What if you had stayed home?

How different would life be if you’d never left home to live overseas? Mr Tall pointed out some of the big differences a couple of weeks back, but here’s a couple more.

A bigger world,

If I hadn’t left the UK, the world would still seem a much bigger, more foreign place. It’s not that I'm any better connected to world news living here. It’s more that regular contact with people from around the world makes it seem a smaller, more familiar place.

You’ll naturally work and make friends with people from other countries if you move here as an expat. Stay for a few years and some of those friends move on but keep in touch, and at the same time you’ll make new friends. All these people are likely traveling around, so conversations regularly cover trips abroad – whether for work, vacation, or family visits back home.

Then the next time you hear of some far off place, it’s not just as a paragraph in a news article, but it also conjures up personal feelings about the friend that described it to you. The place has become more familiar, somehow part of the neighbourhood.

As an example, look at who was at last Friday’s drinks & dinner with friends, and see the opportunities to hear about foreign places:

  • MsB. Born in HK, now a Canadian passport holder. Works in a local role, but handles international business as part of a large multinational. Married to a British expat (me!).
  • MsB’s older sister, also a Canadian passport holder. Spends probably one week in three in Shanghai, plus regular trips to other countries.
  • MrM. BBC. Works for multinational. Last year’s holiday was a safari to Africa, this year heading to Bali diving.
  • MrK. BBC. Works for a multinational, with business trips to China & US.
  • MsK. Born in HK with Shanghainese parents. Works for multinational. Holidays around Asia.
  • MrO. British. Works in multinational, with business trips around Asia. Makes use of every vacation day possible to visit unusual places. Recent trips have included N. Korea, Jordan, Iran, and Bhutan (we think he’s really a spy!).
  • MsL. Filipina. Works for multinational with business trips within Asia and to US & Europe. Her husband (born in Taiwan, grew up in US) couldn’t join us as he was in Sydney on a business trip.

Of course, most conversation is still about local news, nonsense & gossip. But there’s much more chance to be connected to things happening in other parts of the world than if I was still in the UK.

In the small town where I grew up, a trip to the nearest big town (defined as ‘having a Marks & Spencers store'!. It was 70 miles away) was news.

In the larger town (100K+ population) where I went to college and had my first job, I met more people who had traveled overseas, and even made a couple of overseas business trips myself. Still, all the people I knew were British.

A smaller mind,

Is there an inverse relationship between size of mind and world-view? If I was reading the list above as the stayed-in-the-UK MrB, I’d be thinking “what a name-dropper, obviously hiding some deep insecurities”. But if you’re reading it here in Hong Kong, you’re more likely thinking “small-fry”, and can easily outdo that list for examples of exotic international experience.

So hopefully the years living overseas has helped knock away some of my prejudices, and help me be more aware of the ones that remain.
More stuff,

When my dad died, mum set to on a major clear-out of the house. It took several skips to cart away all the junk. Apart from the obvious stuff in cupboards, the loft was full, the garage hadn’t had space to hold a car since we’d moved in 30+ years ago, and several parts of the garden were buried under yet more ‘things that might come in useful one day’.

I’ve inherited that same packrat urge, so if I still lived in the UK I’d be happily surrounded with clutter. Here, our flat has just over 600 sq ft of useable space. Things that aren’t needed get thrown out!
In the UK I’d also ‘need’ more new stuff too. I assume we’d live in a house that is much bigger than 600 sq ft, so we’d need to buy more things (furniture, carpets, curtains, etc) to fill it. There’d likely be a garden too, with its own assortment of needed tools and accessories. A workshop would be good. And don’t forget a car, or more likely two…

And less money.

For starters I’d have been spending money to buy and maintain all that stuff listed above.

Then if I was on a similar gross salary, my take-home pay would be considerably lower after UK tax.

Finally, the tax on any investments I’d made would be keeping them from growing as quickly.

So if I’d stayed at home I could expect to be poorer and more bigoted, but with lots more stuff!


PS Gweipo has an interesting clipping of what your stay-at-home doppelganger might think about the expat you.