By Haley Barbarini
I hated ex-pats. Why? Because god they’re annoying. And you know what, Thailand is chock-full of them. Backpackers and ESL teachers galore. I couldn’t go anywhere without meeting that “one guy” (or girl) who would inevitably make my skin crawl. Between weekend vacations or going to the pier for some drinks, I was always finding myself in the standard ex-pat meet and greet. First engaging in discussion about country of origin and then naturally trailing into travel experiences. Most of these discussions would make my blood boil. Maybe it was because I hadn’t backpacked my way through SE Asia, South America, or Europe. Maybe it was because I was short on what I would consider spectacular travel stories. But most likely it’s because I have a short fuse and slightly bitchy attitude to begin with. They would ramble on and on while my friends would smile politely and engage them. All the while I would find myself taking enormous gulps of Singha and rolling my eyes.
“I like your bracelet.”
“Thanks it was hand-made by a 90 year old woman in a grass-hut that I met in Vietnam. She weaved it for me after I ate an authentic Vietnamese dinner with her entire family.”
“How long have you been traveling in Thailand?”
“Almost three weeks. I had the craziest experience in Koh Phagnan last weekend. I took a long tail boat to this remote beach. From there we hiked into the jungle where we happened upon this hidden little bar. We drank beer and made questionable life choices while dancing to deep house music until sunrise.”
Literally, my eyes are in the back of my skull.
What really got me is that no matter what type of experience you had, they had had a more gnarly, more spiritual, more authentic one than you. One that totally overshadowed yours. Which usually includes some mixture of interaction with locals, drinking or illicit drug use, and/or going to a place that is off the beaten path. Luckily for me (and those around me) my tolerance for ex-pats has greatly increased. It also helps that I now have my own arsenal of stories and experiences to share. Oh, and I’ve also become more adept at distinguishing well traveled intellectuals from one-upping a-holes. That’s a definite plus.
Now I’m about to leave Thailand and head home to small town Pennsylvania. It’s my first time returning home after a substantial amount of time abroad. As I’ve been preparing myself for reentry, I’ve come to the conclusion that reverse culture-shock is going to be a real bitch. Mostly because being in my childhood home only stands to emphasize the fact that I’m not the same person I was when I left. I worry that the people who know me the best will see these changes and think it’s not really me. That I’ve become this extreme vagabond version of my old self. But here’s the kicker, I think I may have become “that guy”. That ex-pat who is way more cultured than you. That one with handmade adornments, genie pants, a reggae mix in their car, maybe a singular dreadlock, and a tattoo in a different language (minus the dreadlock of course.) That expat that who will not shut up about all of the crazy things they have seen, done, or experienced during their travels.
So I went to my roommate (who is far older and wiser than I am.. jk she’s only 25) and we talked it out. The advice we had received from several other veteran coworkers is that everyone at home will ask you about your trip, but no one really wants to hear about it. Honestly though, that’s okay because I don’t want to drone on about it either. But I also don’t want to become this type-cast character within my group of friends. ‘That guy’ who is always telling annoying stories or relating present experiences to those they had abroad. ‘That guy’ who inspires the same eye-rolls and heavy sighs that I once utilized.
Finally, Dannie and I came to these conclusions during out last sea side introspective chat:
1. You don’t so much set out to write these stories as you just acquire them. Sometimes a simple trip turns into a crazy whirlwind of events. Most of the time you don’t even realize how ridiculous these stories sound until you verbalize them to people at home.
2. These grandiose tales that we share aren’t because we are trying way too hard to impress you. We aren’t trying to make you feel bad about getting a regular 9-5, and we definitely don’t want to annoy you. Most of the time, we just wish you could have been there. We want to set the scene so you can put the experience into context. Yes, we may get a bit overcome with nostalgia, but we do just want to share it with you in some way, shape, or form.
So friends, family, people who stalk me on social media, and strangers alike. Know that I’m not trying to be a pretentious expat when I share stories with you. I’m just trying to share the last year of my life with you. Also, please spare me the eye-rolls and snide remarks, because we all know that my bitch face is on point.
Haley’s first love is and will always be Italy. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2013 and is currently working in Thailand as an ESL teacher. When she is not teaching/ entertaining/wrangling 30 eight year olds she enjoys reading, investigating the coffee shop scene in Suratthani, Facebook creeping, and swapping classroom horror stories with her coworkers. You can follow her sporadic blog activity on her personal blog http://tonguethaidtravelers.wordpress.com/.