Every Foreigner's Favourite Conversation


GlobeWhether you choose to or not, expats everywhere are charged with the task of "coming up with a story". This little known rite of passage has historically been used to appease locals, validate a presence abroad, or explain a horrible accent.

Your story might be harrowing, it may have the potential to be tragic, it could possibly be hair-raising, even gut-wrenching, but most likely it will be exceptionally ordinary.

Regardless, it will certainly become a survival mechanism for dealing with the day-to-day drama of explaining your expatdom in a foreign country.



Editor's PickAnya Scholtz, an American living in South Africa, shares her "story" with Expat Arrivals.

While I’m very happy living where I do, I came to the somewhat depressing realisation a few months back that I was going to have the same conversation with pretty much every person I met for the rest of my life. Since I’m an American living in South Africa, for me it goes something like this:
  • Me: (Says something.)
  • Local: You're not from around here!
Well, aren't you clever. This discovery is often made with a level of triumphant enthusiasm usually reserved for those who have solved murders/discovered continents/cured major diseases.

While it may be thrilling beyond compare for whoever is meeting their first alien, the unfortunate expat is then confronted with an exquisitely tedious brand of deja vu. It's not that she doesn't want anyone to know she's a foreigner, she's just exhausted by the prospect of having the same interview for the 13,482nd time. So I'm going to enlighten everyone as to what is going on in her head every single time she goes through this.
  • Local: So where are you from?
Thinks: I'm from Minnesota. But you've never heard of Minnesota because to you, America is a big grey blob with LA on the left and NY on the right. What's more, you don't actually care where Minnesota is. So my only other option is to move along to the stand-up routine I do about how hellish the weather is there so you can stop staring at me with that blank expression.
  • Me: I'm from California.
  • Local: How long have you been here?
Thinks: 2,368 days, 17 hours and 38 minutes and I still don't understand what 'ta' means.
  • Me: Almost seven years.
  • Local: Why did you come?
Thinks: There is a ridiculously long story involving a vague internet relationship, a documentary premiere, a botched medical procedure, and an inherent wanderlust. You are not important enough to me to try and make you understand what a monumental thing it is to move halfway across the world, so I'll be as vague and uninteresting as I can manage without outright lying.
  • Me: I came to study. [Note: This never works. At this point she couldn't be uninteresting if she tried.]
  • Local: You still sound American.
Thinks: Well you still sound South African. Let's all state the obvious. Actually, my pronunciation, dialect, and cadence of speech has changed significantly enough that I can easily convince dumb Americans that I'm Saff Efrican. This little joy sometimes makes up for what you are putting me through right now.
  • Me: Shrugs noncommitally.
  • Local: Do you like it here?
Thinks: NO! I hate every single thing about this godforsaken hellhole and am only staying so that your banana republic government can make me jump through every ring in their circus for the privilege of having very few civil and legal rights?
  • Me: Yup... It's cool. Beach. Monkeys. Cultural diversity.
  • Local: Are you going back?
Thinks: So now I'm expected to have an organised, laminated 'Life Plan' for the rest of my natural existence. I don't know, okay? Besides, whatever answer I give is the wrong one. If I say yes, I morph into another quitter-whinger-sissy, but if I say no I'm insane for wanting to stay in a country that's sliding into absurdity at an alarming rate. Get lost.
  • Me: Maybe... dunno. Oh look, there's a person I need to talk to!



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