Expat brats

Expat brats: The signs to look out for

[A light-hearted look at another type of Expat Child. Republished with kind permission of Marianne via Expat brats: The signs to look out for | Circles in the Sand.]

A friend of mine was recently worrying whether her kids were becoming expat brats. Apparently, on a trip back to the UK, they were absolutely horrified when she got out to fill the car with petrol and insisted they wait for ‘the man’.

A more extreme example is cited on Mrs Dubai’s brilliant blog. She knew a mum who told her:

We once had to fly economy class and my son had a tantrum because he’d never had to ‘turn right’ before. He hadn’t even realised there was a cabin behind business class.

An easy trap to fall into

It’s something we think about a lot here in the Middle East. The easy comforts of life in Dubai (housemaids, villas, swimming pools, 4-wheel drives) mean kids are at high risk of expat brat syndrome. If parents don’t nip it in the bud quick enough, the results can be quite dire.

Aside from breeding little monsters who refuse to tidy their rooms (the maid will do it), wash the car (the man at the mall will do it) or put groceries in a bag (yes, we don’t have to do that, either!), fast forward 10 years or so and you end up with teenagers who are totally unprepared for real life.

A sheltered life

The culture here means children lead sheltered lives. In the UAE, there’s little crime, begging is banned and unemployment is virtually non-existent. We don’t feel threatened walking down a street at night; teenagers aren’t even allowed to take part-time or holiday jobs; and they don’t know what a job centre is. Forget ‘signing on’, they’re more likely to sign in at the beach club.

A big shock

Imagine, then, when said offspring flee the nest for University back in their home countries. Instead of maid service, tennis lessons and pool parties, they’re faced with grotty digs, rain, domestic chores, hard drugs and even harder students.

In my own household, we’re trying to make sure BB and LB grow up knowing what real-life is like. For starters, we’re making them clean up their own toys.

Our housemaid Catherine the Great has been instructed not to continually tidy up after the boys. On walking away from the mess, she always looks nervous, as though thinking: “Madam, Can you not see how messy it is?”

But it’s a step in the right direction and is beginning to work, occasionally at least.

Expat brat syndrome: Some clues I found online

  • They flew before they could walk
  • It’s not nice outside unless it’s tropical
  • They rate entire countries by how good a hotel was
  • They have to take at least one plane to get ‘home’ and bump into friends at international airports
  • They’re members of at least one country club
  • They automatically take off their shoes as soon as they get home
  • Their best friends are from five different countries
  • An invite appears for a classmate’s party at the Atlantis hotel on the Palm, followed by a private desert safari (note: this gift requires some thought and probably shouldn’t be wrapped in Toys R Us paper)
  • They watch the Travel Channel or National Geographic specials and recognise someone
  • They know what TCK* means and consider themselves to be one
  • Their school is private, international and closes (or threatens to close) for prophets’ birthdays, national mourning, SARS and swine flu
  • Someone brings up the name of a team and they get the sport wrong
  • They act confused when asked where they’re from
  • A VISA is a document stamped in their passport, not a credit card
  • They don’t think British beaches are really beaches at all

*TCK=Third culture kid, the name given to a child who spends a significant part of his or her developmental years in a culture(s) different from his or her own.


Note from Carole: This made me laugh so much! And also, rather embarrassingly, reminded me of when I took my daughter to London for a short holiday. We had been living in Tokyo where all the shop doors are automatic. And so are the doors to taxis – they open and close without you having to do anything.

We walked up to a London black cab and my daughter just stood there waiting for the door to open. She looked just like a little princess waiting for someone to open it for her! Less brat, more cultural differences.

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  1. I grew up as a TKC and am now living back home in Canada… I do miss my maid, the cheap alcohol, and having a driver/cook. However lucky for me I’m not a pussy and clean up after myself when I finish my food, clean the house when it needs to be done and do my laundry without complaining (as it really is an easy chore). The first time I did my laundry was when I was living on my own, I never once did it when I had a maid. I guess I did move overseas at the age of 11 and didn’t have it all my life, but if you’re raised right you won’t encounter those problems.

  2. We’re not exactly expats, as we chose to move from the US to India so our kids could experience the culture of my husband’s family. So, we flew coach… but a few of these are still quite relevant.

    While my first flight was at 19… my kids have been to India 4 and 5 times each, Mexico a few times a year… to various parts of the US (might as wall call where I’m from in Upper Michigan a foreign trip too, lol)

    But I try to keep some balance – we don’t live in a majorly expat area so it makes it difficult for them to relate to the “local” kids – they are required to help clean up after themselves, though we do have a maid. The maid thinks it is funny when my 3 year old BOY wants to sweep and put clothes into the washing machine.

  3. Lived in Saudi Arabia for 15 years. Raised two kids there. Did not live on a fancy compound but in an old house close to down-town Jeddah. Rode public transport (at the back of the bus) to get my kids to a hotel pool which was available to women one morning a week! Didn’t have a maid. Didn’t have a washing machine! What I did have was the experience of being home to raise my kids. They cleaned their rooms, cleared the dinner table, washed dishes, made their own lunches, and learned to cook! Your comments about TCK is hard to understand as my son was 6 weeks old when we moved there and 14 when he left. What is his culture? English? A teacher commented on my daughter’s response to a homework assignment about “going home for the holidays”. My daughter wrote that she “went to visit grandma for the holidays before coming back home again”! The teacher seemed to have a problem with that. I moved my daughter to the UK to boarding school when she was 13 because of the lack of role models in the work place, but she did see Saudi women in business, banking, design, medical field, education, and realized how hard it could be and how blessed she was. People are raising their kids as brats domestically and internationally and there’s nothing we can do about that except be aware of what we want our children to become!

  4. I think what you depict here has more to do with life in the Gulf, not with being an expat or a TCK. I’m also a TCK, and an expat (this does not automatically mean having maids, international schools, Business class tickets, etc), as my husband and children, and we have been raised responsibly and turned out perfectly fine. In fact, my husband left the nest at 16 to go to college, I started working at 17 and continued while in University, and we have always known where we are from, and have always valued what we received from our parents in terms of education and experiences. We expect our children to grow up to be like us or even better because they will have been able to live in many more cultures than we were.
    Values and manners should be instilled on a daily basis and from the youngest age possible, it doesn’t matter where you are from, where you are raised or with what means. I just think my kids are very privileged to go to the schools they go to and to have the life they have. And I try to make them value it.
    I speak 6 languages fluently, my husband 3, and in our household we use 4 on a regular basis given that between my husband and I we hold 4 different passports.

    PS. “Expat Brat Syndrome” – that has very negative connotations, as if it were a crime to have the chance to experience other cultures and be privileged enough to live and travel in different countries as a child.

    1. Although I get what you are saying, it is also very true that some kids can get used to the spoils that come with expat life. While the whole experience broadens their horisons, I think is up to us as parents to keep it real. Let’s face it back home there are no full time drivers, cooks, a houseboy/girls, guards, business class tickets, and what not. Also, I am sure the author did not mean to insult everybody and the whole piece was written with a good dose of humour.

  5. As a 19 year old this this forum doesn’t really apply to me (I guess). While I agree with a lot of what you are saying, I don’t agree with everything in your ‘Expat Brat list’.

    I am a native Canadian but grew up in Hong Kong and do consider myself a TCK. Many things listed are true but I feel you have put a negative spin on some that are good. I know that I have led a unrealistic and blessed life and I appreciate all that I was lucky enough to receive/experience based solely on where I grew up. Why is it a bad thing if a child has friends from all over the world? I always loved that fact that our schools embraced all cultures by celebrating multiple holidays.

    I feel that TCK kids have a tolerance and understanding of other people and cultures that is invaluable. Now that I am at University in Canada I witness racism and intolerance that I enrages me.

    1. I agree with you, Aislinn! There is a difference between a TCK and an expat BRAT. And many of the things listed as being qualities of `expat brats` are really describing qualities of TCK´s and are not negative at all.

      Mydefinition of an expat brat would be someone who doesn´t appreciat in any way the priveledged life they have had the good fortune of lving. I raised my son in 4 different countries and in many of them we lived like royalty, but with my guidance (and a gap year, which he had to finance completely on his own–I only paid for the round-the-world plane ticket) he has grown into a wonderful young adult, like you, who appreciates the unique life experiences he was given and is determined to spend his life trying to make the world a better place.

  6. Pingback: Being an expat doesn’t make you a brat | Mummy Musings
  7. My daughter after having spent all her childhood abroad (even boarding school abroad) is living in our country France since she started at Uni 3 years ago. She now has a French boyfriend who doesn’t have a passport and has never been on a plane when she is finishing her second passport. I don’t know who is more amazed at the other….

  8. When students at an International School I worked at in Singapore were questioned about the ‘Economy’, one student replied “It’s where poor people sit on aeroplanes”

  9. I agree with Carole that we can be expat brattish at any age! I had a really hard time when we stopped enjoying the private school benefit and we entered the public school system. Two years later, I’m still adjusting 🙂

  10. I can totally relate. My daughter’s first flight was at 12 weeks old going ‘home’ in first class. It can only go down from there. I once took my children for a walk around the aircraft to stretch their legs on a long haul flight. They didn’t know there were seats behind the curtain. My 5yr old child said ‘wow, look how squishy they are.’

  11. I took my expat niece to a UK zoo when they were “home” visiting. Whilst looking at the ducks, she proudly (and loudly) labeled them, “Mummy duck, Daddy duck, Baby duck and Maid duck!!”
    The looks we received…

  12. MIne aren’t really expat brats as they were born and bred in the USA, but we make the trip back to England every year if not more. We are lucky enough to fly business (care of husband’s air miles) and the first time we weren’t in B (on a long domestic flight) my then four year old, on being told he must settle down for a long flight, was horrified that there was no personal screen in front of him. *facepalm*

  13. I was raised as an expat child – 1.5yrs in Mumbai and 1.5 in Singpore. Now live back “home’ in Canada and I definitely do this all the time! “They act confused when asked where they’re from”

  14. We are an expat/repat family with somewhat TCK kids. The somewhat is that they were born outside of Germany, spent much time in Germany at an international school, but continue with college in another country.
    I have run into automatic doors too. Very easy to do when you come from Japan and enter the Frankfurt airport in the mid-90s.
    Loved Mandy’s comment about where her daughter wants to have her birthday party. 🙂

    1. I know what you mean about the automatic doors in Japan!! I lived in Tokyo in the mid 90’s and found it momentarily strange when returning ‘home’, to almost bang in to a door each time. After the 2nd near miss, I kept remembering that you have to manually push the door open!

  15. When I asked my daughter where she wanted to have her birthday party, she said “China!” We live in Denmark.

  16. So true, after 3 years in the Middle East and nearly 3 years in South America, I can relate 100% My child was asked what she likes to do on the weekend, the answer was flying, to be fair she had been on 6 planes in 3 weeks at the time and no she doesn’t turn right either.

  17. Nice signs to watch for. Am living in Slovakia so no country clubs or the like but having lived in Singapore I remember the pampering well..
    The first plane my son was on (at 5 months) was switched at the last minute so our seats were actually first class but “only” business class service. Tough.
    Are you an Expat “brat” as an adult if you really do not want to turn right on boarding? The thought of the 25 hour flight home for me can not be faced unless in business with someone offering bubbles on arrival to my seat!

    1. In my job, my company used to pay for a flight home every year. I just joined a frequent flyer program and then used my miles to get an upgrade to business class on my long flights home…so true about the bubbles!!!LOL!

    2. To the last, yes! I would love bubbles too but first/business class is a luxury and it concerns me when people think it’s normal!

  18. Ha ha ha! Really funny to read, and I relate to some of the points,but not to all- could have something to do with the fact that we live in India (and my kids are really teens) – so they are exposed to others side of life as well. Thanks for sharing! Great blog- lots of good reads for me here:-)

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