When you look up the word “expat” on Wikipedia or other comparable sources on the internet, the following definitions come up:
“An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex ("out of") and patria ("country, fatherland").”
“A person who has citizenship in at least one country, but who is living in another country. Most expatriates only stay in the foreign country for a certain period of time, and plan to return to their home country eventually, although there are some who never return to their country of citizenship.”
Seems easy, right? And still, so many more associations are relevant when attempting to describe what it means to be an expat in a non-Western country. Let me illustrate this by telling you about my experiences from yesterday: Yesterday was the Christmas market organized by the German embassy.. they had planned an entire market with little stands selling traditional Uzbek and German handicraft and, most importantly, food stands which had proper Glühwein (mulled wine), Bratwurstsemmeln (bread rolls with German sausages), waffles and gingerbread. It was wonderful, and my friends and I had looked forward to it for a really long time. Christmas isn’t really present here, except for some Coke advertisements featuring the classic Coca Cola Santa Claus and Christmas music played in some of the hotels. While I miss Austrian/German traditions related to the weeks before Christmas, it’s probably better that I am not constantly reminded of not being able to spend it with my family this year. However, it felt great to chat away with other like-minded Germans who miss certain things about home and who enjoyed this tradition being brought to a country so different. The expats you meet here work for all sorts of international organizations, such as the UN or various embassies and it always gives me new insights to follow and to participate in their conversations about, for example, Uzbekistan’s health system, crime issues and (prevention) projects associated with these issues. Most of the expats are (a lot) older than me, some of them between 30 and 40, some even about 60. Still, we are part of the same (or at least a similar) culture, we share the experience of being a foreigner and stranger in Uzbekistan, so we talk and hang out sometimes, go to clubs together where age or hierarchies suddenly don’t matter anymore. These people are extremely smart, have seen many different faces of the world and have made a great difference in helping to make this world a better place. While I admire them for their knowledge and (work) experience, watching them yesterday was, at times, genuinely hard to endure. Why? While I would believe them that they want to make a difference, especially some of the men come here with an attitude that makes me want to puke. As a friend here has nicely said, “Nirgendwo ist es so einfach wie im Ausland” – obviously this isn’t true for everybody, but often locals like you because of where you are from, they like you because you have money, and even only spending time with you means status. Ugly Western men with the worst character who are emotionally absolute losers and who everyone would hate in their home countries are suddenly loved and admired… so why would they want to leave? Living abroad suddenly becomes an addiction because they love the attention and the feeling of “being someone”, while they would be nobodys at home.
So, yesterday I was drinking Glühwein with a group of 45-60 year-olds and overheard their conversations about a 19 year old Russian blondie, “tall, hot and with big tits”, who one of them would meet in a pub later on, obviously with the intention to take her home afterwards. They went on about how beautiful eastern girls were and that it was so difficult to resist. So Ulli and I joined the conversation and asked if they didn’t think that they were using these girls (who, in some cases, don’t really have any other choice, as it’s their only way to have access to money) and if they weren’t making use of their status as Westerners. One of them then started explaining to us that these women at least still knew what it meant to be a woman, namely to make the man happy and do for him whatever he wants. After arguing with him for a little while, I had to leave the conversation because I was so disgusted. In the end, we all went to the pub where he could meet his big-titted blondie, whom he had texted beforehand that he loved her. She sat beside him. She felt awkward and cast Ulli a look of desperation. And then they went home.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that all expats are like that. But being an expat means to transgress the boundaries of your own culture and related values. Why? Because nobody cares, you can do whatever you want. Suddenly, age, looks and character don’t matter anymore because your ethnicity or heritage is your status. What do I do with it? Obviously there are things I do here I wouldn’t do at home (nothing immoral, don’t you worry!), but I try to be respectful, I observe, I listen. However, I do not deny that it is very easy to make use of your status.
This blog post was a little serious, alright, so I want to end this blog on positive terms :) Namely, with some entertainment. Once again, Nodi is the protagonist (I hope you’re happy I’m mentioning you again!). He was telling us about a conversation he had with Mario and then said “Und dann hab ich Mario so richtig flachgelegt.” … he meant: platt gemacht.