Anytime I include the word expat in an article, I inevitably receive emails from readers asking me what the word means. Since I stuck it right there in the title of today’s article, I figured that I should go ahead and define the term:
Expat comes from the word expatriate and refers to a person who temporarily or permanently resides in a country where they are not a citizen.
For those of you who were already familiar with the word, thanks for allowing me that moment to define it for others. That one sentence is going to save me from answering a minimum of 15 emails today.
Breaking Social Norms
One of the things that I immediately noticed when we moved to Mexico was how friendly the expat community is here. From the first day that we arrived, absolute strangers were walking over to us introducing themselves and offering their assistance.
I’m not talking about one or two of them – I’m talking about dozens.
It reminded me a lot of being the new kid in kindergarten. When you’re only five years old, no one cares how much money you have, what color your skin is, or what kind of clothes you wear – they just want to meet you. That’s a lot what it’s like here, but with adults.
If you’re from the United States or Canada, this concept may seem hard to believe. It’s just not normal to approach strangers to introduce yourself, even if you see them on a regular basis.
We lived in the same house for over 10 years and we never knew the names of 95% of our neighbors. Sure, we would wave to each other when we were walking out to the mailbox, but the socializing really ended there. Not here in Mexico.
Here in Mexico, people who would probably never hang out together back in their home country because they come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, often become good friends. It’s not uncommon to see very wealthy people sharing drinks with retired blue collar workers. The best part is that you often can’t tell who is who because everyone is dressed in casual beach attire.
Most of these people have spent their entire adult lives defining themselves by their occupation. One of the first questions that people ask one another back home when they meet is, what do you do for a living? But again, not here.
That question has been replaced with a new one: What do you like to do?
Somehow those professions that we all thought were so important have become mere footnotes. It’s really quite refreshing.
Let’s Wrap This Up
If your one of those readers contemplating moving to Mexico but you’re afraid you won’t have any friends, there’s no need to worry.
You basically have two choices: 1) move to an area with a substantial English-speaking expat population, or 2) learn Spanish and get to know the locals. Either way, you’ll probably end up with more close friends than you ever had back home.