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.”
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.
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.
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: The clues
-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.