Four types of Internet Expat (and why they should be avoided)

Bahia Sunset

If you’ve ever considered moving abroad and turned to internet message boards for advice, you may have been shocked to find a few less than helpful folks. In fact many potential expats have been turned off by the attitudes projected online and seriously rethink their plans of migration. Unfortunately the internet has become a place where people can hide behind a computer screen and express themselves in ways they would never dare to in reality. And many of these people who have nothing better to do than haunt chat rooms and Facebook groups are the most bitter about life in general and are more than willing to spread the misery.

The good news is that one person’s experience of perception of expat life is rarely the reality for the majority. Just because Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises centers around his clique of binge-drinking narcissistic tortured-artists does not mean this was a true reflection of all Americans in Paris during the 1920s. In kind, just because a few very vocal expats choose to portray their perception of life abroad all over the internet does not mean it is so. Here are some of the types of online expats you might encounter and why you should ignore them.

The Know-It-All/Braggart

The know-it-all loves to tell you how long they have lived in the country, how well they speak the language, and how involved they are in the community. They don’t simply hand out this information when it is relevant to a question or topic, but they find ways to work it into every conversation. They’re also big name droppers, jumping at the chance to mention the time they spoke with the mayor so as to imply they are buddies and maybe you’ll even start to believe they are some sort of spokesperson for the expat community. You will hear so much about the countless good deeds they have done in feeding the homeless, clothing the orphans, and raising money for public betterment projects that you will soon wonder if maybe Mother Theresa’s sainthood was misspent.

The truth: Chances are much of what this person has to say is exaggerated or just plain false. Like a pufferfish their online persona is inflated to several times what their true image is or should be. If there is a very knowledgeable do-gooder expat in town, you’ll know about it. From other expats. Anyone with real value will not need to promote themselves and shouldn’t.

The Pessimist

This is the expat with the Chicken Little complex. The pessimist can turn a conversation about where to buy socks into a rant on why we’re all going to die. Posting links to articles about criminal activity in their adopted country is a favorite pastime, while of course ignoring the floodgate of crime-related reports from their original country of residence. Tales of expats being taken advantage of in business dealings or worse become repeated and regurgitated until they no longer resemble the actual facts. Even minor events cause a frantic cry of “the sky is falling!”

The truth: When living in a new country it is absolutely true that you must be cautious and get a feel for your new home. The world for the most part is buyer beware. However, there are very few countries where the majority of people are not welcoming, friendly, and happy. Crime exists everywhere – the real question should be “is the crime disproportionate?” Moreover, if this country or town is so dangerous, ask yourself why the pessimist is living there themselves.

Rose Colored Glasses Only

The extreme antithesis to the Pessimist, is the expat who only sees their new country through rosy shades of pink. Their world consists of rainbows, ponies, and lollipops and anything less will be ignored or altogether shunned as false. Nothing in this country can be wrong and no one had better say otherwise. I have heard these people actually say that by moving abroad you are a guest in your new country and therefore must accept all aspects of the nation: good or bad. This makes for some fun discussions between Rosy’s and Pessimists on online forums. This also makes me question the morality of people who will not even listen to those who speak out against rampant animal or domestic abuse and racism.

The truth: It should be obvious to most of us that the world is not perfect and sometimes negative experiences need to be shared in a calm manner. Convincing potential expats that any place is heaven on earth is just wrong. Not only is it misleading, but it makes the inevitable culture shock all that much worse.

I Found It First

This is the guy who finds the ideal place to relocate and immediately wants the doors shut to all future immigrants. Sometimes he will masquerade as a pessimist, posting horror stories so as to discourage newbies from checking out his new town. Other times he might come right out and rudely tell people that no new outsiders are welcome here.

The truth: There’s not much to say here other than these guys are simply selfish. The good news is that if you do move, you’re unlikely to run into them as they are often anti-expat in general (despite the fact that they are expats themselves).


11 thoughts on “Four types of Internet Expat (and why they should be avoided)”

  1. Sounds awful Wendy. Are there so many of these that it is overwhelming? I have run into some of these, but mostly I have met very nice and helpful people on line.

    1. No George, they’re not overwhelming. Actually, they’re the minority, but they seem to be the ones who make their presence most known at times. My point with this article is that even though some of these people exist, they are not indicative of expats as a whole and should be taken with a grain of salt.:)

  2. Wendy, I believe there is a subset of “I Found It First” species. It’s the “Why Are You Here/Coming”. This subset shares many of the traits of the “I Found It First” species, but from their prospective, they observe Expats (doesn’t matter where from), and tourists that find it incredulous that Ecudorians don’t share the same value/culture systems as themselves. When this subspecies sees this attitude demonstrated, their first thought is, “why don’t you just leave, or not come”.

    They are unlike the “I Found It First” in as much the don’t want to close the boarders to everyone, just those that think that Ecuador should be a little piece of America (or whatever country as applicable). An example (as related to me) was a woman in TIA looking for Cinamon. When she couldn’t find it, she blurted out (loud enough to be heard by other shoppers), “Why can’t these people speak English!” Wish I would have been there. My first reaction would be to equally tersely blurt out, “Porque tu no hablas espanol?”

    I do put myself into this subspecies. I came here because I truly want to embrace and immerse myself into the Ecuadorian history, culture, people, language, customs, traditions and all the rest that makes a society what it is. So for this subspecies, it’s not a matter of being “anti-expat”, it’s more like we are “anti-insensitive expat”. And yes, you are correct that we will probably not be seen at the expat hangouts, and if we are at an event, it’s because we want to mingle with friends and like-minded expats and not at some event simply because it carries the label Expat, like that’s some kind of badge of courage.

  3. Robert, I completely agree with you about insensitive expats. Happily, I’ve seen many people on the internet advising newbies to learn the local language and come with a willingness to adapt.

    You are correct that there are other types of expats out there and the reason I didn’t list them here is because I don’t feel they should be avoided. I’m simply pointing out the extremists who mislead others as to what a country is truly like.

  4. Really enjoyed this! The rose coloured and the i found it first are my two faves 🙂 I love being an expat but I do enjoy a good rant about the things that get on my nerves over here too haha

  5. Love this post Wendy! I sometimes gave out advice on some of the forums and it’s incredible the crap that goes on there. You’ve hit it bang on with your descriptions – but one generalization, despite whatever category they’re in, is that they all treat the forums like their own personal facebook page. I mean, what kind of person has 6000 comments under his belt? They feel the need to comment and give advice on every single post while at the same time trying to impose their rules on others. One of the things they hate are ‘self-promoting” bloggers (who would you trust, a blogger who stands behind his blog and the advice he gives out or some anonymous blowhard who might be a bar/hotel owner?). I always tell them that if they don’t like me commenting they can complain to the moderator, otherwise just shut it.
    I wonder what prompted you to write this post?
    Good job,
    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. Hi Frank! You’re right, their are a few people who tend to dominate these boards making it difficult for the rational few to get a word in edgewise.

      My motivation in writing the post comes from people who have contacted me (usually through my blog), worried about moving abroad because of things they read on these message boards, or because of people they’ve encountered on the internet.

      I find it interesting how much vitriol I see online, yet rarely encounter in reality.

  6. Also the ‘Jaded Lifer’, who hates any kind of ‘noob’ (especially the rose-colored glasses variety) talking about the country on forums and group pages, and proceed to immediately drown them in negative, demeaning comments about how they resent people making a big deal about cultural differences.

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