I went to live in a recluse because my heart could not take any more falsehood, duplicity, hypocrisy, corruption, malice, cruelty, egotism, narcissism, greed, hostility, delinquency and dishonesty. I desired purity, righteousness, compassion, kindness, hospitality, integrity, uprightness and respect. Because I could not find any of the latter without prevalence of the former among humans, I left to live where the latter reigns.
So one day, without much planning or preparing, without consulting with anyone or seeking permission, I left and stayed gone, unaccounted for to everyone but God. I lived face to face with myself, depriving all living men from a chance to disturb me. I gave and was given, for in a company of Mother Nature, sharing is unconditional.
This extraordinary undertaking has taught me many things. Things about myself, about my soul, about self-reliance, about poverty, about silence, about my back country and about the downsides of living in a non hunter/gatherer society. Let me reflect on my experiences and share some of the knowledge acquired with you. I will explain in a little more detail what life as a recluse has taught me in next several posts. Click on the NEXT button at the top to browse through it.
The Expat Syndrome is a name I use to address a phenomenon which affects common traits and behaviour of people who leave their home country to live in an alien one (host country). My extensive travel took me through a wide range of nations, ranging from developed to developing and everything in between. Based on my observation, expatriates from countries I have previously visited did not think and act the way people in their home country normally do, but adapted to thinking and acting of their host country. In other words – if a person moves to a country where society and a way of life are different, their behaviour changes to that of their surroundings. As a result, if a decent person moves to a crap of a country, they start acting like a moron, and likewise, if a person from a crap country moves to a highly civilized society, their savage ways diminish (or vanish entirely) and start acting like fellow civilized citizens they are surrounded with.
Granted, moving to a different country to hang out with your own will slow down or block the effects of the Expat Syndrome entirely, but as a general rule, aspects of expats behaviour that does involve interaction with host society will be affected (for better or worse).
Who Is Not an Expat?
People who invade foreign countries – whatever the means and excuse – are not expats of which I speak in this article. Good example are Gypsies that moved from Eastern Europe to Scandinavia. These gypsies first invaded Eastern European countries on which they leeched by making babies because Communist governments paid so much money per child. But after they found out about generous social policies in Denmark, they came up with fabricated racism stories to gain asylum in the country where they moved to live like kings without a need to go to work. People like these are leeches and are not expats hence the Expat Syndrome does not apply to them.
Similarly, Muslim extremists who move to western countries with intentions to spread Jihad are not expats. They may be citizens of other countries living abroad long-term, but they are still not expats, just brainwashed lost souls dependent on a purpose provided by somebody else.
First Exposure to the Expat Syndrome
The Expat Syndrome is something I have noticed a very long time ago, when I first took a trip to London, UK. I was in the first year of the University and having previously visited Poland, I knew that Poles were some of the worst and least respectful drivers in Europe. Lives claimed by notoriously selfish Polish drivers in Poland are notoriously high yet when one goes to London, UK, they could cross the street on a zebra with their eyes closed and will get across unharmed.
For those who don’t know – London is infested with Poles (there is no polite way to put it). There are so many Poles in London (and all of the UK, for that matter), it’s a challenge to overhear a Cockney accent as all you get to hear is Polish language. It truly made me ask whether there are any Poles still left in Poland cause it looked as though they all fled to settle in London. As I continued traveling, I learned that the UK is not the only country infested with Poles. Seriously, I haven’t been to Poland in a while – are there any people in that country still?
So how is it that when you are in Poland, you really have to watch out trying to cross the road, but when you go to London you will never come an inch close to being endangered by a vehicle trying to cross? A chance of encountering a Pole driving a car down the road in London is incredibly high, yet you won’t face the same dangers you would if you tried that in Poland. So many Polish drivers in London, yet nowhere near the danger of Poland roads.
Obviously, even though they came from a country where drivers are disrespectful and drive aggressively, once they join driving etiquette where everybody respects pedestrians, it changes them and they start acting the same. Without thinking about it, they will instinctively stop as soon as there is an indication that a pedestrian is intending to cross the road. And this is exactly what the Expat Syndrome is all about. Regardless of what you were brought up acting as, if you move to live in a society that behaves differently as a whole, your behaviour adapts and subconsciously you start acting the same. Part of the Expat Syndrome is also the fact that people tend to be attracted by countries that follow moral values the person upholds deep within.
The Expat Syndrome in the Third World Countries
The case of Polish drivers in London is an example of the Expat Syndrome acting for the better. But while it does help to turn bad behavioural traits into good ones (in case of expats from crap countries who moved to decent ones) it also works the opposite way. This can be best seen by interacting with expats from the developed countries who have lived in the third world ones for some time.
Take Cambodia, for example. With their well polished fake smiles, the people of Cambodia are always looking to help themselves at an expense of another. When a Cambodian sees a person in need of help, for them it’s an opportunity to take advantage of said person because a person in need is out of options hence easier to exploit. And that type of behaviour also soaks into the minds of expats who choose to live in Cambodia.
Similarly, you don’t have to go too far to see how delusional and deranged the expats living in Thailand are. Just read through threads on any Thai forum board and you’ll soon end up with sore forehead after facepalming yourself for a few minutes.
The most common traits of the expats from developed countries living in the third world countries are holier-than-thou attitude, complete denial of the society having any effect on them and exceptional readiness to attack people who point it out. Since these traits become visible very quickly after the move, it is fair to assume that the seeds were planted while still in their home countries. The rest is in the fact that birds of a feather flock together, so expats who share moral values similar to those found in the third world countries will be attracted by them.
If no seeds of twisted moral values were present prior to the move to a third world country, then the effects of the Expat Syndrome on an individual will be determined by the strength of their spirit.
The Expat Syndrome and Weak-Spirited vs Strong-Spirited Individuals
The Expat Syndrome does not affect everyone equally. Some are affected more and faster, whilst others only suffer from fractional affection and would require long term submergence before the effects can be observed.
The difference between how much and how fast the Expat Syndrome affects an individual is – more than by anything else – determined by the strength of their spirit. Weak spirited individuals get affected quickly and quite significantly while strong spirited individuals would only see small traits of their behaviour changed and only after being in an alien country for an extended period of time. Some of the better established traits of strong spirited individuals would remain completely unaffected even after permanent stay in an alien country.
Finding strong spirited individuals whose behavioral traits were changed by the Expat Syndrome is very rare. Unless there is some more powerful force (love, for example) that would keep them in a weak spirited society, the strong spirited individuals would leave and settle elsewhere long before any shift in behavioral patterns could break in.
The incompatibility between a strong spirited individual and a life in a weak spirited society works both ways. The weak spirited society won’t naturally accept a strong spirited person (an individual with core values and respect for another) and will stoop to unprecedented hostility before he/she can properly blend in. As a result, the strong spirited individual would start feeling uncomfortable and realize that no further digging would bring the water into a well that’s completely dry and would move on to a more compatible society.
Expats Returning Back Home
How much an alien society affects an expat is vastly determined by whether the expat is weak spirited or strong spirited – that much we already know. But what happens when the expat returns back to his/her home country after a few years abroad?
Obviously, they will be a different person. If they’re coming back from a third world country, a return to their homeland will be accompanied with an end to riding around on their motorcycles like they’re larger than life and the world belongs to them, knowing that they can get away with anything and bribe their way out of any situation. They will find adopting back to a society with the rule of law fundamental equality tough but the Expat Syndrome won’t go dormant.
As we have determined earlier – you become a reflection of your surroundings. Even if an ex-expat was to return home after years of living like a savage, a return to civilized society would start shaping him/her back into being civilized. Keep them in a civilized society and among civilized people long enough and the savage ways will diminish significantly or disappear entirely.
The Expat Syndrome – Conclusion
Let me start the conclusion with a Chinese proverb which says that “He who tells the crocodile that his breath smells, must have crossed the river”. And since we’re at Chinese proverbs, let me mention another one: “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names”. And here’s yet another one: “The best cure for drunkenness is to observe a drunk person whilst sober”.
There is so much wisdom in these Chinese proverbs that I could literally close my conclusion right away and it should make all the sense in the world. Let me just say that I’ve crossed the river back and forth and have seen the crocodile. He was beautiful, he was majestic, he had impressive moves yet still, his breath smelled. Shockingly enough, even though I’m not the only person to have crossed that river and encountered that crocodile, not many people noticed his smelly breath. It could be sheer ignorance, or just undeveloped observation talent, but more than anything else, it’s the delusional state of mind which limits the observer from acknowledging that one side of the sugar cane is less sweet than the other.
Expats are some of the most extreme people in the world. They are either absolutely brilliant or a bunch of complete losers. For the most part, you can tell which group they fall within by which country they choose to live in (if they did not choose a country but were sent there – by an employer, for example – then they are likely the former). Expats who choose corrupt, disorderly societies flock there because corruption and disorder match their characters. On the other hand expats who choose peace loving, forward thinking societies flock there because peace and progress match their characters.
They used to say that you are what you read (as far as the spiritual you is concerned, not the condition of your body in which case you are what you eat), but I’d say that to make this statement more accurate for the beginning of the 21st century, we’d have to say that you are a reflection of the surroundings you throw yourself into. It has been proven many times over that people from poshy neighbourhoods tend to have money problems because instead of investing their money and spending the remainder wisely, they waste it on purchases of latest automobiles, electronic gadgets and whatever else can be seen throughout the neighbourhood. It oftentimes happens to high earning professionals, such as doctors who make 6 figures a year, but seem to be scraping it from one month to another. See amazing books by Tom Stanley titled Millionaire Next Door and Stop Acting Rich for reference.
And just as is the case of high earning people who never become rich because they live in high spending environments, so is the case of expats who regardless of how they were brought up will start behaving and upholding moral values of people from the country where they’d moved do. Whether these moral values are high or low is determined on the choice of the country the expat chooses. There is quite a correlation between low moral values and holier-than-though attitudes. The lower they stoop, the more arrogant they act when confronted with truth. And that my friends is The Expat Syndrome.
As I was receiving my introduction to Buddhism, I was told about the reason why Wat Preah Prom Rath pagoda was so full of people, why traditional Khmer music was being played from a loudspeaker why there was so much food all over the place. It was the first day of Pchum Ben Festival, which was loosely translated to me as The Festival of the Dead or sometimes as The Festival of the Souls (or spirits).
Pchum Ben is a Buddhist Festival but even though Cambodia is surrounded by other Theravada Buddhist nations, Pchum Ben is only celebrated in Cambodia and nowhere else. Pchum Ben Festival celebrations last for 15 days with final, culminating day falling on the 15th day of the 10th month of the Khmer calendar. Granted, Khmer calendar is different from the Gregorian one which is the one used by western countries so even though it was the beginning of September, the Pchum Ben Festival has already started.
The most prominent observation a foreigner notices during Cambodian Pchum Ben Festival is the fact that it involves a lot of food. You see Khmer families coming to temples and pagodas carrying dishes with food which they arrange along the walkways while they spend hours chanting prayers inside temples, kneeling before statues of Buddha. As it was explained to me, the food is meant for the dead. The premise of Pchum Ben Festival is to feed the spirits of the dead. Cambodians firmly believe that the act of feeding the souls of their deceased predecessors will make their stay on Earth more enjoyable.
During Pchum Ben the spirits of the dead descend from the spirit world and walk the Earth. Those who are still alive prey for their souls and offer them food. As it goes with Buddhist Monks in Cambodia, people also bring food for them. The festival is very spiritual and considerably one of the most important festivals in Khmer calendar. As the history of Pchum Ben has it, the festival was originally celebrated for three months but has been shortened to 15 days as modern lifestyle makes 3 months of celebration complicated.
After me and my girl guide were done talking about the life of Buddha, we went to the prayer hall where several people were already gathered and chanted their prayers as one while their chants were played back from a loudspeaker. As confused westerner, I asked if I could join them for a prayer and take a few pictures while I was at it. There was no issue with that as Cambodians are vastly tolerant of foreigners when it comes to cultural and religious differences.
This was the beginning of Pchum Ben Festival but as it became apparent during the following 15 days, Pchum Ben was a big deal for Khmer people who take the festival very seriously and dedicate most of their focus to it while the festivities last. Even Cambodians who are otherwise non religious would prepare their food and bring the offerings to one of the temples. during Pchum Ben Little did I know at the time that the most significant events of my personal stay in Cambodia will be directly connected to Pchum Ben. Let the festivities begin!