Friday, March 17, 2006

Expat Discretion

As an expat, you will often be living in certain places where your presence alone may attract uncalled attention from a variety of unwanted elements. Jealous locals, fake business partners, women that want to take advantage of you, prejudiced people who do not like your race or nationality, corrupt police looking for bribes, etc. One has to be on guard at all times as one is not at home and may not know the ropes in a foreign land.

I am by nature a very gregarious, open and friendly person; and I like having many people around me, host noisy parties, have a whole bunch of guys and gals hanging out my house all the time- all these things make me happy. However, after having lived in places where people were of a different race, different culture and different values and modes of behavior, I have learned to appreciate the value of privacy, discretion, low profile and introversion. In some places, you can get beat up just for being a foreigner, have people file a false report on you with the authorities, have them slander you out of jealousy or even accuse you of a crime that you have not committed. And you may not be able to get any help from anywhere as often you are on your own there. After having experienced a certain shade of all the above, I have trained myself to be a quite, polite and discreet person, mindful of my own personal space and living in a sort of a bubble, a private fortress that exists either in the apartment that I occupy, a hotel room or simply dwells in my behavior towards my strange environment.

If there is a party, I am not always eager to go there. I do not know how people will react to having the likes of me there and what they will say. If I am invited to someone’s home, I also think long and hard about going there. And, if there is an outing, and strange people are coming to it, I am cautious, again. The friend who is inviting me may like me, but what about his/her friends? Will they like me, too? I have to think a little bit and assess the situation beforehand. In many cases, I have even chosen to decline an invitation under some pretext. It may be wise not to show up since not all people there may be pleased to see me. I do not know who and what they are and I am in a foreign land. Who knows how I will be treated!

One should not become paranoid either, mind you, but just allow selective entry to anyone who wants to interact with you and place certain conditional restrictions on anyone who comes into your space. One also needs to learn about which places are OK to go to and which are off limits to expats like oneself. In some countries, there are limitations on how deeply you can penetrate the local society and one should be aware of those borders. Ask other expats who have been there longer about those limits but also, do not believe them much either. You may have a whole different destiny in that place from them, so try and find out as much as you can from as many sources as you can. Where are you welcome? Where are you not welcome? Ask some straight questions and get some plain answers. Do not rely on tourist brochures or enthusiastic starry-eyed foreigners alone.

Expat life can be very rewarding, but there is a price to pay. Low profile is of paramount importance. Do not underestimate how crucial it is.

In case of a permanent traveler or resident, privacy, prudence, and discretion are not choices; they are necessities. One needs to be doubly on guard, doubly careful and often doubly sneaky when one is abroad. That is the only way to survive in the turbulent and often tricky world out there.

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