Habits of Highly Effective Expats

Ineffective Expats

This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.

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Expat Guide on twitter, tweets…

Today, Sharon Gilor (expatsguide), tweeted the post, Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Expats.

I have noticed in strangers, friends, and yes, even myself, seven habits that I think make you a very ineffective expat. My rookie year in China is nearing a close, so I plan on making a New Year’s resolution of sorts to break these bad habits that I know I have, and I sure to not be alone in them.

Habits of Highly Ineffective Expats: 6) Decadence…

“Don’t worry about spilling anything, the ayi will clean it”
“I don’t cook anymore, eating out is so cheap”

Number six is why I’m responding with a post and not in Glen’s comments.

While this is part of the attraction for a lot of people, I hope that you ask yourself what you think of the people who have that sort of a lifestyle back home.

What would I think? Well, I think kudos to them for attaining such a high standard of living.

Life is too short to waste doing what you don’t want to do, while avoiding what you do what to do. So go! Do! Live your life to the fullest! After all, it is your life.

When I left home as a teen, it was not long before I was fed up with having to do all of the washing, ironing, and cleaning. I even disliked the process of paying bills. And while I loved to cook intricate, fiddly meals (I still do), I found the daily grind of having to cook tedious.


Fast forward several years… after being married for a few months I knew exactly what I wanted.

I really really wanted wife…

That’s right. I wanted a wife.

I wanted someone else to pick up MY socks, iron MY clothes, and cook MY dinners too!

And when I moved to Borneo, I did just that. I got myself a ‘wife’. And it was grand.

I had nine years in Borneo with a live in who washed, ironed, cooked, cleaned, and even handled the weedwacker chap and occasional workmen.

But when I moved to Thailand I decided to forgo a full-time ‘wife’.

Why? Because during those nine years I discovered what men already knew.

Wives are a lot of work.

With a full-time wife you sometimes have to deal with a rolling litany of personal issues. Issues you might prefer to do without.

So now I don’t have a full-time wife. I have a Wednesday wife.

While she does not cook, she does wash, iron, clean my house, water the plants, and take my clothes for mending. She bosses the workmen and delivery men around. She even runs to 7 to pay my bills.

The habits of highly effective expats…

Face it. One of the big pluses of being an expat is the fantastic lifestyle! And a given, it is all up to you. Your choice.

I don’t choose to have all of the sinful pleasures that are available to expats living in Thailand. But there is a simple reason for that. Not everything suits me personally.

Just like I don’t choose to have a full-time maid, I don’t choose to have a car and driver either. I made this choice after waiting in too many lobbies, at too many store fronts, and on too many street corners for the driver to show. And yeah, paeng mâak!

So instead of the extra expense of a car and driver, I keep a few Bangkok taxis on speed dial for the long-hauls, and stick my arm out for the rest.

Oh, and I’m really really big on getting everything delivered. Everything I possibly can anyway.

Sometimes I order in on a Friday night because I don’t want to fight Bangkok traffic.

But wait! I’m not finished with the delivery angle. Because if Bangkok does something really well, it’s delivery.

Bangkok does indeed deliver. My vet does house calls. My Thai teacher does too. When I find the books I want, I contact Danny at DCO, who sends them over by motorcycle taxi (saves me money on taxis). And if I lose my head at Villa (which does not happen often), they send my groceries around after me.

I haven’t figured out Paragon. Yet.

And I travel. Extensively. But not ott. Flights are cheaper from SE Asia than from the West so I can. But a given, I also travel inside Thailand.

I know you didn’t ask for it, but… in my opinion, when given the opportunity, skipping the chance to see the world we live in would be the biggest sin of all. Italy, here I come…

Does all of this make me an ineffective Expat?

Heck no! It makes me a highly effective expat. For sure.

Ok, but does it make me a decadent expat? Hmmm…

Bottoms up…

28 thoughts on “Habits of Highly Effective Expats”

  1. Every country has different culture & norms; you need to familiarize yourself with it. If possible, it is best to visit the country beforehand so you know everything you need before you actually start working. Knowing the culture and people around prevents resulting in an “expat burnout”

  2. Hi Keith. Absolutely, most of us DO do that job for no pay anyway. And besides, what person does not tidy up a bit before the maid comes to clean? I know I rush around at times, making sure her time is not wasted when she is here.

  3. Catherine, it sounds like you roll with the punches as well as anyone. You are right, there is no ideal life. But if the life one is given or has earned is not suitable, it’s time to craft another. As long as one isn’t on his deathbed, it’s not too late to improve one’s lot.

    As for being a maid, most of us do that job for no pay anyway!

  4. Rikker – ‘Way too much pontificating about how things would be in an ideal world and judging others for being reasonably pragmatic.’

    Agreed. Life is never ideal. And if it is, I’d like to meet the people who live in that world 🙂

    I’ve never had a family backing me, catching me when I fell. I went it alone because that was the way it always was.

    So when I went hungry, I was hungry without a net. Forget going to the government as it was not my way.

    (besides, being raised as an expat, I was only vaguely aware of government programs in the home country)

    When my son was going into first grade, I lost my job as a mudlogger (on site geologist) due to the economy.

    We moved to Houston and ran out of money.

    I got lucky as the apartment complex we were living in offered me a job cleaning the units. I took it.

    So yes, I was a maid for awhile. And I didn’t look at it as demeaning, I took it as a way to feed my family. I was grateful then and I still am.

  5. I just finished reading through the comments on that post. Way too much pontificating about how things would be in an ideal world and judging others for being reasonably pragmatic. I have no hired help, nor does my wife do it all, but I don’t get all the animosity.

    It reminds me of two phases I went through as a kid:

    First, in middle school, being jealous of my friend who started his own lawn-mowing business and made quite good money. He was able to afford all sorts of records and movies I couldn’t. I resented him until I realized he had all those things because he was harder working than me. My family was a little better off, and my folks gave each kid an allowance. They *only* gave us an allowance, so we had to learn to budget, but I wasn’t willing to do any more work than the basic chores they required to get it.

    Second, in high school, being jealous of my other friend who was better off than I was, and whose parents appeared to buy him whatever he wanted. The friend in the previous scenario and I used to complain about his silver spoon syndrome, and how he was in for a rude awakening when and if he eventually moved out and into the “real world”. I still didn’t have a job yet.

    In both of these phases, I was an idiot. Might still be.

  6. Life as an expat is a trade-off. I don’t claim to have any special wisdom in this area, but I’d say it’s folly to think that there’s one way to be a “good” or “bad” expat.

    Like the comparing. Well, here’s why we compare: we miss things. We wish we could have our cake and eat it, too. We like the comforts of home, but we also like (frequently *love*) the comforts of our adopted homes.

    So while bitching nonstop about filthy sidewalks and bad drivers is one thing, sometimes a little commiserating is in order. It can be a litmus test of your own ability to cope with the more remarkable culture shocks. Like–“Have I totally lost my grounding in reality, or is it less than okay for construction workers to spill a carton of nails on a busy urban sidewalk and not bother to collect them for the several weeks it takes them to complete the construction job? Thanks–I was beginning to think it was just me.”

    To give an entirely unextraordinary example, life for me in Bangkok is not just about being accustomed to living in a foreign country. It’s also about adjusting to life in a big city. I’ve spent four of the past seven years here, and the three I wasn’t here I was living in small-town New Hampshire–with exponentially more trees than people. Before that I lived in the rural Pacific Northwest. Of course I’m not going to banish the past from my memory.

    Maybe the problem isn’t the comparing, it’s the complaining. Since just as much of the comparing is positive — “I could never afford to have my ironing done back home” — “it’s amazing what you can get delivered here” — “I can’t believe how cheap air travel is”.

    I’d add bad habit #8: expecting everyone to live their lives in the same way. The one-two punch of (a) not getting stuck in a rut, and (b) not traveling too much is especially bizarre.

    Everyone finds their own balance. And people find like-minded folks wherever they go.

    Sometimes we’re still looking for the balance. Right now the thing I want most is a front yard for my 18-month-old. She basically acts like she is training for the baby decathlon. So I’m casually looking for somewhere that balances location and cost. Once I’m convinced this isn’t entirely a pipe dream, I’ll start looking seriously.

    But pay me no mind if you hear me complaining about it in the meantime.

  7. Lynn, I just came across this… ‘New ways of thinking scare people, because their comfortable lifestyles, morality, and conventional wisdoms get challenged on the most fundamental level. You don’t have to accept other ways of thinking, but facing the challenges has benefits; this is where courage comes in. Every time you read new material in a new language or socialize with people from another country or culture, you will find yourself face to face with things that will probably make you feel uncomfortable in some way.’

    And while he is talking mostly about learning languages, it is also true about living the expat life.

    And the more you live the expat life, the more comfortable you get with your adopted country/s (no pun intended).

    Those who never make the transition go home (wherever home is) to a life within their own particular comfort zone.

    And no doubt about it, finding where you fit is important. It certainly took me long enough of wandering around the world before I knew where I belonged.

  8. Good morning Lynn. Truer words were never spoken. Thailand has been extra interesting for me because the culture is so much richer than what I found on Borneo. I’m not saying that the people are complex because they are not. I’m just saying that the ‘whole’, the different personalities, the mannerisms, quirks, the language, the history, it all keeps rolling in. Each month I learn a little more and the picture becomes clearer.

  9. My thoughts:

    Every ‘expat’ goes through stages of enlightenment, as you know from your life-long experience.

    In each stage we have this heartfelt conviction of knowing we’ve discovered the absolute truth as we compare, naturally, the lives expats live overseas to our only knowledge base: wherever we grew up.

    What a lot of expats don’t realize until they have spent years of Living as Expats (as you have), not just a two or three year stint as a live-in visitor, is that we will change our opinions about the culture we’re living in on a semi-yearly basis.

    The more travelling we do and experience we attain in the country we’ve adopted teaches us heaps more about the people, and teaches the people more about us.

  10. Thanks David. I’ve now deleted the commentluv plugin. I know it causes problems with databases (adds strain) but I was hoping it would work with the upgrade.

    But you are right. They already have their url in with the name, so it is a moot point.

    I’m not sure many of my commenters twitter, but I could try that one out. Just… I’ll need to find out how to code it in first.


  11. Hey Cat,

    I actually deleted the commentluv plugin from my LDL blog, as it was pulling up error messages from commenters.

    Another reason to ditch it, even though the links it leaves are technically “nofollow”, is that it dilutes the value you give to other links inside your blog post.

    I don’t mind diluting that value for Twitter profiles, because that’s another place I can see what my readers are up to, but for blog posts, the URL is already listed behind the name, so another link isn’t actually too necessary.

  12. Wow. 70 baht for a weeks worth of laundry? That’s fantastic. When I was in a different condo we had a dry cleaners on the bottom floor. That’s the only one I’ve ever used so I imagine you can find cheaper then what I was paying each week (think expat condo and you’ll know what I mean). And some clothes were dry-cleaned so that takes the cost up too.

    Funny how I no longer need to dry-clean clothes once I’m not in the vicinity anymore 🙂

    And that’s the problem. Getting stuff there. I’d have to make arrangements for someone to pick up my ironing and bring it back each week. Meaning, I’d have to be here on set days.

    I’m trying to automate my life to where I am less involved in the day to day. The maid has her own key so at least that one is out of the way. The water delivery chap drops bottles off outside the door.

    (on a totally different note – I noticed that commentluv is not picking up your latest post… let’s see if it picks up mine…)

  13. ‘God bless those dear laundry ladies’

    So right you are.

    You need to get yourself a summer home in the provinces. In Nakhon Phanom I can get a weeks worth of laundry done in 1 day for 70 baht. A bit expensive I know but I have to help the local economy lol.

    It’s amazing just how cheap Thailand can be once you get out of the metropolitan areas.

  14. Martyn,

    Exactly! I mean, why move out here just to suffer like you do at home?

    After living on Borneo for nine years, I moved to Scotland for a year. Talk about a lot of work! I started a business AND took care of a four bedroom house with garden. There was no time for relaxing even if I could afford to do any of the relaxing things available. Life is just too short…

    Expat living is what you make of it, for sure. And I plan on being on the expat holiday for the rest of my life.

    ‘afterall you don’t want the maids whispering as you walk past them each morning’

    And boy, do they ever 😀

    And who of us doesn’t do a quick whip round before the maid comes in? I imagine all of us do.

    I don’t want the maid to waste her time. Nor do I want her to be forced to work around a mess. And there is that gossip thing…

    ‘God bless those dear laundry ladies’

    Absolutely. When I checked to see how much it would cost for my laundry to be done each week (just the ironing), it was the same as getting a maid to come and do everything once a week.

    So making the decision to get a maid was an easy decision to make.

    ‘they keep the economy ticking over and give valuable income via wages and tips for the less well off’

    Another thing that comes in handy is getting rid of extra stuff. When you are an expat in a big city, where does the unwanted stuff go? It goes to your maid. Your maid will either keep it, resell it, or pass it down to a family member who can use it. So, no waste, and you don’t have to scramble to find where the second hand stores are. In Bangkok, I don’t believe second hand even exist.

    Today is Wednesday. My Wednesday wife not only showed me where the workmen made a mess painting, but she fixed the faucet in the kitchen (again). She also figured out the leak in the water cooler so I no longer need to manhandle those HUGE water bottles. Then, before she left, she showed me the clothes that needed mending and off they went with her.

    She is grand. And I am loving this.

  15. Surely the whole purpose of moving abroad and becoming an ex pat is to better your lifestyle and way of living. The services and luxuries you list are ones we’d all like to have in our own countries but for most of us cannot afford.

    “Don’t worry about spilling anything, the ayi will clean it”…I really don’t subscribe to that statement. Hotels rooms have a daily maid service and I’m sure most people do their level best to keep their room as tidy as possible, afterall you don’t want the maids whispering as you walk past them each morning.

    Housemaids, home delivery…they keep the economy ticking over and give valuable income via wages and tips for the less well off….and I didn’t mention ironing, enough said…God bless those dear laundry ladies.

  16. Yes, the traffic in Bangkok can be absolutely miserable if you go out at the wrong time. And Friday night is never a good time. Lunchtime is bad too.

    Also, if I had to run all over town looking for each of the books I wanted, it would be well over 300 baht plus in taxis each time (locating books is never straightforward). And with some of the books coming from Chiang mai, a wee bit more than that.

    I haven’t thought about it as helping out the economy, but you are right. And with two kids in school, I know the maid needs to work. So yes, there is that.

  17. Good points all around. I think you made an effective argument how having a maid and getting your food delivered is not a bad thing!

    One viewpoint I read somewhere before had said that Thais in the cleaning business expect that expats will hire them and it gives them a reliable job. You’re helping out the economy! As you are with having things delivered to your home – with the delivery charges and tips, you’re helping people who would not get this money had they not provided this convenience for you.

    And you’re so right about wanting delivery for so many things since the traffic can be SOOOO terrible!!!!

  18. Aw. That’s so awful. I’ll be you both took awhile to get over your cat.

    ‘Your cats wear protective mittens? :)’

    At one time I had photos online but I guess I’ll have to show you later.

    Think nail covers, but for cats.

    I know… I know…

    Greece – Yeah! I’ve heard wonderful things about Greece (yet another place I have not been to…) and the movies… so romantic…

  19. An air filter will definitely be purchased. I felt so bad for Catherine when we handed over our cat to its new owner. Her tears didn’t help, and I don’t want that to happen again.

    Your cats wear protective mittens? 🙂

    Not sure about a possible honeymoon destination. We’d both like to go somewhere we can do things, see sights etc. So that kind of rules out Seychelles / Mauritius / Reunion breaks. Sitting on a beach is great and all, but not for too long.

    Perhaps Italy or Greece.

  20. Talen, I love that I can walk out of my home and into a world that thrives at a high level.

    Yeah, I know that there are many who disagree with me, but perhaps they have not tasted the streets of Thailand?

    If so, then they are missing an amazing world.

    ‘Hawaiian pizza’ – oh dear. LOL!

    I can’t wait to meet you Talen. You have a totally fun soul 🙂

    ‘Definitely not a decadent thing when it is all so cheap’

    And that is the whole point of my post. Living in Thailand can be expensive, but the really wonderful things are not.

    ‘…you should have a wife though Cat… but I’m not sure if she should be a Western wife or a Thai wife.’

    And I’m not sure either. I’ve had excellent Filipino ‘wives’ too… decisions… decisions…

  21. I think that’s why so many of us Love Thailand…we can be highly effective in our ineffectiveness!

    Excellent read as always Cat and I couldn’t agree more. Why waste the time doing things you don’t want to do when you can spend that time actually living your life. You can get great fresh food within 5 minutes of your doorstep no matter where you live in Thailand and it’s so cheap.

    Likewise you can get anything delivered cheaply which is always a plus when you have a hunger for a Hawaiian pizza at 4am.

    The best part is you can get anywhere in Thailand by plane and it’s usually under $100.

    Definitely not a decadent thing when it is all so cheap.

    I still think you should have a wife though Cat…but I’m not sure if she should be a Western wife or a Thai wife.

  22. ‘They Twitter? Smart cats! ;)’

    Hah! I didn’t realise the connection until now.

    I don’t know anything about allergy shots. Not recent ones anyway.

    I was horribly allergic to cats due to ‘The Haze’, so I put things in place. Not only do I have cat shampoo, but I also have air filters that take cat dander (and more I guess) out of the air. And then there is the furniture shampoo and the carpet shampoo…

    ‘Maybe the cat can just sleep outside.’

    In Bangkok that is not possible. I brought my Borneo cat to Thailand – a cat rescue from the Borneo jungles even – and it was killed within months. It was awful.

    But you should not have the same problems out there, so yes, if I were you, I’d go for an inside/outside cat.

    If not, you will also have the claws problem. My cats wear these silly things that… oh dear…

    So, I just HAVE to ask… where will you go on your honeymoon? Romantic Europe?

    And please PLEASE send HUGE HUGS to Catherine for me in congrats! 🙂

  23. They Twitter? Smart cats! 😉

    I was looking into allergy shots, and did a search on Twitter to see what others were saying about them. It seems you need to get injections around three times per week, for 3-6 years, and wait in the clinic for 30 minutes after each one to be sure you don’t die.

    Perhaps a bit over the top, but that’s the gist I got, and people were VERY fed up with having to go to their appointments.

    Maybe the cat can just sleep outside.

    To be fair, the last time we adopted one (for two months before I had to give in) we lived in a carpeted apartment by a main road, so she couldn’t go outdoors, and Catherine let her onto our bed. I know that letting cats in your bedroom if you’re allergic is a big mistake.

    My parents are just back from a trip to Florence and Rome. The photos look stunning, and I’d love to go see the architecture. The markets of Marrakesh — they’d be great to see too.

  24. Ah, pets. If only the ‘wife’ would take care of the kitty litter too 🙂

    I have cats – two American Shorthairs. They have extraordinary personalities. They don’t meow, they twitter.

    And occasionally there is a ‘cry from the wilderness’ from Mr Bunt if he cannot see anyone. Even if he’s only on the other side of the sofa. Actually, him being on the other side of the sofa is a given for a howl… with his blue whale usually clinched between his teeth (long story).

    Duvet is the smart one (and the one to look out for). She uses her paws like human hands. Mr. Bunt is only known for his beauty and deeply ingrained stupidity. I’m fond of them equally, but there is that kitty litter thing…

    And like you, I have allergies, but I’ve been able to get around it. Mostly.

    I make sure I don’t stick my fingers in my eyes after petting either cat, or my eyes will swell up and become itchy.

    There are products you can buy. I get mine shipped in from the US but I’m sure you can find them easily in Ireland.

    Warning: Shorthairs don’t like getting shampooed any more than any other cat does.

    Not travelling is a sin. I went through ten years where the main travelling I did was to the UK and back. Those were wasted years. I have not seen Italy. I have not seen Morocco.

    I’ve seen a lot, but those ten years… sigh…

    I plan on making up for it. Big time.

  25. Love the insight! What pet(s) do you have, by the way? Cat wants me to try again with a little feline friend, even though the last one caused me to sneeze and made my eyes itchy. “The next one might be different!” Hmmm.

    As for seeing the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a little, and it made such a huge difference to my outlook. I completely agree with you on that one. It’d be a sin not to.


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