Expat Acquaintances – The Wind People and the Turtle People (All Mouth, No Ears)

Living expat means you meet a lot of interesting people, but you also get stuck with the frolicsome Wind People and the all mouth/ no ears denizens of the deep: the Turtle People.

The Wind People tell you that they are one with the world, they don’t believe in passports, they don’t believe in borders, they are nomads. They are not nomads. They are actually someone’s sister’s friend’s neighbor who found out you live in a town they want to visit or you have information they want access to. Sigh.

They are good for a night’s conversation and yes, you need to let them sleep in your guest room, but they are as substantial as tissue paper, fun but ephemeral, casting hither and yon, never staying long enough to know how to do anything anywhere – never realizing how dependent they are on the kindness of strangers – and never realizing they are sometimes getting help because the locals want them out of their hair.

They will accept whatever you have to offer: lunch, spare clothes, rides to the airport, medicine, books, the name of someone to stay with in the next town. But there is no repayment, never an attempt to balance scales. Of course they have nothing to give because they are wind people, traveling far, traveling light, always sure that down the road is another person to take care of them. Their gift to you is the gift of their presence – so that stodgy, silly you stuck in one place (so you have local information to pass on to them) with possessions (which they use) and a job (which gives you a salary so you buy food for them) can dream for one moment of a life lived ‘free.’ Feed them as one feeds stray birds, and for the same reason.

Then there are the Turtle People who carry their culture, their prejudices, their habits wherever they are. Actual turtles are cute, green and have hard-to-see but functioning ears. Turtle people are not cute, not green and have readily visible but not functioning ears. Their mouths, however, are unfortunately hyper-functional. They talk. They pontificate. They elucidate, explicate, illuminate and expound – they don’t actually know anything but they are ready to tell you all about local culture, local history, local government and the “locals” – what’s wrong, what needs to be fixed, what is the right way to do something. How it is done where they were born is the one, true, right way it should be done everywhere on earth.

I recently had an awful talk with a man who moved to the Middle East and, knowing nothing of the local culture, decided it’s his job to educate everyone. So he has taken it as personal mission to shake hands with women because “shaking hands is what educated, cultured people do.” Sigh. I tried to clarify that Muslim women often prefer not to shake hands and it’s usual for men to wait for a woman to extend her hand first. But he explained that this was not correct and that he was being helpful because what would happen if these women went to America or the United Kingdom? How would they cope? How would they be able to fit in and do business?

Does he honestly think that Western companies will refuse to do business without handshakes?  Does he really believe that his Christian, English manners are THE definition of manners and universally applicable? Why, yes, he does. Of course HIS manners are THE manners. Moving to another country is an opportunity for HIM to educate, not for him to be educated. What could he possibly need to learn?