pun intended.) Unless you're planning on filming the next "Roots" series, don't offer info on this fascinating part of your life. If the locals ask if you might be a long lost relative, take it as a compliment to your "un-americanness" and then feel free to divulge. 


2. Don't Comment on the Things That are Different

   When I came to Belfast for the first time at 16, I spent half an hour trying to work a toilet. After the deed was done, I searched in vain for a handle, a button, or something to MAKE IT GO AWAY!!! Once I finally realized there was nothing I could do and I must have used some kind of "show toilet," I ashamedly walked back to my hosts to ask for help, like the dirty barbarian I was. (By the way, it was a pull string on the OTHER END of the bathroom.) This instilled in me a deep fear of going potty in a foreign toilet. 

     You will find that almost everything is different once you step off that plane. There will be different smells, different foods, different sides of the road for traffic. You may have a deep preference about how things should be done or even cool ideas for how to "make a place better." (Like not putting toilet drawstrings across the room!!!) However, you rarely come across as helpful by talking down someone's country. Most of the time, this new way isn't wrong, it's just different. You might find, over time, that you come to enjoy the things that used to bother you most. You're on an adventure, treat it as such! And maybe laugh at your newfound incompetency. 

3. Do Be Loud About the Things You Love

     Don't you love when someone visits your house and says how much they enjoy your decorating or your style? This is the same for any culture. We love hearing what we do right! And isn't that why we travel in the first place? To see something new and to enjoy a different culture? A way to bless the people in your new culture is to come at it with uncritical foreign eyes. You will see things they never notice. 

     I love the Northern Irish. I love their humor. There is truly nothing like an Ulster comeback! I love their elegant style and their love for their families and their people. I love the way they paint their front doors in bright colors that are a complete contrast to their red-brick houses. I love their traditions and their loyalty. I love the way they would sacrifice everything for those they love. And I love that they absolutely cannot fathom tea without a wee biscuit.

4. Sidestep Political Conversations AT ALL COSTS!

     Having married a local politician, this one can be especially dicey for me. However, most of the time, people want to talk Trump. No matter which side of the debate you're on, this is never a good road. Most likely you will come out offended and hurt and so will the other person. Thankfully, I have a brilliant husband who studied philosophy and loves a good debate, so he will translate American culture to the really persistent political talker. If you find yourself in a conversation about politics, I have one piece of advice for you: run.

5. Bring Two Baskets

    The Maoris of New Zealand have a tradition. If you visit another tribe, you bring two baskets. One basket is full of special gifts from your tribe and the other is for receiving from the new tribe. When you enter another culture, you have a lot to offer and a lot to receive. This is something I love about the U.S. We genuinely enjoy people from other cultures, because we come from all over ourselves. It's the same when you travel. So often, we get excited about moving somewhere exotic, but when we arrive, we find ourselves stressed by all the "newness." May I suggest something God has been teaching me in my new home? Humbly receive all that a different culture has to offer. And humbly give what is best from yours. 


So, that's it! Those are my 5 top tips for an American Expat. There are so many more practical ones to come, but these are some simple ways to avoid unnecessary faux pas! Message me and let me know some of your best tips!






     








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