Expat or Tourist
Expat (short for expatriate), noun: a person who lives in a foreign country.
Tourist, noun: a person traveling for the sole purpose of recreation.
Look around a typical east African capital long enough and you will soon realize there are three types of people: locals, expats, and tourists. The first group may be obvious to anyone, but distinguishing the other two can often be confusing. Are there any differences?
The typical day of most expats on some mission of philanthropy, education, or commerce involves the same haunts. It is as if all of them know each other, without knowing each other. Day after day, night after night, expats keep bumping into each other. After years of searching for a completely different culture, thousands of miles from home, they end up meeting facsimiles of themselves.
So how do you spot the two groups? What should you look out for? Here is a how-to-checklist on how to spot the expat from the tourist:
- Tourists often carry money belts and traveler’s checks, while expats would not be caught dead with either item.
- The visage of an expat is often frumpy and wrinkled, having spent years in the bush (or at least a bush-like villa). The sun has scorched their skin permanently. A tourist, conversely, has just two shades: piano key ivory and Alaskan King Salmon. There is no in-between.
- When seeing another expat/tourist, an expat will usually do a 180 and leave the premises immediately. A tourist will run up the expat/tourist, ask them where they are from, and try to keep the conversation going long enough to subtly request to become Facebook Friends.
- Tourists are tolerant of life’s little hiccups, while an expat is always on the verge of snapping. Tourists are so tickled pink to be in Africa that they don’t even mind the little annoyances of life here. They might even call African time ‘cute’, or consider handing out a coin to a beggar ‘a really emotional experience’. Expats don’t notice beggars. They usually don’t notice the time, either, unless they are meeting someone more important, which never happens.
- Tourists spend boatloads of money and have a grand time doing it. Expats remember the last time they spent fifty shillings more than market price for a loaf of bread. And they vow never to make the same mistake.
- Tourists generally are described as fun-loving. They tend to have great lives and use tourism as a vehicle to add to their personal enjoyment. Expats often are crass, cynical, and edgy people on the periphery of dementia. Watching tourists struggle in a foreign country is one of the few pleasures expats still have.
- Tourists usually congregate at shopping malls, for-ex bureaus, and internet cafes. Expats, on the other hand, spend most of their free time in a dark café or hotel swimming pool cursing out loud at their cell phone.
- Expats tend to be masters of several languages. Some completely disengage from English in favor of total immersion in a local language. Tourists are excited if they can say “thank you” and “where is the toilet?” in the local tongue. In fact, they will spend weeks practicing these “useful phrases” before arriving on holiday. Then, once they have arrived, they lament how they can’t understand anybody.
- Tourists take photos of food they ordered. Expats eat the food they ordered.
- Tourists buy beads, bracelets and recycled bottle caps for a premium price. Expats usually sell those items to a local retail outlet so they can rip off the aforementioned tourists.
- Expats drive their own car (appropriate cars to own include Toyota Rav4s, Land Cruisers, or any other high clearance vehicle that can turn a motorcycle into shrapnel). Tourists get around on the back of motorcycle taxis, narrowly avoiding death as they snap photos. An expat on the back of a motorcycle taxi never smiles, snaps photos, or has fun; in fact, his or her face is perpetually dour, knowing full well how much he would prefer to be in his or her own vehicle.
- Tourists travel in masses. They can usually be heard two hundred to three hundred meters before they can be seen. They tend to take over shopping malls and fruit markets. They buy everything. Expats, conversely, are rarely seen with anybody. Even if they are meeting someone, they prefer to come alone. This is so they can leave alone at any time they see fit. They never buy anything except for coffee, air time, or car accessories.
- Tourists wear shorts, baseball caps, and whatever beads they bought the day before. Expats wear whatever is clean.
- Tourists often remark how cheap everything is here. Expats often complain how expensive things have gotten.
- Tourists wave at locals, take photos of locals and treat locals with respect. Expats date locals, yell at locals, and hire locals to wash their linen.
- A tourist wants to know everything about everyone they meet and usually wants to capture it all for an upcoming scrapbook. An expat may want to know what you are doing here but never really wants to talk about what they are doing here.
- Tourists are usually enamored with an expat’s life and have a thousand questions for expats. Expats have zero questions for tourists and will avoid any encounter with a tourist if it is the last thing they do on Earth.
- Tourists can tell you the exact flight number, date, and time they arrived in Africa. Expats don’t remember when they arrived in Africa, why they arrived in Africa, or what they are currently doing in Africa.
- A tourist’s first question is normally, “Where are you from?” An expat’s first question normally is “Why are you here?”
As you can tell, these two groups have many distinguishing characteristics that a discerning eye can quickly notice. If you are in one of these two groups and want to meet others like you, it would best to keep your eyes peeled for tourists. If you are in one of these groups and wish to avoid others like you, it would be best to act like an expat. Or just stay at home.