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Expats and escargots

September 8, 2012 1 comment

escargotAccording to Wikipedia, the official definition of an 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”).

So, if you go to an expat club, you expect to meet other expats in the same situation as you, right?
Wrong. In some countries and cities anyway.

In Yerevan, Armenia, expats tend to hang out in the “Wheel Club”, a sociable restaurant cum bar which is not difficult to find as there are only a handful of such watering spots in town; and within a few quiz nights or dinners there you will have met all the expats living in the country.

In Nairobi, Kenya, expats (and tourists) flock to popular spots like The Carnivore Restaurant and Pavement restaurant and bar. You’ll also find them easily if you hang out in any of the luxury hotels in town.

In Stockholm, you can read The Local or visit any Irish bar and you’ll find a healthy mix of expats and locals. Attend an event organized by The Local and the chances are that you’ll meet plenty of people in the same situation as yourself bar a handful of Swedes or foreigners with Swedish roots.

In Malta, there are several expat clubs and you won’t find many Maltese there – simply because they already have their own social and support network in place. You might find the occasional Maltese person who is of Maltese descent but a blow-in from abroad, or, occasionally, a local friend of an expat member who was invited along for a drink.

In large cities i.e. over one million inhabitants, and capital cities, you’ll usually be spoiled for choices with British societies or embassies, American Chamber of Commerces, Aussie clubs and much more to choose from so you can sift through and find one that matches you and your interests best.

Then, we come to Lyon in France, a city of almost two million and France’s third largest. InterNations is probably the largest expat club in town; it sells itself as an “Expatriates Community for Expats Worldwide” which helps you to get to know ‘like-minded expats in your city’ but, unlike in Malta, it is run more like a commercial venture than a warm and welcoming place to socialize.

Expect to pay entry for the events, unless you upgrade your status, and expect the drinks at the event to be pricey as the organizers and venues are obviously making money from ‘poor lost expats’ instead of welcoming them with a cheery complimentary cocktail, two-for-one offers and nibbles (like you get at expat events in other countries).

The major difference: in Lyon you will find yourself rubbing shoulders with far more Frenchies than foreigners. Do they consider themselves expats because they are not Lyonnais i.e. they come from another part of France? Does that make them qualify as an ‘expat’? Apparently, it does. Or else they have proudly bestowed themselves with the title of ‘expat’ because they have lived in a former French colony such as Togo for a few weeks, or they have been on vacation a few times to Guadeloupe and Mauritius. These people consider themselves extremely superior and more international than ‘normal French’ people and believe they even qualify as expats because ‘they have been abroad and like to speak English’.

Their other objective for being at these ‘expat’ events is to learn English. So, the role of the homesick expat at these events is not the chance to share experiences and moan about the ups and downs of living in a strange country, no, it’s to offer the ‘locals’ a chance to put their English skills into practice, and give them a taste of our culture so they can become international, just like us expats.

Disillusioned with Internations ‘expats’ , some foreigners try another equally popular  “English club” Act4 and MeetUp.

In all fairness, Act4 does market itself as an English-speaking club and caters for Frenchies who want to immerse themselves in the wonderful world of us Anglophones.

The invitations to English lunches, trips to original version English language movies, trips to the Angloworld pour in. Inevitably, the lunch on Wednesday at 14.00 is often venue-less – that’s decided a day or two before the event. Often, events are cancelled, rescheduled, people put on waiting lists or confirmed and then de-confirmed. In other words, it’s mass confusion. Expect to be bombarded with ten emails every day if you sign up for one event. The latest endeavor is a ‘news club’ which would imply it is a networking club for people who work in media to hang out with other journalists and to immerse in the media world. No, the idea is that you bring a copy of an English news article with you and discuss it … a great exercise to improve language skills, and if you are a ‘ real English-speaking journalist’, then the organizers have hit a jackpot and you should come ‘to see, you’ll probably like it’  – yes, it definitely adds a touch of authenticity to the ‘news club’.

The Act4-ers and MeetUp-ers seem to love everything about us Anglophones – our culture, our language, our way of doing things and even seem to dream of being like us (for all our faults). But, they’ll never be like us – the two cultures are miles apart. Arranging events without an exact time or venue, cancelling last minute, confirming and then de-confirming, that’s not the Anglo way of doing things. But, if you dare to question their way of doing things, or challenge them … then you’ll realize that this is an Anglo-loving club to a certain extent, dare to criticize or raise an eyebrow, or challenge their way of doing things …  and the French culture kicks back in.

Such is the life of an expat amongst escargots!

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Eating out in Sweden

Apple wine brewed on the Åland Islands, between Finland and Sweden.

Apple wine brewed on the Åland Islands, between Finland and Sweden.

Looking for inspiration about where to eat in Stockholm or wondering what places are value for money if you’re on a budget. Something different?

Check out my restaurant blog on The Local.se. I regularly update it with restaurant reviews (good, bad and indifferent) and share some of my “eating abroad” (ie. outside of Sweden) experiences!

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