Top 10 Ways to Lose Friends and Alienate People Abroad

There’s nothing more miserable than feeling lonely and friendless while traveling or working abroad.  The tragic thing is that we often lose friends when abroad because we break some fundamental rules, often without meaning to.  Complete alienation is a sad, sad state and is to be avoided if at all possible.  To do so it helps to remember just how people lose friends.  Here’s a handy Top 10 List:

1)  Keep talking about how amazing it is back home – This one drives locals bonkers.  “Why did you come here if you were just going to talk about your amazing country all the time?”  It’s a valid question.  Blabbering on about your home country is insecure and discourteous.  Enjoy your host country for what it brings.  Wisconsin can be fully enjoyed in all its cheesy glory upon your return.

2)  Take it upon yourself to compare things to home – Here’s a related one that nevertheless needs to be emphasized.  NOBODY wants to know how big, small, cute, dirty or cramped the local transportation, monuments, stores or hotel rooms are compared to what you have at home.  Often these comparisons come across as patronizing and they are rarely appreciated.  Even if you are asked to compare something local to what you have at home, AVOID it, especially if there is any chance you will be perceived as looking down at the local scene.

3)  Be too eager – Don’t worry, if you have just arrived somewhere new you will eventually meet people and make friends.  Don’t be a desperate loser.  Over-eager types are avoided like the plague because they get exhausting on the trail.  Don’t be that person who pounces on locals or fellow travelers with a torrent of questions and over-enthusiastic talk about everything.

4)  Be a clingy life sap – Similarly, don’t be a leech.  Give your new friends some space.  You do not need to hang out with them 24/7.  Show some independence.  Go exploring on your own.  You don’t want to lose friends because you tire them out and never give them a break.

5)  Refuse to learn the language  - Nobody is saying you have to be fluent.  But don’t be so scared off by the local tongue that you don’t try to learn and use some of it.  By trying to speak the language you automatically endear yourself to locals.  You may think that you are going to embarrass yourself learning the new language.  You will.  But the damage of this is far less than if you refuse to learn and run the risk of looking elitist. 

6)  Only hang out with your kind – Abandon your comfort zone.  Do not hang out with only people from your country or only people that speak English.  This may be comfortable but by playing it safe you are shooting yourself in the foot.  You will ignore a ton of opportunities to interact with the amazing locals.

7)  Be a lifeless, unadventurous bore – This speaks for itself.  Take some risks, be adventurous.  Enjoy the unknown and try new things.  People will love you for it.

8)  Think you are a celebrity  - You may be lucky enough to get a lot of attention as the new arrivalDon’t get a big head about it.  Be gracious.  Don’t take the attention for granted.  Use it to reach out to as many people as possible but don’t gloat about being the exotic new foreigner.  This gets old QUICK.  Make the best first impression possible.

9)  Don’t eat the local food – This happens with tourists all the time… they crowd around American fast food chains, pizza joints and Subway restaurants.  This is lame and is an apparent rejection of local cuisine.

10)  Get offended really easily – If you are an American or if you come from another major world power, get used to the fact that people are going to have a problem with some of your politicians and their policies.  Don’t let this get to you.  Expect it and learn to move on.  No point getting all bent out of shape.

How about you?  Lost any friends on the trail?  Let me know how in the comment section.

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Bjorn Karlman

3 thoughts on “Top 10 Ways to Lose Friends and Alienate People Abroad”

  1. An interesting list. It works two ways. I get very annoyed with foreigners that get offended easily, don’t learn the language, talk about how much better their country is, only hang out with their kind, and are leeches. I don’t care about the food or if they are boring people. Also, anyone who thinks they are celebrity pisses me off. lol So seriously though, I think there is a double standard for Americans. We are expected to adapt when we are other places, but if we expect the same thing here, we are xenophobes. I generally agree though: “when in Rome”. An immigrant, temporary or permanent, has a responsibility to the local populace. I have considered moving a few places and still might in the future. If it happens, I will definitely follow the list.

  2. I am glad you brought up the double standard when it comes to Americans. There clearly is one – Americans, as you said, are required to be obliging on their own turf and extremely respectful abroad. This, of course, applies to everyone else too but I don’t think anyone else is judged quite as harshly if they don’t follow the rules. Some are going to say that this has to do with sins committed in the past – American overreach, etc but I think it has more to do with the pressures of being the only current superpower. You are simply held to a more strict and narrow standard and everyone loves to critique any missteps…

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