An Ex-Pat And A Cop: Who Do You Trust?
It’s a curious thing. It’s not like you either have it or you don’t.
It’s more like a muscle that needs to be exercised often; more like a reflex that happens without thinking.
Amy McPherson recently posted her thoughts on how travel builds trust. (Here) It’s a good read. It got me to thinking about how we decide who we can trust.
Expats know this. Expats live it on a daily basis. We need trust. When we move to a new post or assignment, we need to trust that someone has our back and knows what’s best for our families.
In my time in Baku, I began as a very trusting, open traveler. But in a matter of months, I realized my definition of trust included a loyalty factor not present in some I was dealing with- they would often follow the highest gain, not look out for me, the person who trusted them.
- When I wanted to lease a room in the State Library to teach English and business skills, I didn’t see how anyone could refuse this help. But I learned quickly that my $1,950 lease payment actually paid the library all of $90.42. The rest was divided 5 ways among the men who negotiated the lease, one of whom was a “friend” I trusted.
- Once I had my office set up, my friend helped me open a local bank account at the bank next door to the Library. I deposited $15,000- all the money I had to get started. A month or two in, I wanted to buy more computers as business was good, I went to the bank to make a withdrawal and was given some reason why I couldn’t have my money.
Something spooked me, my intuition told me this was trouble. I decided that instant to close my account. The banker asked me, “How much do you really need right now?” (An odd question from a banker, unless you’re watching Jimmy Stewart in the American holiday film classic “It’s A Wonderful Life.”) I replied that I needed all of it to buy my equipment by 5:00pm that afternoon. The Banker told me me to come back just before 5:00 for my money. I had to “trust” him.
I came back at a quarter to five and got my money- all of it. The next morning as I came to work, the bank was closed, collapsed, insolvent… Shaken, I entered the Library realizing how close I had come to such a huge loss. I trusted my instincts, I trusted my friend. Only one worked out right.
I trusted …from a fairly American definition of trust. The framework apparently isn’t universal. When respect for the bond, or loyalty, is not part of the definition, trust can be broken, sometimes irreparably.
- I rented a number of flats in Baku, and each time I had to rely on my realty agent, who had to trust the owners to tell the truth about conditions. But one time, I found an apartment through an American colleague. Why shouldn’t I trust him?
He had set up a rental agency that was a sort of one stop shop. He paid taxes out of the rents, furnished the flats, collected rents for the owners and paid them their share, and so on. A real deal as far as I was concerned.At least until I moved in to my last apartment. This is the one that had no heat in the dead of winter. You remember the story (here) where it was 16ºF inside my apartment?
This was supposed to be a fully furnished western-style apartment (meaning running water, washer, dryer, and stove plus usable furniture.) Kitchen cabinets were not attached to the walls, and the utensils included one sauce pot, complete with broken handles, among the other damaged bits and pieces of @&%#. Imagine the disappointment- there must be some misunderstanding, I trusted this man!
A month-long nightmare culminated when a group of 20 landlords stormed my Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) office to tell me that I should get the “US Embassy to arrest that man for fraud.” He had not paid the taxes and now they were being forced to pay again. This whole scene blew my mind!
The man fled, got caught, was thrown in prison, got beaten up, and finally, extricated by the Embassy guards. It was wild! As for me, I got to stay in my flat, but furnished it myself and dealt with the owners directly after that.
When things go well and expats test, trust and succeed, the muscle gets stronger. When expats get burned once or twice, like I did, the reflex is akin to touching a hot a burner. You don’t get many chances.
Fast forward to settling in Washington, D.C. …
I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence that I gravitated toward marrying a retired cop. I think the trust issue was very much in play. I feel safe with Joe and know that he shares the same definition of trust that I do- loyalty is a big component of whom we trust.
Taking this a step further, understanding the nature of trust and how important it is, here’s an interesting question for you: Does being an expat, having to read situations, create problem solving skills that others maybe don’t have? Do we look at problems differently as a result of our experience?
Put another way, Who would you trust with a problem: an Expat or a Policeman? (Now think carefully here- I have a bet for a bottle of Spanish wine with my husband riding on the outcome of your answers!)
Interesting thought, don’t you think?
I mentioned that we arrived first and got the villa opened up. But as you can see by this photo, it wasn’t the way you normally do it! As we wandered around exploring, I noticed all the steel roll-up security shades on the windows was still trying to figure out how to release them.
Joe had gone out to check out the view and managed to get locked out on the 2nd story balcony. When I came to “rescue” him, I wondered how could someone get locked out? So I (brilliantly) repeated his steps, and sure enough, it was possible. The two of us were now locked out on the balcony.
Figuring this was Spain, I assumed it should be warm at night and we could just lay down and sleep till help came. I didn’t count on it getting so cold after sundown though.
As it got colder and colder as the hours passed, we realized a plan was necessary lest we freeze out there.
Here’s what we came up with:
The Cop was going to jump over the balcony and drop down to the terrace below to where the doors were open. Too many Hollywood detective shows, perhaps? (Never mind that it was dark and we couldn’t remember exactly where the cactus plants were, but we remembered seeing them in the daylight.)
The Expat suggested we should use his jeans to lower him down to a chair we could drop over first. (Ok, maybe a few too many fairytales?)
The Cop said he should handle the logistics… In the end we lost the chair, and he dropped his jeans over the edge, leaving him outside in the cold in his underwear. (Please don’t tell him I told you this part!)
Though we had tried unsuccessfully to break one of the security windows as our first thought, it now seemed to be the only option. But, how do we break such heavy glass with a plastic chair?
The Expat came up with an idea and the Cop applied his knowledge of the weak points in a pane of glass and eventually ‘we’ succeeded. We survived, we are still married, and we both laugh about it. But, it did take two of us.
I think the expat problem solving skills brought options to the table that sheer muscle and proper procedures hadn’t, but in the end it took his technical knowledge and muscle to execute and my smaller hands to figure out how to crank open the window and disengage the shutter.
A perfect partnership!
If you’re ever asked for the two things you would want with you on a desert island, an Expat and a Cop might be the best tools you could hope for.