The Expat Life in Bali, Part 3

Expats can be incredibly difficult people to deal with. I say this after almost 20 years of expat life, and I include myself as someone that can be difficult at times even though I generally make an effort not to be difficult. The internet has made expat life even more bizarre than it has historically been because now expats can act out in public for large (or small) groups of strangers without taking even the least bit of responsibility for their weirdness.

What brought this topic up? A few paragraphs in Paul Theroux’s latest travel book about his meeting with some expats in Thailand and the recent shenanigans over at an expat forum. So what about expats? Here are a few observations that I’ve made over the years, and for those who know me you’ll see that I include a number of my own habits and foibles in these comments.

The Multi-lingual Expat

Living in a foreign country can mean the learning of a new language. This can be especially troublesome for the linguistically challenged expat including the elderly, the neo-colonialist or the lazy. The linguistically challenged expat is forced to find a friend or, better yet, a spouse to act as a cultural gatekeeper and translator.
The Multi-lingual Expat loves to speak Indonesian, or better yet, Balinese in front of his/her expat friends, but only if they know less than the Multi-lingual Expat. The linguistic gymnastics that the Multi-lingual Expat performs dazzle the less able Expat and leads to comments like, “Oh, Barry is really just like a Balinese, you should hear him use Bahasa with the locals.”

This linguistic ability enables the Multi-lingual Expat to lay claim to secret local knowledge available only to expert speakers of Indonesian or Balinese. The Multi-lingual Expat can end all arguments about local issues simply by saying, “Well, if you could speak Indonesian/Balinese, you’d be able to see that you really don’t have a grasp on the situation as locals see it.” Accordingly, the Balinese speaking Multi-lingual Expat has the final say in all arguments, and can increase his/her status by chiding the Indonesian only speaking Multi-lingual Expat for not knowing Balinese.

However, there is some danger attached to using this ploy in mixed gatherings as the Multi-lingual Expat may be challenged by an impudent local child who will loudly proclaim, “You’re not saying that word right.” In this type of situation, the Multi-lingual Expat can minimize status damage by patting the child, smiling condescendingly and then completely ignoring the comment.

Expat Status Points: 8/10


~ by drbrucepk on February 22, 2009.

4 Responses to “The Expat Life in Bali, Part 3”

  1. […] . People who face bad credit often look to get rid of it by using the services of a third party The Expat Life in Bali, Part 3 – 02/22/2009 Expats can be incredibly difficult people to deal with. […]

  2. Yeah I know which category I fall into…..

  3. Hello Dr. Bruce,
    Interesting. I would like to know more of the events that caused such a reserved but obviously heartfelt post. I have lived in Japan for 15 years. I am fluent in Japanese as far as what ever fluency means. I do think the majority of stress that expats have is connected with local language ability. A deep source of graduate thesis study no doubt. The “use language as something other than as a communicative tool” river runs deep here too.

  4. Hi Dave,

    Just years of listening to conversations in a variety of situations – work, social, formal and informal – and watching the way that the use of knowledge of the host language is used as a tool for gaining status in the expat community. I don’t know about Japan, but expats in Bali can be really competitive.

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