How being an expat can make you cool

You see these guys all over the world – and they are, more often than not, guys

They're usually expats who have moved their lives to more exotic climes, far from the regularity and recognition of home. They're in their 20s, 30s and 40s, living it large in Asia, in places like Hong Kong and Beijing, Bangkok and Saigon, or in Africa, or South America, or anywhere exciting and different.

These guys don't look like they would have been particularly popular or remarkable back home. They look like they would have been normal, run-of-the-mill guys. They would have just blended in. They would been your average Joe. Nothing wrong with that.

Being at expat can make you cool - at least to the locals.

But then you see them in this new environment, and something different is going on. All of a sudden they're big man on campus;  they're cool; and if they're anything like Kiwi Logan Dodds, they're making videos about it.

They've got swagger about them, these guys. They're owning the bar scene in whichever town they now live. They're calling the bar staff by name; they're dishing out local knowledge to the newbie tourists with just the slightest hint of scorn. They're playing in a band that's got a gig on tomorrow night. They're throwing out phrases in the local language and making sure it gets heard.

In short, they're benefiting from a strange phenomenon: travel makes you cool. It really does. Travel makes you exotic. It makes you remarkable. Leave home and you suddenly go from being a roadie to a rock star. People love you.

The locals of your new home love you because you're different, and you're Western. You represent this cultural phenomenon that's being aped and adapted across the world. You're the guy with the money and the power. You're the star from the movies and the film clips.

The visiting travellers love you, too, because you've been there and done that and you know how to make it happen again. You know the right people, you know the cool places, you know how much to pay for drinks. They lap it up. And the other expats love you because… well, you're another expat. It doesn't take much more than that.

When other tourists first see these people in their element it's a total head scratcher. That guy is cool? He's the one everyone wants to talk to, the guy who's in a band, the one who's holding court at the bar? It doesn't make sense. But after a while it begins to dawn on you. He's a big fish in a small pond. He's exotic here. You're exotic here. Why not make the best of it?

People get addicted to this feeling. I've seen it time and time again – expats who just can't stop living the dream because here everyone knows their name; travellers who never want to go home because at home they're just the same as everyone else, telling stories about the things they used to be. 

I've seen plenty of Australians and Kiwis working as road crew on European bus tours for far longer than they really should, because on those tours they're total rock stars. They're not just drivers and cooks and tour managers. They're celebrities. It's a buzz. Imagine what it's like when they go home at the end of the season and they're just normal people again, working at a cafe or sitting around an office dreaming of life on the road.

Of course they're going to go back. This sort of thing happens, even on a small scale, to pretty much everyone who travels. We all experience little rock-star moments on the road. We all bask for a while in the feeling of being remarkable. We pose for photos with Japanese kids. We talk cricket with excited Indians. We tell tales of home to friendly Vietnamese. We glory in the feeling of being special.

Spending time far away from home, too, is a chance to reinvent yourself. You have no history when you travel. You have no previous reputation. If you want to be the crazy party animal on the road, you can be. No one else will ever know. If you want to be the quiet, bookish type, you can be that as well. 

One thing everyone will find, however, is that when you're travelling, you're far more popular than they used to be back home. Locals stare at you. Travellers talk to you. People treat you like you're something different.

Some travellers are uncomfortable with that. But some never want that feeling to go away. You'll know them when you see them. 




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