Expat brats: The signs to look out for

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.

About Circles in the Sand

Sun worshiper, journalist, mother, pilot's wife and distracted housewife living in the land of glitz and sand
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33 Responses to Expat brats: The signs to look out for

  1. Molly Gryskiewicz says:

    oh my Marianne…something I never thought about…ever want reality it’s alive and kickin here 🙂
    Hugs, Molly

  2. Mmac says:

    Wonderful…. keep it coming!

  3. Linda says:

    Love this one!!

  4. Pia says:

    I love it Marianne! I can see the alarming signs at home, especially when they can’t even speak their Mother tongue properly (like my kids, despite the fact that they have two parents from the same country, how sad!)

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  9. Dubai Mum says:

    Oh my gosh…so true. When I asked my son ‘who do you think will clean up that mess?’, the name of our helper rolled off this tongue! Thank you for stopping my blog. Glad you found me – I now have another great blog to follow!

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  11. Steffi says:

    Excellent. I teach in UAE and there are too many children with Expat brat syndrome

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  13. Pingback: Expat brats - Your Expat Child

  14. Annie says:

    Marianne, this is so true. I love it! I should prepare myself when I get pregnant and raise a child knowing that his/her Dad and Mom are living overseas.

  15. Pingback: Being an expat doesn’t make you a brat! Sassy Mama Natasha shares her view on third culture kids

  16. Pingback: Being an expat doesn’t make you a brat! Sassy Mama Natasha shares her view on third culture kids - Sassy Mama Singapore

  17. Sally says:

    A sign of an expat brat, they get Christmas and birthday money in 3 different currencies, one American though they are neither American or planning a trip to the US. Great article.

  18. tina says:

    Both of my kids laughed, then added a few of their own including: Proud of their gold or platinum status with airlines, and knows how to best use it. Has
    different wallets with id and currency earmarked for specific countries.
    Knows the diff between Cantonese, Shanghainese, Northern Chinese and Southern Chinese foods and knows that what they serve back in the states is not any of these! Can clear an airport checkin process in 10 minutes flat. Can ace any trivia questions involving Geography!

  19. Pingback: Being an expat doesn’t make you a brat! Sassy Mama Natasha shares her view on third culture kids

  20. Jasmine says:

    The link to an opposing view blog is stupid. The blogger lives in Hong Kong not the Middle East, rather different places. I I wanted to live in a tiny apartment and ride a bike I wouldn’t have bothered leaving London!

  21. sb20 says:

    Nothing wrong with living a privileged life as long as you go to school and make good grades. Many ivy league graduates come from privileged families and were brats but are doing well in their current privileged life running big corporations while living in the comfort of their big, expensive homes complete with maids and butlers. The problem happens when these privilege kids are not taught proper manners, respect for others, and good moral lessons. So let them fly first class if they can afford it, have someone else load the groceries in their car if help is provided, travel to nice places with real beaches if they can, have as many international friends if they want, and even learn as many cultures as they can. These will all help when they become international business people.

    So, with good education and moral lessons, a privileged kid can grow up to be a fine young person who just happen to know how to live a good life many can only dream.

  22. Pingback: Being an expat doesn’t make you a brat! Sassy Mama Natasha shares her view on third culture kids - Sassy Mama

  23. Heverton says:

    Hi, this post is very old… Is anyone there?… Anyway, I’m planning a vacation in Dubai and started searching a little and ended up here. It’s funny how things are different from culture to culture. After reading the post, I realized that here in Brazil, we all are spoiled, cause everybody’s got maids, gardeners, we don’t wash our cars, the guys comes to my house to wash it or I take it to the “Lava Rápido” to get it washed, on 99% of the gas station there’s someone to fill up the gas, in the supermarket, grocery stores and everywhere else, there are people to put your grocery in a bag and they carry the bags to your car, you don’t carry anything! If a store does the opposite it’s doomed to fail. And many other things… The fact is that all this is normal for us. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, all this will be the same, it’s how things work here. When I travel abroad I find it very strange to do these simple things, I’m used to have someone to do it. Other fact, we here in Brazil hardly do any type of repair to our house by ourselves. We always pay someone to do it. I never painted a wall or fixed a faucet. Maximum I change a light bulb. After reading the post I kind feel like it’s wrong not to know/do these things, but things are this way since always. I can’t change. But I do like to visit other countries and learn about their culture and accept the differences of others.

    • Hi! Thanks for such an interesting comment! I love the saying ‘Not wrong, just different’ and I really do think that’s what’s so unique about all the different cultures in the world. Brazil sounds amazing and I’d love to visit one day.

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