Random Thoughts

You know you're an expat…

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Well two days before we fly out to Thailand and start another chapter in our lives living overseas. My wife and I were talking the other day and can’t believe that we are starting our 7th year at overseas educators.

As we talked we were thinking about how “weird” the States feels to us now. We only know Seattle in the month of July and over the past 6 years we have spent a total of about 3 months in the States. Each year we come back it feels more and more like a foreign country to us. Both of our home towns have changed so much and time keeps ticking. We got lost in Spokane once and twice here in Poulsbo.

So as we were driving the other day we came up with a list of “You know you’re an expat when…”

I encourage others who have lived or are living overseas to add to the list.

You know you are an expat when…..

you look forward to Wal-Mart just to browse the aisles and look at all the choices of shampoo!

it takes you 25 minutes to pick out a juice to drink because you just love reading the labels.

you bust up at a TV commercial that’s been on for a year but is new to you.

your credit card statement for the month of July is more than you make in 3 months.

you care more about politician’s stand on global issues than on taxes and health care.

you can name all three airlines above without hesitation.

friends get annoyed driving around with you because all you say is “When did that happen?”

you go to the same hang out you went to before you moved overseas only to find out it’s no longer the ‘cool hang out’.

you shop last year’s styles because they’re new to you and lets face it, your friends don’t care.

your shipment includes plastic wine glasses to be used by the pool.

you buy a year’s supply of deodorant, toothpaste, make-up, shampoo, etc and still get the suitcase under 50lbs.

you are a sucker for ads on TV.

you can pack a suitcase to 49.9lbs without a scale.

you are standing in line talking to yourself only to realize the people around you can understand you.

you find yourself listening in to others conversations just because you can.

you get tired of people asking you “so what’s it like…is it scary?”

you freeze when people ask you “paper or plastic”.

a sales rep asks for your phone number and you start with the country code.

in June you pre-plan all your meals for July just so you don’t miss your favorite reasurants.

you can’t relate to gas prices in the States cause the rest of the world has been paying them for years.

people tell you you talk with an accent.

you have friends in more than 10 countries.

when people ask you what you’ll miss the most about a country and you reply “foot massages”.

facebook.com is truly a ‘friend network’.

you choose your bank based on their online banking options.

you buy a year’s worth of new clothes in two weeks.

Ok…there’s our list…..what would you add?

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. My step-son (17yrs old) recently returned from a 2 week trip to Bangkok. His comments were:

    1. Once back in the States, you realize you’re not the tallest person in the country anymore (he’s 6′).

    2. You forget how many US restaurants DON’T have noodles on the menu.

    Husband and I have talked about becoming overseas educators, but need to wait until all the kids are out of high school (3 more years).

  2. Good memories from my expat days working in Saudi.

    – you learn how to smuggle contraband in your children’s toys
    – terms like “inshallah” slip into your vocabulary
    – you suitcase contains more food than clothing going back since you can always get clothes made, but the favorite food is unobtainable
    – “oh, I forgot… this country has speed limits.” isn’t really a very good excuse
    – $4 for a gallon of gas – man, that’s cheap!

    Save travels.


  3. Hi there, just dropped in to say how much I enjoyed your post and how much it resonated with me as well as the subsequent comments. I am English but have been living in New Zealand for the last 11 years.

    The first thing I do when I go ‘home’ is head for the local supermarket and spend ages walking around (just like you do at Wal-mart) – there is so much more choice & I always spend a fortune on food that I can’t get in NZ.

    The other thing I do (which will only have meaning for British ex-pats) is stock up on Marks & Spencer underwear.

    The last time I went home I found that my all-time favorite (and best in the whole wide world) Italian restaurant has been turned into an Indian restaurant. I am still in mourning!

  4. You buy enough socks to last for two years.

    You fly business class because you know they’ll look the other way when you’re 25kg over the weight limit.

    You can name all the smoking bars in at least five airports in five different countries.

    You know the exchange rates for at least five different currencies.

    You’re amazed at all the swearing on television.

    You try to remember that a red light means stop not go faster.

    You bring one suitcase just for books.

    Your friends ask you why you can sit on the front steps for hours watching people walk down the street.

    You say hello to strangers on the street and wonder why they don’t say hello back.

    You keep trying to drive on the left side.

    You count the days until you get to go “home.”

  5. Love it – went out for dinner wth a bunch of new friends from around the comonwealth at NECC and we discussed much of what is on your list from a visitors’ perspective, not expats…
    However, we ( hub and I) were expats in the 80’s teaching in Papua New Guinea International Schools and with no internet to keep us informed you know you are an expat when:
    You rely on your family to send you tapes of music so you don’t embarrass them when you come home
    You watch the Olympics on TV and moan that this country is soooo biased – they only show their athletes winning medals
    When you go home on leave in the middle of Summer no-one can understand why you are wearing warm clothes
    And what about this one Jeff – you wonder why the house staff haven’t folded the laundry yet

  6. When home, you notice that everyone talks like the characters in a popular television series.

    You prefer to go to a doctor and dentist in your chosen country and not back home.

    When the Olympic Games start, you know more about the athletes from the country you live in than those where you are a citizen.

    When the national anthems are played at international sport events, tears come to your eyes numerous times.

  7. Having lived in the UK as a South African ex-pat for 9 years, I would add:

    You feel like a foreigner every day… then you go ‘home’ on a holiday and still feel like a foreigner
    You’re amazed at the narrow world view of your friends and family ‘back home’
    Your family starts to look to you to bail them out of their financial difficulties because you earn £s and are therefore rich
    You will drive to a shop that’s more than half an hour away, even though you don’t need anything, just to be surrounded by people who sound like you
    You find yourself saying “When we” far too often

  8. Oh, and another one:

    The fresh produce you think of as being everyday fare is on a stand labelled ‘exotic fruit & veg’.

  9. Thanks for that laugh. My wife and I have 4 more after almost 10 years overseas…

    You have 4 different currencies in your wallet.
    You’re annoyed in US airports at having to pay for a cart for your bags.
    You find US traffic to be structured/orderly in an overly anal way.
    You have to consciously remind yourself not to bribe police officers.

  10. …98. The thought of drinking from the mains water supply makes you feel sick.

    99. You are astonished to find apples are cheaper than mangos.

  11. You catch yourself saying “gracias” insteda of “thank you”.

    You search for news of sports (like cricket and football (Australian rules, soccer)) not found in local newspapers.

  12. you become racist against people that are really your own skin colour.

  13. New Zealander moved back to NZ after nearly a decade living in Thailand:

    you ask strangers in the supermarket what to use to clean soap scum from your bath as you’re used to having a maid

    when people ask for your phone number it automatically comes into your brain in Thai and you have to translate to English

    you miss rice even though you were sick of it

    you are excited to see people from your chosen country and just want to chat with them

    the swearing and sex on tv actually get to me a lot, that one made me smile

    your brain fills up with overheard conversations and you have to remind yourself not to talk about people that you notice when you are in public THEY understand what you are saying!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. you find yourself eating Quaker oatmeal with chopsticks, even though you do have spoons. (Actually just happened.)

    you spend hours looking for kimchi in what seems to be a ridiculously enormous supermarket, but it turns out they don’t carry it.

    you buy coats with belts or drawstrings at the waist so you can shove heavy stuff inside your coat and just wear it onto the airplane in order to avoid excess baggage fees.

    you can facially recognize which customs agent on duty at any given time usually processes the line the most quickly.

    you get into a taxi exhausted at the airport and give several addresses to the driver in multiple languages before remembering which one you’re going to this time.

    a 10-hour flight strikes you as being remarkably short.

    when your elderly relatives ask you, “Do they have TV yet in China?” and you answer, “No, they just watch everything on the internet.”

    road lanes and parking spaces in your home country seem inordinately oversized.

    an Arby’s Beef ‘n’ Cheddar sandwich with Horsey Sauce sounds better than champagne and caviar.

    you freak out when the sniffing dog at an American airport approaches your luggage because you are carrying two antique Chinese opium scales and two antique Thai opium pipes at the time.

    you freak out when the sniffing dog at the airport approaches your luggage because he just looks so delicious.

    you own only four pairs of shoes and only wear two of them.

    you can’t believe it’s cheaper to shop and cook yourself than to go out to eat.

    you split your prescription medications into multiple bags in case one of them gets lost.

    a Korean colleague asks you at dinner what is the strangest thing you’ve eaten in your travels, and she (a Korean of all people) vomits in her mouth when you answer.

    you know which Asian airport is the current holder of the title “Best Airport in the World”.

    you just can’t believe you can so easily find a parking space at Cosco in your home country.

    you’re fairly fluent in an Asian language, but it’s not the language used in the Asian country you live in.

    you invite your elderly parents to come stay with you for a while so that they can receive safe and affordable major surgery.

    you know the length of stay granted on a landing visa in five or more countries.

    you have so many frequent flier miles that the last thing you want to do is to cash them in towards a free flight because you just can’t bear the thought of boarding another plane.

    it takes little thought to come up with more than twenty completions to the sentence, “You know you’re an expat when…”

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Thanks for this! I laughed reading these out loud to my wife this morning. All of them so true!

  15. You just now learned that a Kardashian is not a style of sweater.

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