Thursday, December 09, 2010

Name that Expat!

as i ate my muesli and watery yogurt to the slow crooning of julio ilgensias' greatest hits this morning, i took a look around the dining room and played a game of "name that expat". from what i've been able to observe (with my highly untrained, non-anthropological eye), aside from the occassional german vacationer, there is a strange cast of characters that always accompanies me at the hotel's complimentary breakfast buffet in "developing" countries. here are some pointers to help you "name that expat" next time you're on the road:

the young ngo consultant: let's start with the (ahem) obvious. these people work for "the poor" and, as such, see fit to dress the part. you can identify the women by their messy pony tails, lack of make-up, cargo-ish pants/cotton rayon stretch skirts (sometimes with asymmetrical hemlines for added flair), basic tops and teva-inspired sandals. the men will be wearing the male equivalent, with cargo pants, linen button-down tops (always with one too many buttons undone) and "dress shoes" supplied by skechers.

the old ngo consultant: after years of "toiling" on behalf of the indigent, salt and pepper hair is not the only clue to their identity. if you see a white woman wearing a dashiki/kurta/other local garb with an anaconda of bauble-beads around her neck, you've caught one! and for men, just look for a local-print top, indiana jones-stlye safari hat and (they being more daring than their younger counterparts) sandals.

the boogey men: these are the gaggle of smartly-dressed white business men, gathered around black coffee and laptops, conspiring to pillage the very land and souls the ngo consultants are here to save. they're usually the only good-looking men in the hotel.

the asian invasion: as chinese commerical and industrial developers flip the script on old colonial hegemony, you'll see more and more of their business men also huddled together at breakfast, around tea instead of coffee and with business casual clothing consdeirably less smart than their more established white counterparts.

the oil looters: especially here in east africa, where there's a new oil discovery seemingly every day, you'll doubtless encounter this unsavory co-star at your morning debut. i kid you not, they ALL wear company polo shirts tucked in to blue jeans with cowboy boots/shit-kickers. the older ones sport mustaches and, if you're lucky, you'll catch one in a cowboy hat (i swear that's not my bias talking).

the military man: i'd rather not imagine what they're doing here, but they always come to the "mess" in a crisp uniform, terrible haircut and exclusively eat egg-whites or breakfast meats.

and, finally, my favorite one of all...

the "lifer": this is the moniker i've given to those expats who have committed the better part of their adult lives to working/living in the non-west and have basically been "in the field" a little too long. they're usually women with no-nonsense crop cuts as bad as the military men's, rough leathery skin, outdated ngo clothes, and a crazy glint in their eyes. she may be old, but she's got attitude and considers herself one of the "people," so don't get between her and the omlette station!

and me? i try to throw them all off by wearing linen pants, business casual tops, cute (but sensible) shoes and my ten-gallon hat to every meal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

10-gallon hat? I need a picture please! You are probably the most fashionable person they've ever seen with people asking, "What is a beauty queen doing in these parts?"
love you!!