I’ve often talked about the expat community. You meet some great people, but occasionally get thrown in with others you wouldn’t be friends with back in your home country. And you notice all the strange and ugly habits expats have. It’s a bit like living in a bubble: annoying expat habits seem to be magnified by 100.
I met a girl at an event where there was a large array of food on the buffet, including pizza. She gave a quick glance down the food table. “Oh, pizza!”, she exclaimed. “Too bad, I can’t eat it. Gluten-free over here”, she added, pointing to herself with her thumbs.
“Oh, that’s a shame. But there’s other good stuff you can eat on the buffet.”
“Nah, I don’t care if it touches other food, so I just scoop off the cheese and pepperoni and eat that, then get rid of the crust”.
“Um. You should be careful with that”, I said, raising my eyebrows. I know enough people with celiac disease to know that the slightest bit of cross-contamination would result in some serious consequences.
“Oh, ha haha! It’s okay!”, she said, pleased with herself. “I don’t eat food with gluten cos gluten makes you fat”.
Doing happy hour at a favorite watering hole. The expat next to me strikes up a conversation, as all expats are wont to do. We start talking food, which is a pretty neutral and safe subject for me, much like conversation about weather. Upon finding out I’m a chef, guy starts grilling me.
“So if I had to move to a desert island tomorrow, what would you make me today?”
“What, like last meal or death row meal? That’s entirely up to you. What foods do you crave?”
“Aw c’mon, you’re not playing along. What would you make me?”
“I’d make you whatever you want”.
“COME ON. You can do better than that. YOU’RE A CHEF”.
“I’m not entirely sure I understand this question then. Isn’t this about you, what you would be eating as your last meal before heading out to solitude? This isn’t about me or what I want to eat”.
He sighs, exasperated. “Are you a cook or aren’t you a cook? Come on, what would you make me?”
I'm a little confused by this point and starting to get irritated, so I just blurt out the one thing that comes to mind. “Uh… jambalaya”.
“PERFECT!”, he shouts. “That’s exactly what I was thinking of! So you can make jambalaya?”
“Well, yeah. I can make all kinds of different food”. I’m still a little confused though. Maybe he’s drunk?
“But you can make jambalaya?”
I try not to be too obvious with the eye rolling, but grit my teeth instead. “Yesss”.
“And what else would you make me?”.
Hop on a bus, run into an expat acquaintance I’ve met once before. Start talking a bit, fully aware that the English speakers on the bus are listening in on the conversation.
“I’m having trouble with learning the language”, I lament to the acquaintance. “I’m trying to do this online course, but I can’t easily remember vocabulary words. I think I might get a tutor”.
Expat eyes widen. “You are actually going to try to learn Vietnamese?”
“Well yeah, of course”, I say, looking up at him with a surprised expression. “Aren’t you?”
He shrugs his shoulders and says rather smugly. “I’ve been here 15 years and never bothered to learn”.
Standing at a bar trying to get in an order. Expat girl next to me drops her phone on the ground. “Ooops!”, she giggles.
“Oh shit, is it okay? Hope the screen isn’t cracked”.
“No biggie, I’ll just get my parents to buy me another one”.
Then there's the expats who act all strangely when they find out what I do for a living.
On two different occasions i've had men become angry for, and I quote, "stealing" a job that they think should rightfully have been theirs since they're men. I got the "How did you get that job?", by an incredulous American, who failed as a chef back home, came here to 'find himself', then moved back home when that didn't work out. "It's not fair, I even went to culinary school and you didn't".
The other one, a European chef, was upset that I was able to find chef work several times when he couldn't. We were at Oktoberfest, and I thought he was going to smash his beer stein over my head. "I've been looking for chef jobs, but nobody will hire me", he said, looking at me accusingly. "I had to get a job in a different field instead. But I want your job. How do I get your job?".
And not to let everyone feel left out, i've had a woman act the same way. She's not a chef, but the French-Canadian wife of a German guy who was transferred here for work. She seemed pretty upset about having to live here in general. We exchanged business cards, and she was startled. "So your boss is Australian? And they hired you? Why?"
"Uh, what do you mean, 'why'?", I said, narrowing my eyes.
"Forgive me if this sounds rude, but why did they hire you? Why didn't they hire an Australian chef instead?"
"Why don't you ask them? they're standing right over there", I said, pointing to my boss and her husband. trying to find a way to extricate myself from this conversation.
"Oh you think i'm being rude, don't you. I just think it's odd, that's all".
"I don't think it's odd at all. I can cook very well, and they like my food. That's why I got hired".
She smiled politely, so I took my cue and walked away.
The next day she sent me a LinkedIn connect request. Go figure.
* Title borrowed from another expat during a Twitter conversation about how annoying expats are.