In this final part of my long-winded opinion on expat communities, I tackle the things I didn’t much care for. Why is this part so much longer than the others? Likely because I tend to remember horrible experiences in greater details than I do happy ones. Hopefully you can enjoy my renditions and get a kick out of my stories and experiences; best-case scenario, you might even laugh or learn a thing or two.
If you don’t know what an expat community is, check out Part 1.
If you want to feel happier after reading the cons about expat communities, relive the good times with Part 2.
Disclaimer: The things I’ve written here, as well as what I’ve written in Parts 1 and 2, are my own personal experiences and my own personal take on the expat community. You might have your own experiences that either made you love or hate your expat community (or if you’re not in an expat community gave you a bit of insight to the good and the bad), and that’s fine too. These are my own beliefs and experiences, and in no way abdicate whether or not anyone else should start or join an expat community.
If you’re read all the good points I’ve listed in Part 2, you’re likely thinking to yourself, “Those sound great! Why would you ever want to leave that?” I’ll tell you why. In no simple terms, there is a lot of toxicity in expat communities towards the country they live in now, the natives, other expats, and just about everything in between. Personally, I’ve been burned one too many times to easily trust the sincerity of another expat’s friendship or advice.
I think that this is also partially to do with my general dislike for social media in general. Often times I think of how social media has evolved, and I’m glad I’m no longer ‘plugged in’ or connected. People showing off the best parts of their lives while hiding the worst; complaining about something that they might have been wrong about to get sympathy and support; selling crappy products to your supposed friends and family to make money; and starting debates over politics, vaccinations, foreign policies, or whatever other topic almost no one who’s responding has any actually authority in seem so tedious to me.
Add to that people who are trying to navigate the unsure waters of living in a foreign country and you’ve got a hodgepodge of craziness and chaos. Suddenly your life is filled with “I used perfect (enter language of the country you’re living in) today with someone and they said they couldn’t understand me! That’s racist!” or “Do you guys think I can just throw all of my trash into the trashcans of a local store since I missed trash day? It’s only five or six bags,” or even the dreaded “I haven’t cleaned my apartment in six months, do you think I’ll get my deposit back when I move out early because I’m breaking contract?”
I’m not saying that all communities are this way, but here’s what I observed within my own community, as well as talked about with other and their experiences:
- Short-term friendships
- Using other people
- Complaining about the company
- Complaining about the job
- Staying in the group too long
We’ve all encountered ‘fake’ people in our lives, but the fake I’m referring to is people who put on an act. They’re overdramatic in everything that they do in order to gain attention and pull in an audience that will feed their ego. I had a friend in high school who’s entire life was drama – no, not the gossiping drama, I mean everything she did had flair and passion. Order a cookie at lunch? Make sure you’re super overdramatic about the cost of the cookie, the physical attributes of the cookie, and delicious taste of the cookie.
I thought that most people left that part of themselves behind in high school or even college during the time that they’re trying to ‘discover themselves’, but apparently those who retain their daily theatrics relish the fact that they’ve successfully moved to a new country, and thus have achieved a new spotlight. For many, the simple act of living as a foreigner in a new country already draws enough attention to them. For some, they need all the attention they can get.
You can see these people posting silly, frivolous, unwarranted questions or information to get responses and extra attention.
“I just learned today that people here only shower once a week! Those that say they don’t are lying! I’m never sitting closer than five inches away from a coworker again!”
“If I drive on the wrong side of the road and a cop pulls me over, can’t I just show him my license from my home country? Isn’t that like a free pass? I feel like this should definitely be a rule.”
“Do you think I can make it these next two weeks before payday with only six potatoes in my cabinet? I’ve got salt and pepper, if that helps.”
By the way, that last one was a real question that was asked by someone during my second month living abroad. They had spent all their money playing claw machine games at the arcade to win a stuffed bird, meaning that they didn’t have any money left over for food… This happened to the same person several months out of the year… After a while you have to start wonder if it’s poor planing or panning to a willing audience.
(If you don’t know what an adult baby is, see the last quote in the section above.)
Alright, I get it. Some people come straight to another country right out of college. With the growing costs of college tuition in many countries, more and more students are finding it easier to live at home while they work and go to school. As such, those that come straight to a foreign county after college are moving out of their parent’s or relative’s home for the first time.
Many people are able to rise to this new challenge. If you don’t already know ‘how to life’, you learn how to cook, clean, do your bills, budget, and take care of any other responsibilities modern adults face on a daily basis. Even if you were already doing this in your home country, there might be a bit of an adjustment in regards to the new language, customs, or general ‘how things work here’ factors.
Last year I helped a coworker move out of their apartment because they had experienced enough of Japan and wanted to return home. Never in my two years of knowing said person did I ever realized that they knew nothing about basic cooking and cleaning. Their apartment was filled with cleaning products, but not a single bottle or container had been opened. The floors were coated with grime and dirt, the walls and fixtures had dust for days, and the only thing that had seen any use in the kitchen was a pot that cooked instant ramen every other night.
No fridge. No microwave. Nothing but a stovetop for the one pot and a trashcan that housed fast food wrappers and empty ramen packages. They asked if I thought they would get charged extra for the damage to their single tatami room (which was ripped and torn to shreds and was barely recognizable as a tatami). Spoiler: they did. I can’t imagine what would have happened if this person had stayed longer.
The worse part? I had seen this same person responding on the group chat messages to other people to chastise them when they asked for help navigating the world of cooking and cleaning products available in Japan. Obviously they felt that while everyone else needed to know the proper way to do everything and be self-sufficient, they themselves did not.
In most situations, one year visas are the most common and easiest visas for foreigners to acquire. This means that if they don’t get their visa renewed, whether because their company doesn’t like the cut of their jib or they just want to go home, you’ll only have a year to get to know most people you meet or interact with in expat communities.
It can get tiresome to form supposedly strong friendships or even relationships when there’s an expiration date attached. Many people don’t know if they’ll want to stay or leave after a year, and as such you never know who will go or when. Sure, you can stay in touch with people who go back to their home countries, but living out two very different lives will put a serious strain on most conversations and might eventually lead to a falling out.
In some cases, of course, this is positive because you know you only have to deal with infuriating coworkers and foreigners for a set amount of time before a new one takes their place.
Using Other People
I had to explain this one to a coworker the other day, and the look in her eyes when she realized she was being used was, quite honestly, soul crushing. I’ve noticed four main reasons why someone uses another person in an expat community: language, transportation, jobs, and money.
Remember that quote from before about the person who had six potatoes? Yeah. Immediately after relating this tale to an expat in a higher position (who wasn’t making much more than us but obviously knew how to budget), they immediately took the person with six potatoes to their name to the nearest grocery store and bought them two weeks worth of food.
The real kicker? I went with them to help chip in since I thought it was a bit much and still had extra funds I had brought with me, and the whole time we pointed out food that was both healthy and inexpensive (mostly to show them what to spend their dwindling funds on the next time they were able to go shopping), this person kept grabbing name brands, expensive food items, snacks, and other non-necessities. We spent a month’s worth of grocery funds on someone who we later found out ate everything they bought that day in less than six days.
The icing on the cake was when they revealed to me later that they had a parent send them some funds to buy them food for the remaining week before payday. Along with using other people for rides to malls (to spend money they didn’t have on clothes and arcade games), used furniture, and a shoulder to cry on when they realized that they couldn’t afford the newest video game console and had to buy one second-hand, this person taught me to never blindly trust someone until I knew them better.
Does this mean someone who is truly in need might miss out on my help because I don’t want to jump in and make the same mistake twice? Possibly. I wouldn’t say I’ve become jaded to the woes of the average expat, but I’m much more cautious in offering my services (whether it’s rides in my car, use of my language skills, or my hard earned assets) to those who appear to be in need. It’s because of people like the person above that those who genuinely need help may never receive it.
In regards to language and jobs, I’ve seen my fair share of expats cozying up to others with a better proficiency in the country’s native language or with a bigger network of possible employers in order to get what they want before moving on. There’s a right way and a wrong way to ask for help or try to branch out your list of contacts, and it’s pretty much common knowledge that using people is most definitely the wrong way.
Bugs in Japan are serious business. Even if you’re a fan of creepy-crawlies, there are some that are actually quite dangerous in certain situations. One such creature, the mukade (ムカデ) is a problem I’ve been battling with since my first year living in Japan. While they’re hardly ever fatal, a bite to the head or chest can prove deadly, and if they try and take a nibble on any other body part you’ll be in agonizing pain for hours.
Early on, I told the group I was in about my experiences with the bug and how I both avoided and eradicated them so that others could do the same. Not even five minutes after I suggest what type of bug spray to purchase did three other expats start spouting nonsense that begun to scare the rest of the group.
“They travel in pairs and carry their eggs on their bodies so if you step on them babies pop out and attack you!”
“You can only kill them by boiling them alive!” (Let me just say, I’m not getting close enough with tongs or my hands to pick these things up and throw them into a supposedly already prepared pot of boiling water. By the time I get a pot of water on the stove they’ve likely already crawled somewhere else in the house and I have to go chase them down. Did I mention they’re fast?)
“If you get bit anywhere you have to have someone suck out the poison! Cut an X on your skin beforehand!”
The amount of misinformation I encountered in my group was impressively large. I compared notes with another expat I met during my travels, and to my surprise I found my group wasn’t an anomaly. Many groups have their own ‘truth-spreaders’ who try to be the one-stop shop for information, but in reality spout out information that’s 99% incorrect. Whether they get this information online, in-person, or just make it up on the spot, I’ll never know. Honestly, I don’t think I want to know at this point.
“Japan is the greatest country in the world!”
“My life is so much better now that I’ve moved to Japan!”
“Japan solved all my problems!”
In case you’re unfamiliar with the slang terminology, circle-jerking in terms of group discussion is where people get together and just agree with everything others say, stroking egos and bolstering self-confidence until everyone feels like an expert or self-righteous professor on the subject. This is most commonly seen when a person puts something on a higher pedestal and gives unnecessary or undeserved praise to someone or something.
If you read the above three quotes and didn’t agree 100% with all of them, then circle-jerking about Japan is not for you. Unfortunately for me, many of the people I interacted with in my expat group believed that Japan could do no wrong.
If they weren’t circle-jerking through praising Japan, they were doing so by bad-mouthing their home country, usually by comparing it to Japan.
Complaining About the Company
Look, I don’t think I know anyone who loves every single aspect of their job. Even those who are self-employed or their own bosses might find a thing or two to complain about. With that in mind, I also know that people like to vent about problems in their lives, and living and working in a foreign country means that your job is likely one of your biggest complaints.
That being said, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about complaining about your company. Complaining in a group or private chat that has no affiliation with the company? No harm in doing so, except maybe annoying someone else if your claims are insignificant. Complaining on the company’s Facebook page specifically made for employees to ask questions that other employees can rally together to help answer? You’re likely to receive some backlash for that.
With the advancement of technology and social media, people are starting to blur the lines between appropriate social media behavior and inappropriate social media behavior. Remember when people used to upload photos of crazy parties that their friends, family, coworkers, and boss could easily see? It was such a huge scandal back in the day. Now people are posting things like, “This company isn’t fair, I’m going to sue you for bad practices, who’s with me?” right onto the company’s Facebook page.
Not every company is perfect, and not every person can be happy working for any given company. If you’re unhappy, channel the energy you could be using to complain to search for a different company to work with that might be a better fit. If you can tolerate the company despite any disagreements you may have with how they run their business or treat their employees, keep an eye out for an exit. If you love the company, try to stay as long as you can.
My biggest pet peeve is having to listen to people who readily accept a job from a company where all rules and stipulations are laid out before the contract is signed, move halfway around the world to start working, and then start their tirade of complaints that the company is horrible. You signed the contract – be an adult and either deal with working life or find a job that caters to your sensitivities (good luck).
Complaining About the Job
On a similar note to what’s mentioned above, if you’re moving thousands of miles away from home, you should probably do a little research and understand what’s expected of you in regards to your new job. Yes, every situation is different, and no two people react the same way to the same job, but it’s not unreasonable to think that most people will be somewhat prepared for what’s in store for them.
Look, I’ve got issues with certain aspects of my job, but nothing is perfect. There are some things that I can’t job in regards to my duties or responsibilities or setbacks, and I either have to learn to live with that or move on. No one wants to hear me gripe every single day about the same issue when everyone else has learned how to either get around it or fix it by either telling someone about it or solving it themselves.
Everyone complains about their job at one point or another. Like I said above, I’ve had my fair share of issues and can talk a person’s ear off about them if I feel inclined, but I’m not going to subject a group of people to my angry tirades unnecessarily. I just wish that other people had the same decency.
Staying in the Group Too Long
I had the pleasure of finding out this dislike for expat communities by living it. After my first year, I found that the number of questions I was asking was dwindling down until I was just watching the conversations pass by or answering a question or two if I had a helpful hint or answer. I kept seeing the same questions over and over as new people joined the group, and realized it was all recycled information that was beginning to wear on me.
I had the answers I needed, as well as information on how to find answers if I had any other questions that I couldn’t easily figure out myself. The group wasn’t serving me much purpose due to the fact that some of the questions didn’t apply to me, were above my pay-grade, or were just flat out ridiculous and lacking of common sense (such as the person who asked “can we put our home country’s currency into the bill slot at the gas station?”).
Worse still, many suggestions I made were often overlooked due to my lack of extensive experience and length of time spent in Japan.
“Have you ever put out your garbage the night before? No one else does in my complex.”
“Many complexes have specific rules and guidelines about that. Mine, for instance, has it written into my contract that they don’t allow trash to sit overnight the day before it’s collected because of local pests. Yours might be similar – I’d suggest finding and reading/translating your contract.”
“You’ve only been here for two years, what do you know? Anyone else who’s been here for at least three years or more wanna chime in?”
I’m sure the situation would be different if I had been living in Japan for five or more years at the time, but I can understand the general mistrust of ‘non-senior’ members. To be fair, I myself was taking the word of someone who had been in the country for more than five years and near-gospel. Experience is king when you’re living alone in a foreign country. Having said that, I notice that many members of our group had reached the same point I had but were still lingering in the group to give unhelpful comments or chastise new members for asking ‘dumb questions’ when they themselves had asked the same questions not a year before.
I’m sure that senior members has learned to be patient when answering the same questions over and over, and am even more sure that I’m not yet at the point where I could do so with a level head. The amount of restraint and professionalism I’ve observed from those who oversee these groups is applaudable, and I only hope that I can reach that level of cool after having more than half a decade spent residing in the country.
Just because I reached the point where I didn’t think I needed to engage with an expat community anymore doesn’t mean that such a point in time will come for everyone. Some people might shy away from the whole concept completely, while others will find a second family amongst the members and build lasting relationships. I do hope that some day I’ll grow enough and gain enough experience and knowledge to help others the way senior members were able to help me. I have utmost respect for those who are able to answer (some of which might be considered ‘stupid’ or ‘meaningless’) questions and help others without ever expecting anything in return.