3 Types of Expatriates

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3 Types of Expatriates

What’s an expatriate?

“Someone who used to be a patriot,” my son said.

“Someone who pays double the rent,” my landlord said.

“Someone who eats pork,” my Muslim friend said.

“Someone who can get me a visa to the United States,” my English student said.

“Someone we laugh at,” my neighbor said.

Actually, an expatriate is someone who lives outside their passport country.

I’ve picked out a few types (and one surprise):

  1. Expats who stick out
  2. Expats who hunker down
  3. Expats who blend in

Stick Out

The French military uniform wasn’t designed to be culturally sensitive. Muscular, hairy-legged soldiers in short, too-tight shorts. French mothers at the elementary school in white linen shorts with the strap of a yellow thong slipping out over the waistband. Plunging necklines of sheer tops, which flap in the breeze to reveal bare stomachs. Loud, drunk Americans at the bars. Chinese construction workers shouting across supermarkets. (just to generalize and stereotype way too much)


Blond women running in black spandex capris.

This kind of stick-out-expat might use Islamic prayer rugs as welcome mats by the front door and wears the tusbax, or prayer beads, as decorative necklaces (I don’t!). They love the host country and the host people and enjoy having a variety of new experiences but don’t attempt to integrate.

The stick-out expatriates come for the same reasons as others; military, job transfer, diplomat, aid worker, religious volunteer but they don’t seem to realize they are in a different country. Stick-out expats received the news that they were moving and packed up the life they had at home and brought it with. They want to experience the new location but don’t modify their standards and don’t expect to be changed.

Hunker Down

Hunker-down expatriates are harder to find because they, well, hunker down in mansions by the sea, fancy suites at the five star hotel, or the top floor of downtown apartment buildings. They are here because their job or their spouse’s job dictated it and are counting down the days until the assignment is finished and they can return to a ‘civilized’ existence.

Television and internet become life to the hunker-down expat, bringing the news and culture of a more easily understood place. Fear of the unknown, a distrust for the unfamiliar and a distaste for the new, sandy, sweaty life outside make it difficult to leave the confines of the house.

“You go to the market?” a hunker down once asked. “Don’t you get robbed? Or grabbed? Or lost? Or cheated? We brought everything we need, even toilet paper. When I need more, I’ll ship another container.”


I have been known to ship the essentials.

Hunker-down expatriates received word of the move to a new country and prepared for a long, lonely existence. Many of them are the stay-at-home mothers or childless wives who moved because of a spouse’s job. Not forced to engage the local culture, they use their children, their cats, or their sewing projects as excuses to stay home and develop creative strategies for finding meaning within the four walls of their kingdom.

Blend In

Blend-in expatriates arrive in the host country, jump into the nearest taxi or bus and head to the market to purchase local-style clothing. On the way, they stop at a restaurant and order the national dish, observing and then mimicking picking through the pasta or rice with only their right hand. Within weeks, blend-in expatriates know the names of their neighbors, local shopkeepers and the children sleeping on their front steps. Their house is in a neighborhood area and the door is always open.

Blend-in expatriates know they aren’t nationals and don’t pretend to be something they aren’t. But they are keen to adapt in every possible way. Their home becomes an eclectic mixture of local art and their home culture with nomadic milk bags made from goat skin hanging beside a Christmas advent calendar on the wall. They rejoice at local success and weep when the country struggles.

Blend-in expatriates asked to move to a new country. Once accepted into a new position, they read books, studied language, and tried recipes. They knew blending in would take immense sacrifice; they would be required to adjust to different standards of dress, trade their traditional holiday meal for a new one, and relinquish parts of their personality that don’t fit in the new location. But they do this with eager anticipation of personal growth and the challenge of succeeding in the unfamiliar.


There is, however, a fourth type of expatriate: The Chameleon.

This is where I find myself. Sometimes I wear a bikini and I run in capris. So I’m a stick out. I’m a stay-at-home mother who brings peanut butter and brown sugar and Asics from the US. I’m on-line too much. So I’m a hunker down. I speak Somali and French and use local hand gestures to insult bad drivers and sometimes cover my hair. So I’m a blend in.

Lonely yet eager to experience the personal growth of living in a new place. Embracing local culture yet unable to entirely shrug off my own. Following the Djiboutian presidential election as passionately as the American election. Watching American movies by day and attending Djiboutian weddings by night, complete with henna and drenched in perfume.

The Chameleon loves where she came from and loves where she is now. But she realizes that for all the gains in embracing a new culture, she has also lost an intimate belonging in her home culture. For the chameleon, that’s okay, it’s all part of the adventure and in that sense, at least, she’s an ex-patriot.

What kind of expatriate are you?

By |February 5th, 2013|Categories: Djibouti Life, Expat Thoughts|Tags: |103 Comments


  1. Michael February 5, 2013 at 12:33 pm - Reply

    I am stick out with some chameleon tendancies, mostly I stick out.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones February 5, 2013 at 1:02 pm - Reply

      I like that – chameleon with stick out tendencies. I suppose, like Jerimy says below, it is different trying to blend in when you live in a place where you look and dress so different. We pretty much stick out no matter what we do!

  2. Jerimy February 5, 2013 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    I am more a chameleon. It’s different (I think) in a place like Italy where I look like people here and locals speak to me in Italian until I tell them I am American. I feel less forced to adapt in Italy than I think I would say in China or Djibouti.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones February 5, 2013 at 1:04 pm - Reply

      Yup, a bit easier to blend in for you in Italy, I’d say! I guess when the appearance factor is removed, what is at the heart/attitude is what determines the type of expats we are. Like I said to Michael, we pretty much stick out no matter what.

  3. richelle @ "our wright"-ing pad February 5, 2013 at 4:17 pm - Reply

    i’m reading through your post and thinking… hmmm… depending on the day i can be any one of those three…

    and then up pops the word chameleon. lately, these days, i’ve leaned towards the hunker down mode, though – with the exception of our already friends and acquaintances. can tell it is getting close to home assignment time.

    such a fun post – and great insight, too!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones February 5, 2013 at 4:37 pm - Reply

      Thanks Richelle!

      I can tell it is time for a break when our clothes start to fall apart and when I start to think more about Minnesota than Djibouti. When are you heading out?

      • richelle @ "our wright"-ing pad February 9, 2013 at 7:45 am - Reply

        we head back to michigan (via scotland for a vacation and california for a wedding) after my oldest graduates in june.

        and after the tumult of the past three years, i’m pretty sure when we finally get there and stop moving, i’m due a good crash, at least for a few days.

  4. Carolyn February 5, 2013 at 7:54 pm - Reply

    I would say blend in/hunker down. We chose to live in Afghanistan and embrace the gender rules and dress code. Partly because it’s dangerous if we don’t but mostly because we want to make as much sense to our neighbors as we can. We speak Dari but I don’t attempt to cook Afghan food. I hire the lady down the street and my Afghan guests are much happier. I spend too much time on FB and pirated American movies and long with such intensity for a care package with coffee (Afghans only drink tea!!).

    I wouldn’t be caught dead outside without a veil, but inside my own house I’ll wear jeans and a tee shirt. It’s a good blend and keeps us going I guess.

    What a great post!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones February 6, 2013 at 4:07 am - Reply

      Fun to hear this! I love how the post has given me insight into how people live and the choices they make and why. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Dan February 6, 2013 at 12:26 am - Reply

    I’m bummed we didn’t get to see a picture of a french solider in a pair of great shorts

    • Rachel Pieh Jones February 6, 2013 at 4:05 am - Reply

      I tried to find one. And you know what? The Legionnaires left Djibouti – they were the short-shorted ones, with the red fringes and the hard top hats. Bummer.

  6. Kassidy February 6, 2013 at 11:44 pm - Reply

    I was an ex-pat in Romania through many of my formative years and was probably closer to a chameleon but often strove to blend in. I remember my pride one day at a bus stop. I was waiting with my brother and a friend of his who were both very much the “stick out” type. I guess I was standing far enough away from them that another guy didn’t think I was with them. He leaned over and asked me in Romanian, “Do you think they are American?” I responded, “yeah, I think they are.” I was so excited that I blended in well enough that he wasn’t talking about me!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones February 7, 2013 at 5:00 am - Reply

      Ahaha! I love that story Kassidy. So telling and so interesting. I also love that you are the first (I believe) TCK perspective to comment here or on my FB page. Being a kid as an expat bring a whole different perspective. I’d love to hear more from you on that, or from others. Maybe that’s another post coming up! Thanks for chiming in, the TCK view point is so important for us parents who are new to being expats.

  7. Tanja February 8, 2013 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    Back in my first years as an expat, a northern European in Mexico, I was single, 20 years old, and had no reason to hunker down. I was a blend in. To the point where I died my blond hair dark to avoid all the attention I got as a “güera” (blondie). I spoke flawless Spanish with the local youth accent and acted like most of my Mexican friends. People told me if they’d only spoken to me by telephone, they would’ve thought I was a local.

    But it became very clear as the years went by that no matter how much I felt like a Mexican on the inside, I still looked like a “güera” on the outside. Everywhere I went where I met people who didn’t know me, I was treated as a foreigner and a tourist. My friends didn’t treat me like that, however, something I am ever greatful for.

    Now, as an expat in West Africa, things are very different. I am a mother of two small children, I live in a house that is way too nice for my neighbourhood, the local languages are MANY and very hard to learn. I do speak the local trade language and the official language, but none of the languages of the local ethnic groups. I feel like a hunker-down. I never wanted to be that. I wanted to blend in. But it isn’t happening. And of course, I recognize that some times, I blatantly stick out. No way around that!

    All this has taught me a lot about culture and about migration, though. It helps me understand immigrants that come to my passport country and get accused of not trying hard enough to “integrate” to our culture. But that’s a whole ‘nother subject, though!

    Thanks for an interesting post, Rachel!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones February 8, 2013 at 4:49 pm - Reply

      Love, love hearing these stories. So much to think about isn’t there? Makes me encouraged to write more posts about the nature of expat life, if just to hear the comments! Thank you so much sharing. So interesting to hear about the variety of experiences and the way location and life circumstances can affect these things.

    • richelle @ "our wright"-ing pad February 9, 2013 at 7:49 am - Reply

      Tanja ~ that’s one of those things i’ve thought about a lot, too… all of those comments i’ve heard about an immigrant’s need to learn the language and learn to fit into “my” country. my perspective has changed as i’ve lived that “immigrant” life, at least a little bit.

      • Rachel Pieh Jones February 9, 2013 at 10:04 am - Reply

        I appreciated that too, turning the ideas on their heads about the many, many immigrants in the US and when you add that many are refugees and not there by choice, the reality is so much harder than generally assumed.

  8. Phyllis February 9, 2013 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    This is my first time visiting your blog, and I’m fascinated. I think I’m mostly a blend-in, but I definitely relate to what you wrote about being a chameleon: “she has also lost an intimate belonging in her home culture.” When we visit America, I feel so much more lost there than I do here! I’m even reading a Russian book about Americans these days, and I almost feel like I need it for review.

    But I still like to have some peanut butter around.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones February 9, 2013 at 2:49 pm - Reply

      Welcome Phyllis! Three cheers for peanut butter, we call it liquid gold around here, especially with kids. Love that you are reading a Russian book about Americans – what a great way to gain perspective. There aren’t any (yet) by Djiboutians about Americans, but maybe someday!

  9. Anne-Therese February 11, 2013 at 6:10 am - Reply

    I think you have covered expats living overseas beautifully- we were always the blend in sort- if you can blend in with fair skin surrounded by dark coloured skin… We served in Africa for 8 years during which we all embraced being South African (despite all having Australian passports), both my husband and I struggled with Zulu and Xhosa for language training and our eldest child learnt afrikaans at school, and we embraced Africa as “Our Continent”. When we returned to Australia the struggle was to find our place in our “Home” nation. 5 years later, we have finally broken free of the Hunker-down version of our previous selves… unless you look at my husbands wardrobe with all its beautiful rainbow shirts, look at our artwork on the walls or ask the children where they come from- 2 of them will tell you they are South African, and the third wishes he was!!
    Keep writing your stories about your time as an Expat… The children of His Kingdom will appreciate the vicarious experience!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones February 11, 2013 at 6:33 am - Reply

      Anne-Therese, I love the perspective of returning to your passport country and how these kinds of categories can still apply. Your family has been fundamentally changed by the time in South Africa, but then you have to try and live again in Australia.

      Thanks for the encouragement to keep writing these stories. Comments like this make my brain start whirling with other topics – returning, where is home to the kids, what are aspects that have changed – like fashion and language…

  10. The Aim of Language Learning February 13, 2013 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    […] fellow expats, is the wrong […]

  11. Chantelle February 13, 2013 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    I used to live in Djibouti and work there. I was very much blend in and never even went to any of the fancy restaurants or stores. I remember being horrified by the French and they way they dressed. But I was young and eager haha. Now I live in Niger (with Richelle as my friend!) and am 10 years older and wiser. And i still work hard to blend in and dress local and cover my hair in public. But at home (especially due to the heat!) I quickly put on my capris and tank top 🙂 And I do enjoy Saturday afternoons at the pool with my kids. So I blend in, but have learned the value of also having time to refresh and relax by being “culturally normal” in my own home and at the Pool.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones February 13, 2013 at 5:36 pm - Reply

      Chantelle, so fun to hear you used to live here and now you know Richelle! I totally change clothes inside the house because of the heat also. I also feel like I have become less of a blend-in over the years, or at least in the years of having young kids with me. Maybe it is because of learning the culture better and becoming comfortable with crosses certain boundaries I might have held more strictly to when I was newer/younger.

  12. Christy February 20, 2013 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    Great post Rachel! I have to admit that Djibouti confused me more than any other place I’ve lived on this issue. I’ve always tried to be the blend-in type but who do you choose to blend in with? Djiboutians? French? Arabs? For some reason we were placed in a building with all Indians or Pakistanis. As someone who enjoys trying to blend in, I found it pretty stressful. I remember in David Pollock’s TCKs, there was an interesting diagram outlining 3 different types of TCKs: those who look foreign and are foreign, those who look native but are foreign, those who look foreign but are native. I’ve found myself in each one of these categories at different times in my life.

    • Christy February 20, 2013 at 6:17 pm - Reply

      Sorry I think the quote was “look foreign and feel foreign, look native but feel foreign, and look foreign but feel native”

      • Rachel Pieh Jones February 21, 2013 at 5:00 am - Reply

        That is a great quote. Love it, thanks for sharing. It is helpful to hear from someone else that Djibouti can be so confusing sometimes as an expat. I feel like I change between such widely varied cultures multiple times in a single day.

  13. Judith February 27, 2013 at 4:34 pm - Reply

    I think the chameleon is probably the best method in the end, unless you’re one of those really special people who can do ‘blend in’ really well. The chameleon usually is more resilient and ends up being able to stay longer without developing other issues…

    • Rachel Pieh Jones February 27, 2013 at 4:39 pm - Reply

      I agree, about both staying longer and not developing other issues. I assume you have seen some of those, as I have. Learning to be a chameleon has value for other areas of life too.

  14. Pari February 28, 2013 at 7:22 pm - Reply

    That is interesting and I have met people that fit into all categories.
    I have been an expat for 25 years. I am Indian and I live in Kuwait. I don’t know if I fall into any of the above categories. I find it hard to place myself in any category actually not even a national one. Most of my compatriots stick to their own food, language, culture, dress, society and in this country people can do that. There are tens of thousands of Indians here. We though having friends in our community are open to all kinds of experiences. Kuwait is a huge melting pot and people come here from all over. if one is open to the cosmopolitan experience there is no end the the experiences one can have here and I am happy that my family has been able to learn from people from so many places, take them into our hearts and homes and be accepted into theirs and we have been so enriched by it all, our views have broadened so much more. I have loved it. I have tried by my writing, poetry and photography to present a more balanced view of the place. It is an experience that has helped me grow and helped my kids become the wonderful people they are, I am truly grateful for it and would not change it for the world

    • Rachel Pieh Jones March 1, 2013 at 6:30 am - Reply

      This is beautiful. I love hearing from other expats, not just Americans living overseas, because to be honest, the American perspective can be a limited one! I’m also glad you mentioned the melting pot nature of Kuwait, that’s another thing Americans miss a lot – understanding that other countries aren’t homogenous, that there is a ton of variety and diversity. And yes, yes, yes to your final words about loving it, good for the kids, and trying to use words and photos to present a balanced view.

  15. Polly March 14, 2013 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    I just found your blog and love it. You describe expats perfectly. I think I’m mostly a chameleon but I definitely have my moments of all three. In Senegal, I dress like the local women outside my house, wearing a head wrap, long skirt and long top, but the moment I step inside my house, I strip down to my shorts and tank top and rip my headscarf off! We eat the local food at lunch most days, but when I cook I make what I want…Indian, Greek, Moroccan, American, etc. My house is mostly American, but my style tends to be more global than anything. It’s my sanctuary where I can run to when the outside world becomes too much for me. Such a great description of being an expat!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones March 17, 2013 at 5:47 pm - Reply

      Sounds so similar to me – I feel at home in my blue jeans (though too hot for Djibouti!) and I also like wearing Djiboutian clothes. Food – so similar. I think the global, eclectic taste is what best describes me. Its all jumbled up I guess!

      • Sarah April 8, 2013 at 5:19 am - Reply

        So interesting. I grew up the child of expats, (chameleon style, international school teachers) but this did not make me an expat. Most solidly a TCK which 20 years down the road makes me an ATCK. Or, it makes me an expat in my home country, my passport country that I did not grow up in. I never thought of it this way til I read your post. Sometimes I, too, am all three: I want to hold on to my ‘other countries’ identities’ (which makes me stick out) … Or I want to hunker down and read online about TCK experiences, old friends, etc… Or I want – and try desperately – to blend in. Speak slang, let my grammar go to shit, … As the author of this post, are you also TCK?

        • Rachel Pieh Jones April 8, 2013 at 6:01 am - Reply

          Sometimes I wish I could blend in- with slang and shitty grammar! Although, I guess my grammar is pretty bad when I speak anything but English and now even my English is going downhill too! No, I’m not a TCK. Lived overseas for over 10 years now though and raising 3 TCKs.

    • Jen Smart March 27, 2013 at 5:36 pm - Reply

      Polly, thanks for this beautiful word picture 🙂 I love it 🙂

  16. Jim March 14, 2013 at 7:32 pm - Reply

    A former cross-cultural witness sent this link to me. Well written. We always teach our folks that you’ll never be an “insider” – that will just look fake. But you can be an acceptable outsider by blending in as best you can, embracing and loving the culture and language. You can become bicultural, but the culture of your childhood has left an imprint that does not go away! (Bring on the peanut butter!)

    • Rachel Pieh Jones March 17, 2013 at 5:49 pm - Reply

      Yes – be an acceptable one, not an obnoxious one! Bicultural by nature means two, so it isn’t wrong to hold on to our natural inclinations, which I sometimes can forget when I start to feel guilty

  17. Kara March 15, 2013 at 7:38 am - Reply

    Great post! We started our lives in Russia seeking to blend in, naming our children purposely so they could have normal Russian nicknames, and so on. All our Russian friends praised us for adapting so well, and committing to stay for the long term. Then, the government revoked my visa, and we were lost for awhile. On top of that, we realized that most of our Russian staff didn’t want foreigners to stay long-term, because it hindered the indiginization of leadership.

    Now, we’re back, but with older kids who we’ve realized need to know their passport culture as well as be comfortable here. After a few years in national schools, we are homeschooling–and learning American history! Next year we’ll go to the TCK school, for community as well as academics.

    I believe it is so important for us not to judge one another. With our differing personalities, language abilities, expectations and family needs, we mostly need to respect that there is no one right way to live as ex-pats!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones March 17, 2013 at 5:50 pm - Reply

      Wow, what a journey of adjustments for your family. I love hearing even this little bit of your process and how you’ve learned and gone back with different insights. YES – to not judging and supporting one another.

  18. Jen Smart March 27, 2013 at 8:06 am - Reply

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this!!! I am a blend in with chameleon tendencies!! and am rather harsh on the stick outs and the hunker downs so try not to go there but realize when I read your post that I can be those in some ways as well, so I need to be less harsh. I feel sorry for the hunker downs as many of them are like that out of fear, and the stick outs I think should know better, hence I am harsh on them (sorry 🙁 ), but they do give the rest of us expats a bad name and often do quite a lot of harm 🙁

  19. Marilyn Gardner April 2, 2013 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    How did I miss this excellent post? You got it. Perfect descriptions. I was definitely the chameleon. Sometimes being totally expat stickout and other times being blend in as much as possible. This is so good.

  20. Ute April 7, 2013 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    This is an excellent post! I love this topic! I’m a blend in with chameleon tendencies. As jen Smart, I don’t understand the hunker downs. The stick outs are often those who don’t stay for a long time or who stay in a country where the habits are too different from those they’re used to and sticking out is a way to maintain a bit of their identity. I agree with Jen Smart that the stickout’s (those who stick out and don’t even try to adapt) and the hunk downs who live like in a ghetto give us other expats a bad name…

  21. Anthony April 7, 2013 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    I lived for 5 years in Saudi Arabia and spent my highschool years in Tehran, Iran up until the fall of the Shah. In Saudi we were hunkered down in ‘little America’ compounds and kept very segregated from the populace, however, I didn’t. As a kid (and being a boy made it possible) I ran all over the suk, took buses and generally went wherever I pleased. In Iran we were ‘on the economy’, which meant living at the local Iranians did, albeit with much more money. I was a teenager then and was in a country with no liquor laws and fierce drug laws that were rarely enforced. Wild in the streets and dazed and confused. My expat experience has always left me an outsider looking in, but I think the ‘looking’ part is a cornerstone of the expat character. We are adventures and we dive-in where others might hold back. From Big Island Hawaii – Aloha!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 7, 2013 at 6:27 pm - Reply

      This is such a great comment, Anthony! I love hearing about your experiences overseas, what at a time to live in Iran. I think you are right about looking in, and diving in.

  22. Stephen April 8, 2013 at 6:29 am - Reply

    Awesome Blog… As a rookie expat, I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia for almost 6 months now. We are a little bit of each of the above. We certainly stickout quite a bit, blonde wife and two blonde haired blue eyed toddlers. We hunker down in our compound and shop at the stores with all the imported products from the US. But I try to blend in as much as possible too. Eating at local restaurants and meeting as many of my local coworkers as possible.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 8, 2013 at 8:16 am - Reply

      Thanks Stephen. I would imagine that as an expat in Saudi, you would naturally stick out especially as blonds! Some things we can’t do anything about. Of course skin and hair color affect our ability to blend in, but you nailed it with the blending in – it is more about participation in local things than about actually looking like the locals, appreciating the things that are to be discovered in this new place. My family absolutely does all of the above at various times!

  23. Kama April 8, 2013 at 6:38 am - Reply

    Interesting article. I think you are on to something quite important here in regards to how well people settle in to an assignment emotionally. How we approach a new environment is often planned subconsciously before leaving yet this can change so quickly. I wonder, does it depend on the culture we have left and the culture we are exposed to which of the above we choose. I think I have been a bit of each in the various countries I have lived. This observation is certainly important in reagards to helping someone cope. We all cope so differently. Lots to think about here, Thank you.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 8, 2013 at 8:19 am - Reply

      Thanks Kama. The more I have thought about this and heard from people, the more convinced I am that how we adapt and what kind of expat we become is SUPER-determined by where we are from and where we are now living. It would be easier for my family to blend in if we lived in Europe or a country with a larger expat population. Other things like security issues and language issues all affect expats. And my family is a little bit of all of the above, which is why I brought in the chameleon – at different times, stages, when we have different needs…

  24. Michelle S April 8, 2013 at 3:19 pm - Reply

    I lived in France for a year as a college student, and I went with the intention of blending in. I speak French, and knew the culture well before I went, so most of the time it wasn’t too hard to act French, though I don’t look French at all, so that definitely made it more difficult. I remember getting on the bus one of my first days there and hearing a loud group of american students in the back shouting and carrying on and I decided I wanted nothing to do with them because they didn’t try to blend in. They ended up being in my class, and unfortunately, since I already decided they were too stick-out for my tastes, I never spoke to them and I realize now that I probably miss out on a great opportunity to witness to them because I was too focused on blending in. So I like your idea of a chameleon- picking a type based on the situation. Sometimes you have to stick out, sometimes blend in, and other times hunker down. I remember a while back learning the terms Xenocentrism (valuing someone else’s culture higher than your own) and Ethnocentrism (preferring your own culture above all; believing it to be the best in all circumstances) and it really opened my eyes to the emotional impact of being an expat. I feel like society tells us that when 2 things are different, one is always better and one is always worse. But sometimes, they are just different. It’s necessary to find the balance between the culture you grew up with and the culture your currently find yourself in. We sometimes find ourselves wanting to be all in or all out. Anyway, I just felt I should comment because I’m headed back to France in a few months and your post made me think about my actions the first time, and how I want to act this time- what I’ll do the same, and what I’ll do differently. Thanks for your thought-invoking post 🙂

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 8, 2013 at 4:10 pm - Reply

      Thanks for this thoughtful response. Yes, some situations call for differing responses. I have felt that same thing about large groups of loud Americans and have to realize I have planks in my own eye. It is sometimes too easy to get down on my own culture but I don’t want to be an expat that disparages where I’ve come from in some kind of faux-surperiority complex. Balance, like you said. That’s key.

  25. Esteve April 8, 2013 at 5:48 pm - Reply

    Salaam Rachel, great observations! I was a classmate of Anthony’s. We didn’t know each other back then but we were both cut from the same cloth so to speak. I was a military brat while his dad worked for an international corporation so even among the expats we’re of two different classes I guess you’d say. I lived all through my high school years running the streets in Tehran. I learned the language pretty good but never learned to read or write. I used local vernacular to make myself understood but never hid the fact that I was from the US. We made friends with the neighbors, ate at there homes and had them over so on one hand I would have to agree with the Chameleon aspect. When being proper we honored the local culture and embraced it but on Weds and Thurs nights we ran wild like unleashed American hippy teens. Loud music, disco’s and a variety of intoxicants (local and imported). Tehran was trying hard to westernize back then so another unique thing about living there was the clash within the local folk. Woman in chador as well as miniskirts, Mercedes and camels on the same streets, double decker buses and the 3 wheeled jube hoppers that you could get a ride in for a few rials. Perhaps Chameleon isn’t the right word, schizophrenic may be more appropriate? Great observation Rachel, I knew all three types while I was there. Thanks from an old expat!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 8, 2013 at 7:35 pm - Reply

      I love, love hearing these things. So fun to get a little picture of what life was like for you in Tehran at that time. And so fun to see connections pop up here, like your’s with Anthony. We live in a huge world, but then again, we live in a small world. Especially among expats I am always surprised (though probably shouldn’t be) by the connections and relationships. Thanks for sharing. And I know what you mean by schizophrenic!

  26. Daniel April 9, 2013 at 5:27 am - Reply

    Mostly agree, except that I am often an ex-pat in my passport country. (I am a TCK, now rearing 3 TCKs.) Agree with almost all except, “They knew blending in would take immense sacrifice…” I feel it is an investment, not a sacrifice. Just as in money spent taking my wife for a fancy outing is an investment, not a sacrifice.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 9, 2013 at 6:53 am - Reply

      Investment IS a good word for it. I do think there is some sacrifice involved, but investment has more of a purposeful idea behind it – a looking to the future. I like that, thanks for the word!

  27. Jeff April 10, 2013 at 11:28 pm - Reply

    Wow. You really connected with a lot of people. I’ve read your blog a half dozen times because different people tell me about good posts. I think you see things clearly, and you write in a readable way. But over the course of my time reading your blog I am asking myself what it is that you’re after.
    You have a good ability to see expatriates in all their many flavors and categorize them… but should you? I have many of the exact same thoughts that you have shared, but…
    Anyway, keep posting! Keep using your talents for what they were given for. I only write because I know I like a little iron to sharpen me, and I thought you might too.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 11, 2013 at 4:48 am - Reply

      Thanks Jeff. Yes, I do appreciate (and need) iron on iron to sharpen me. As the blog has grown in readership, I’m seeing it through new eyes – the eyes of people who don’t know me! And so I think I understand what you are getting at. I can be a bit snarky/critical/sarcastic and perhaps that isn’t the most life-giving way. Thanks for commenting and being honest.

  28. […] there are times when the stresses of the stripping, of behaving chameleon-like, become too heavy and we start to lose ourselves, lose focus, lose energy, lose any joy in the work […]

  29. Leeam April 18, 2013 at 7:28 pm - Reply

    I’d say there’s a 4th type. A sort of cross between stick out and hunker down. The expat who is super social and always busy, yet only mixes with other expats. Doesn’t matter where the expats come from, the commonality is the fact that no-one in the circle is local! They live in the same areas – may even live in an expat enclave. They belong to expat clubs, kids go to expat schools, they raise money (most for out of the host country charities) and generally try to behave as though they aren’t actually living in a foreign country at all!

    I’d also suggest that people can change between groups as time progresses and/or circumstances change.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm - Reply

      That sounds like another good category. I’m sure they are actually limitless. And absolutely people change, sometimes I feel like I change in one day between all kinds of types!

  30. Jeff Crayton April 22, 2013 at 6:05 am - Reply

    Really enjoyed the post and the slew of comments!

    We’re not expats yet, but the clan will be relocating to the Transkei in South Africa once we get all partnered up (5 months – ?years?). Part of our ‘preparation’ is stuffing as many of others’ opinions/suggestions/experiences into our heads and hearts as will fit. By God’s grace we’ll be able to draw on those as we settle in for what we’re currently planning on being the rest of our lives.

    Out of pure ignorance (in the real sense of the word), I expect we’ll be blenders with a hint of chameleon. Obviously, this old white dude won’t be mistaken for a Xhosa tribesman, so it will be respectful conformity to the culture, but maintaining the difference so as to remain useful. Y’all would know better than I, but I would think that the differences between a missionary and those being served is part of the key. I mean, the uniqueness of character and of culture of the missionary is part of why people pay attention, isn’t it? Part of the draw?

    Yes, I know the Spirit draws people unto Himself, but you know what I mean — in missions it seems He uses mankind’s natural tendency to be attracted to something different. I guess in a couple years when I’m writing about expats and culture-blending methodologies in my blog I’ll learn whether I was naive or was actually learning through my vicarious living in preparation for the field!

  31. Greg D October 21, 2013 at 7:41 pm - Reply

    I’m definitely a chameleon. But, I don’t wear bikinis.

  32. Amanda January 8, 2014 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    These are all so true… is it bad that I was putting all the ex-pats I know into each category? Not in a judgey-way… but I couldn’t help have a few names pop up as I read the descriptions. Then I was trying to put myself into one and was having trouble – until I got to the end – I’m a chameleon living in Tanzania!
    Glad I stumbled upon your blog!

  33. Janice January 9, 2014 at 7:48 am - Reply

    Love the article! I live in Turkey and know people from every one of the categories!! I couldn’t help but think of many instances with friends. I was compelled to stop after each and every sentence to picture special times here with friends who have come and gone. So glad an expat friend posted this on fb.

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  69. […] Djibouti, I have seen expatriates come and go, thrive and struggle, engage in the community and hunker down behind high walls. Over time I have noticed some patterns, things that thriving expats tend to do, or not do. Could be […]

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