In defense of the complaining expat

Before a trip abroad I’ll often check out expat websites to get an idea of what the day-to-day life is like in a particular country. Sites like ExpatExchange and AlloExpat come in handy not only if you want to live in a country indefinitely, but also for planning short trips. In addition to having job and apartment listings, they often feature a calendar of upcoming events and forums for members to ask and answer questions.

The forums are often a great source of practical information you won’t find in many guidebooks, like where to get a decent haircut, how to open a bank account, or where to find peanut butter. You know, the essentials.

On topics other than these, however, I find the forums to be mostly a repetition of the same standard formula:

Jack: Boy I really hate ________ here.
Jill: If you don’t like it, leave.

While I’m sympathetic to the “Love it or leave it” sentiments, we should remember a few things before piling on the expat who complains about his adopted home country. First, adjusting to a new home can be a tough thing; once the initial excitement wears off, it can feel pretty lonely if you’re moved abroad by yourself. Second, remember this: you’re allowed to hate things about the place you live. As Chuck Thompson wrote in Smile When You’re Lying:

Like being a sports fan, one of the best things about being a traveler is complaining about the parts you don’t like– hating the Dallas Cowboys not only doesn’t make me any less a football fan, it probably makes me a more avid one.

So let’s cut the jaded, whiny expats a little slack– they’ll come in handy next time you’re craving a jar of Jif.