“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman
As an expat the first thing you need to remember is that whatever country you are residing in has allowed you to be there. You do not have the inherent right to be there because of birth; you are merely a visitor, one who is subject to the laws of that country, the customs, the regulations and beyond. Unfortunately, not all expats observe these basic, common-sense rules, leading to one of the most challenging aspects of traveling as a Westerner from the United States or the United Kingdom: the superiority complex.
Many expats head to another country with one goal in mind: a cheaper cost of living. And while that’s certainly one of the many reasons to enjoy the location independent lifestyle, it is not the be-all, end-all reason for exploring another culture. Unfortunately many of the expats who are living in other countries purely for the financial benefits lose sight of the fact that they are not, in fact, citizens of the country they are living in as an expat. They still behave as though they are back home; rather than learn the local language or respect the local customs they continue speaking English, asking for English menus at the restaurants, only going to English-speaking functions put on by the English-speaking expats in the community and living in insulated, culture-fearing communities.
One of the things I educate people on over at Marginal Boundaries where I teach people how to Live Like a Local in cities around the world is that embracing the local way of life is a must when it comes to living the digital nomad lifestyle. If, that is, your goal is not to be another tourist, yet another English-speaking Westerner with a chip on their shoulder about how superior they are to the rest of the world simply because they were born in the U.S. or the U.K. or speak English as their native tongue. If your goal is to transition into a local resident, one who speaks the local language, observes the local customs, dresses the way the locals dress, celebrates the same holidays that the locals celebrate and basically goes above and beyond to “go native”, as the phrasing goes, than you are in for the ride of your life.
Why do you want to do this? First and foremost, because you expect foreigners to do the same when they are in your country. When you are standing in line at your local grocery store you expect the foreigners to speak English when they purchase food. You expect them to obey the national laws for drinking alcohol (such as in the United States where you need to be 21, even if you come from a country where the legal drinking age is 14), to order their food in English at restaurants and to use English when asking for directions or ordering a cab or asking questions at a local civil office. So why should it be any different for you when you are living on foreign soil? The rules apply to you as well.
It all boils down to respect. You are not “better” than the locals simply because you hail from a Western country. You are merely another human being. And when you are on a foreign soil’s turf you have to remember one thing above anything else: you are here with the permission of a foreign government. Not only should you be respecting their laws, but you should be going above and beyond to prove that you are worthy of the privilege of being in your chosen country, not merely thinking that because you hold a passport from a first world country you have an automatic right to be there.
But above and beyond that is the simple fact that by living like a local, by immersing yourself in the environment, you experience so much more than you would ever see as an insulated, culture-fearing expat. You can blend in, experience a way of life that is different from your own, make new friends and explore a new sense of humor with jokes that mean nothing in English, participate in culture events and holidays that are never seen outside of the country in which you are residing, go beyond merely shopping in the local supermarkets with their debit card machines and air condition and experience true organic foods and, more importantly, share a way of life with other human beings that most of your countrymen will never explore given the fact that they are still locked away in the so-called comforts of suburbia.
So take a step beyond the English-speaking malls and plazas and restaurants with familiar names. Learn the language. Celebrate local customs. Actually respect the culture and way of life and embrace is as your own rather than simply moving to another country to enjoy a lower cost of living. Become more than just another expat. Live like a local and experience the world through the eyes of another culture.