How to Become a Local – Fitting in as an Expat
Living overseas is a huge personal and professional challenge. If you’ve done it yourself you’d probably agree there are few things more important than working towards fitting in as an expat. Because without putting in a little bit of elbow grease you will never feel at home.
If you know me personally you may find the following extremely amusing. After all, I’m usually the quirky one that doesn’t get all of the jokes, questions things others consider “normal” and sometimes simply can’t join some of the conversation about our favourite TV show when we were five (I have some, but most wouldn’t know them, so what’s the point?).
In other words, my fitting in rate is a work in progress. But that’s ok, I’m not a local and I still get asked where my accent is from and when I will be returning home. Whatever.
Despite all that, I do feel at home. Fitting in as an expat, or someone “fresh off the boat” as Australians like to call migrants, can be a bit daunting and scary. Rather than telling you the obvious challenges of language and culture I share my secret assimilation techniques (mostly) tried and tested.
Watch TV and lots of it
If you’re new in town your path to becoming a local will start on your couch.
News, local shows and advertisement is what people talk about. If you want to be able to join the conversation try to find out what the latest scoop is before talking about your favourite shows from home. It’s boring, nobody wants to know (I tried). People want to talk about what they know – and, well, their opinion about it.
Following news is quite self-explanatory. Even if politics sends you straight to sleep getting a sense of who the major politicians are and what’s going on is not a bad thing.
Weather forecasts not only tell you what you should wear the next day, but it also shoves you a map right under your nose every night showing you names of towns and their locations. Always comes in handy to know where Wagga Wagga is.
I personally refuse to watch soaps and advertisement, but there are quirky programs airing every now and then which I’m quite happy to consume. Very good TV spots are usually on YouTube so I get my best-off from the advertisement world from there.
I’ve even gone to the extend of googling old ads from 20 years ago to find out what people where talking about, but hey, I’m not only dedicated, curiosity is my middle-name.
Read children books and eat cookies
See, since I’ve spent my childhood and teenage years elsewhere it’s kind of essential to at least partially fill the gaps. Popular kids books, and by popular I mean “has been around for decades”, have shaped my peers.
Although there aren’t many occasions where nursery rhymes are sung in the office (although it’s happened) it does help to understand what makes people tick.
Food is a strong connection to memories. As a child you will have had your favourite treat – and a notorious ritual of how to eat it. Don’t believe me? Ask the next best Australian how they eat their Tim Tam’s or their thoughts on Wagon Wheels. Listen and watch. Even better, buy a pack and taste it yourself so you can relate.
Play, play, play any type of sport
Now, here is where my dedication of fitting in as an expat sadly ends. Chasing an oddly shaped ball or hanging out waiting for a batsman to do their thing – it’s just not my thing.
But hey, everybody is different. My lack of interest in sport is very Unaustralian, as this country is rightly called a sports crazy nation. So, if you want to fit in watch it, play it, talk about it. It’s definitely a great way to hook up with new people sharing the same interest.
I prefer books and bikkies.
Be indiscriminately curious
Even though sport doesn’t interest me I have made an effort and gone to a game. It was in Sydney. I can’t remember who played or won. And it doesn’t matter.
Whatever you come across at least TRY it before discarding it. Maybe you’re totally into music, but don’t know any of the local bands? Check them out. You’re walking past a nice looking eatery or hear people saying “Sizzlers is the best restaurant in town” – don’t shrug it off. Try it, taste it and find out yourself.
Word of warning
Just between you and me, there are many little quirks that people adore as “the best ever”, “it’s how it’s suppose to be”, things they’ve “always done like that” or would “never do any differently”.
Whatever it is people talk about, if you’ve given it a go and decided it’s not for you, because your favourite childhood treat tasted ten times better than anything here – don’t try to convert the locals. It’s an argument you can’t and won’t win, ever.
I once brough a Stollen, a German christmas cake, to work with the mission to convince people of the flaws of local fruit cakes. My colleagues ate it. Some liked it. Mostly they picked on the pun whether the cake was purchased or stolen (get it?).
Always remember you’re the one who wants to fit in as an expat. You also have the privilege of being able to compare two cultures, which locals don’t. Instead of explaining why fruit cakes need marzipan use the diplomacy of an expat.
Accept that taste is subjective.
Also, nod and smile.
Any tips you want to share that helped you fitting in as an expat?