A tongue-in-cheek look at why expatriates need to be more of an ambassador and less of an embarrassment to their old home nation once they move overseas…
So what does your behavior say about your own home nation?
Would you say that all Americans are arrogant and loud and that Britons are by and large boozy and badly dressed?
Are you of the opinion that Australians are conceited and that Germans truly believe their nation is the best?
The opinions we hold relating to those of different nationalities are formed either from personal experience, or by popular media generalization – and whilst some stereotypes are truly deserved, others are really unfair and make it hard for the rest of us when we move abroad.
As an expatriate living, working or retired overseas, you’ve made your country choice and you’ve decided to start a new life away from the aspects of your old home nation that restricted you or limited your lifestyle choices.
That’s your right.
However, I would like to impress upon each and every one of you the fact that you are now a very visible and important ambassador to your old home country.
If you’re a Briton living abroad with a penchant for wearing Union Jack shorts and drinking beer until the local bars run dry, think about what your behavior is saying about your fellow men and women back in the UK.
If you’re an American working overseas who feels the urge to brag about how much bigger and better everything is in the US, and you do it in such a loud voice that even the IT team in the windowless basement can hear you, think about the real picture you’re painting of America in your colleagues’ minds.
In other words don’t be a stereotype – be a teacher.
Don’t be an embarrassment – be an ambassador.
Certain personality traits are intrinsically intertwined in an individual’s DNA, depending on the country they herald from.
I’m British and I do like a drink!
My friend has an American boyfriend and he has a very loud voice!
However, I am also aware of the fact that as a Brit living abroad I have a very real obligation to paint as well-rounded a picture of my nation as I can.
And my friend’s boyfriend is also an exceedingly well-mannered, intelligent person, proving that it’s not only empty vessels that make the most noise!
So no matter how tempted you are to fall into the trap of being a happy (and potentially obnoxious) expat, doing whatever you like now that you’ve tasted the true freedom that’s achieved by moving overseas, hold back and think of the bigger picture.
You might feel that as a lone foreign national living abroad you’re but a mere drop in the ocean in terms of the influence you can have on another’s opinion of your old home country…but I assure you, you wield power and influence even beyond your own understanding!
An entire nationality’s reputation could depend on how you conduct yourself once you’ve moved overseas – because your bad behavior could be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back, in terms of how your host nation’s people view those who herald from your country as a collective.
The expatriate lifestyle in many locations overseas is a fantastically fun one. Expats are often remunerated more for their relocation, many have the opportunity to pay less tax once abroad, even more enjoy a lower cost of living overseas, and basically all expats are able to live it up as a result.
The minute you move abroad you fall into the trap of feeling like you’re on holiday too, meaning you’re more inclined to let your hair down and lose your inhibitions – and all of these factors add up to one thing – it is very easy to become a loud and lairy embarrassment to your old home country.
How many times have you outwardly cringed or inwardly giggled when you’ve witnessed other expatriates making complete and utter idiots of themselves? You will likely have your own opinions about which nations’ citizens are more likely to be laughing stocks in your new community. In other words, you will already have made up your own mind about certain people and the country they come from…
You are not alone in formulating these opinions.
Your new host nation’s citizens will be watching and judging and basing assumptions and opinions on the behavior they witness right in front of their eyes. How else can they understand a country they have perhaps never visited, but by seeing how the people from that country conduct themselves when abroad?
Step back for a moment and look at what your behavior is saying about you, your nationality and the nation you herald from…
Have you let your hair down one too many times?
Have you fallen in with the worst crowd of offenders who bring nothing to their new nation but beer money and bitchiness?
Does your arrogant swagger in the workplace, affected by your self-belief that you’re better because you’ve broken out and seen more of the world, actually offend your colleagues rather than impress them with your ‘international experience?’
Stop and think about what you would prefer people to know and understand about your old home nation…
Whilst you may possibly have some negative personal reasons for having made your move overseas, deep down even you are also likely to respect certain aspects of your old home country – even if it’s just the fact that your old nation has beautiful natural scenery, rare wildlife, an excellent climate, beautiful women, a strong economy or that it traditionally breeds good orators, wonderful artistic talent, leaders of men or just great sheep.
It is up to you to ensure that the more positive aspects of your old home country are the only lasting impressions that you leave in your new hosts’ minds. You cannot expect them to see beyond your bad behavioral antics to believe that others from your nation are really hard working, family orientated, fine upstanding individuals.
You cannot expect them to read between the lines as you rant on about how terrible the politicians are ‘back home’ to believe that actually, your old nation is not a war mongering bully but one to be respected.
Finally, you cannot expect them not to treat all the expatriates from your nation with a wide berth if all they see is you behaving like a boor, a bore, a bigot, a bigamist, a cheat, a cheapskate, a liar or a drunk.
As expatriates we know that we’re better off living abroad. We know that we have made the right lifestyle choices. We know that those back home envy us our freedom and our wonderful lives. So let’s just act with a little dignity and decorum, keep our fabulousness to ourselves and do the best we can by our old home country so that we’re not outwardly loathed and inwardly hated by both our old friends and our new hosts!
About the author: Rhiannon Davies is the editor of www.ShelterOffshore.com – the website for people seeking a lower taxed life.