Localer than Thou – Overcoming Expat Snootiness

A few posts ago a friend and loyal CultureMutt reader, Tristan complained about overseas travelers that are in a phase where they refuse to talk to any other foreigner.  If you’ve tried to socialize with fellow travelers abroad at hostels or elsewhere, you’ve probably come across some of these types.  They somehow think that if they ignore all the other obviously foreign people and focus on being super “local”, they will somehow transcend the ranks of the mere tourist and become honorary citizens of the host country.  It’s gross.  And it only gets worse with long-term relocation expat types.  They are convinced that their three years and counting automatically qualify them as connoisseur insiders and that you have to spend at least as long as they have in the country before they will fraternize with you.

Here are my tips for how to deal with these types if and when you run into them:

Avoid them

This might be the easiest option.  If you are only visiting for a short time and you want to dodge the patronizing looks and condescending comments of expat know-it-alls, learn to spot them and then avoid them.  Expat snobs will name-drop, speak pejoratively about the US and a lot of the other typical tourist home bases and constantly act surprised at your lack of knowledge of some quirky local custom or hot spot.  As soon as you get these comments or as soon as you hear them being dished at someone else, get away from the source.  They are seeking some kind of complex validation and are never satisfied.  Better to actually talk to a real local, they are more likely to be receptive to honest questions and interest in their culture and way of life.

Speak the local language to them

But suppose you do want to engage the snobs, how do you do it?  One thing I noticed about “localer than thou” language students was that if you speak to them in the local language, you automatically win points in their book.  I remember a guy I met in France.  He ignored or rolled his eyes at most of his fellow language school students.  I came to the school on a recruiting trip and during my down time I started to speak French to him.  That seemed to be the magic switch that turned him into an engaging, enthusiastic conversation partner.  He was apparently sick of language students that he felt were holding back his progress by speaking English to him.  A lot of people disliked him for his seeming arrogance.  But he finished his year in France speaking superb French, something 90% of his classmates did not.  The key to engaging him was to help him achieve his goals by speaking French to him – simple as that.

Talk local

Going with the same logic, if you want to neutralize the snootiness of the localer than thou, get local with them.  If you ask them the right questions and show respect for their feel for the lay of the land, they will typically be willing to share.  However the will NOT want to hear about how expensive/cheap, big/small, quaint or ordinary local products and attractions seem to you compared to what they are at home.  A lot of American expats especially, are sick of being associated with American tourists that come bumbling into town with their potbellies, fanny packs and constant comparisons to how things are in Texas.  DO NOT embarrass or harass them with such observations, it does not help you or your bid for acceptance.

Traveling or working abroad is an art and you learn as you go.  Take the above into consideration, remember to respect and learn from the local way and you will set yourself up for success.

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Bjorn Karlman

5 thoughts on “Localer than Thou – Overcoming Expat Snootiness”

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