Back home or here, we all know someone who just can’t resist sharing their good fortune (usually with a large audience and a few more in earshot). Whether it’s their salary package, their possessions or their prowess, their black cat’s blacker than your black cat. Expat life gives them yet more reason to boast; either they’ve lived in more countries than you have, or they’ve been here longer.
Does ‘Expat Envy’ really exist? Do we judge others based on whether they’re new to the expat scene or seasoned pros, and do we form opinions based on how long someone’s called the sandpit home?
Going by tales from residents, yes; it seems Expat Envy really does exist and we do indeed judge. Most expats will remember an occasion – a barbecue, a coffee morning, a play date – where they’ve asked another expat for info or advice, and been asked in response how long they’ve been here; without actually saying it, there’s an inherent judgement in there somewhere.
“Ah, you don’t know such-and-such… You must be new!” While it’s always nice to be able to pass on advice to fellow expats, it seems there’s a certain protocol about doing so. Dare we say we disregard the opinion of someone we consider hasn’t been here long enough to really know? Perhaps not blatantly or out loud, but it’s a distinct possibility. If the question is where to find the best British curry around town, it’s an unspoken rule that you can’t answer unless you’ve been here long enough to have tried every one at least twice, right?
Also part of ‘Expat Envy’ could be the ‘Where have you lived before?’ chats, where those on their fifth country in six years reign supreme while the fresh-from-the-Home-Counties group keeps quiet.
But does all this make newbies feel unwelcome, or does it make first-time expats feel inferior? However much it might be unintentional, it could well do. “I lost count of the number of times I was asked how long we’d been in Dubai when we first moved here,” says Liz Murray, 40. “Looks of superiority weren’t uncommon, and I could tell some people just loved telling me they remembered Emirates Towers being built. And it didn’t help that we hadn’t lived anywhere else before moving to Dubai, either.”
One mum who’s been here 16 years actively dislikes discussions on ‘length of service’, though, and tries to steer the conversation away if possible. “Usually, I’ve been here the longest and I don’t want anyone to get the impression I think I’m better than anyone else because of it,” she explains. “Dubai has changed so much since I arrived, so there’s every chance a newbie will know it better than I do anyway!”
Looks like we could benefit from a dose of empathy, along with a side of sensitivity. We’re all in the same boat, regardless of how long we’ve had the life-jacket on. Let’s leave the one-upmanship for toddlers and sit on that superiority complex, shall we?