The 5 Worst (And Best) Things You Can Say If You Meet An Ex-Pat

Ex-Pat, Outsider, Being accepted

Do You Feel Accepted?

Recently I read a post here about the worst things people say to each other and was amused at the outpouring of comments and head nods. It was like being in an old pub with so many tin cups pounding the table in agreement. Aye, ye be right on that one, cap’n.

The more I read, though, the more I realized that what I was reading was not just about blogging, but tapping into acceptance, and the universal need to be understood.

Consider these comments and think about how these could just as easily apply to your own repatriation experiences. (And see if you don’t think about tapping your own tin cup in agreement!)

  • In the beginning, it was so exciting for me, I talked about it with friends. Now I am more reserved. I think if I had kept it on the down low I would have been better off. My own book club has never been to my blog….
  • Agreed! I just recently had someone ask me if I actually wrote/took the photos on my blog. Hmmm. Do you know me at all?? Who do think is posting that stuff? Geesh. It made the total emotional insecurity so much worse.
  • I always get “why do you need to share your personal life with perfect strangers?”
  • Thank you, Thank you. The whole list is great and I am so happy to know that I am not the only one. I am so clueless, I didn’t even know other bloggers felt this way.
  • One thing I’ve found likable about blogging- there are so many others like yourself, that being anxious about your posts and sensitive about reviews seems almost… normal. Thanks for that brief illusion- I’ll take what I can get! Seriously, thanks for sharing.
  • Yes, we’re not alone, that’s for sure. Even if our friends/family makes us feel like it sometimes!

Friends who have lived or worked overseas often reflect on the difficulty of repatriating to new cities and towns. They struggle to find the right fit.

Thinking of my own experience, I decided to start a list of our own 5 Worst Things and 5 Best Things To Say If You Meet An Ex-Pat.

You’ll know who they are right away.

♥  They will be the ones who look oddly at grocery store self-checkout lanes.

♥  They will be the ones who have trouble counting coins- “Is this a nickel or a quarter?” [insert your coin names here]

♥  They will be the ones whose language sounds garbled- they call things by the wrong name and then swear in some language you don’t understand.

♥  They will be the ones who serve weird foods when you accept a dinner invitation. You know there is something not quite normal about these folks.

So please, be gentle.

And, by all means, please don’t utter The 5 Worst Things You Can Say If You Meet An Ex-Pat:

Honestly, I’ve never had any interest in other places.

This pretty much seals the deal that you now have little to nothing more to talk about or to build a two-way friendship on. It means the expat has to skip a section of his or her life just to meet you for dinner or coffee. How about adding to your life vs making would-be friends conform to your more local confines?

I don’t understand why people would want to live in “those” places.

By referring to “those” places in “that” tone you put people in the uncomfortable position of either hiding where they’ve been or defending them, neither of which makes for a good start to a potential friendship.

You’re from where?  I’m not really very good with geography.

This comment inadvertently sets the expat up as either a braggart or a know-it-all, which really isn’t a good way to get to know people.

Do they have [electricity, running water, cars, toilet paper, normal food] there?

This question goes along with #3 above. Even if you’re dying to know, don’t put yourself in such an unflattering light. Better to say, “Tell me about life there,” and you’ll hear your answer, preserve your status as a friend in the making, and be much appreciated all the while.

You must be so glad to get back here where things are normal.

Thanks for pointing out what weirdos we must be for actually enjoying life abroad. Now we feel even worse for missing the friends and acquaintances we made there- you know, the ones who accepted us as we were, despite the mistakes we made in their culture.

Now, if you would like to know the best things you can say to really make someone feel welcome, try these.

The 5 Best Things You Can Say If You Meet An Ex-Pat:

How interesting. What did you like most?

Then actually listen to the answer. You’ll be golden!

What is the hardest part about coming here?

Aww, a sympathetic ear and a listener. Is there a better combo?

Is there anything you need, anything I can help with?

It just keeps getting better!

How are your kids adjusting- would they like to meet my family?

I may cry…

Are you finding everything ok- can I introduce you to some other new [families, non-working moms, kids, other internationals]?

Ok, that seals it. I’m never leaving your side. My new BFF!

So, what makes the difference between the Worst 5 and the Best 5?

To me, it’s the amount of willingness to see things from another person’s point of view.

If you’re the settled one, meeting a new one, it’s a real sacrifice to step outside yourself and ask how is the process going, and what can you do to help. But what great rewards.

The Worst 5 all have a common denominator of non-interest and non-acceptance. Tantamount to saying “I am comfortable in my own world and you’re outside that zone.”

  • Keep in mind that newcomers, no matter how far and often they travel, may also still have some insecurity in a new place.
  • Being unwilling to pause your routine long enough to take someone under a wing just compounds the adjustment process.

The Best 5, on the other hand, all have in common an acceptance that says, “I don’t totally understand what you just said but I’d like to know more.” How special would those words be… to anyone?

  • Many people look at ex-pats as alien and or at least somewhat ‘not normal’ which creates discomfort.
  • By asking questions, listening, and offering to introduce, make connections or get people off to a good start, you are part of a great solution, part of helping families assimilate and establish themselves in their new home.

And that’s a really great thing to do if you meet an ex-pat!

Don’t worry about how long they’ve been home. Some adjustments (repatriations) take longer to settle than others; some people have a harder time getting into a new or different groove, so use these questions at any point in the journey.

You’ll make a friend for life, if you’re interested.

4 thoughts on “The 5 Worst (And Best) Things You Can Say If You Meet An Ex-Pat

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