My friend A was recently worrying whether her children were becoming expat brats. On a trip back to the UK, her sons were horrified when she got out to fill the car with petrol and insisted they wait for ‘the man’. Another friend – N – told me that when her daughter flew economy for the first time she had a tantrum because she’d never had to turn right before. N’s little girl didn’t even know 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, four-wheel drives) mean children 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 ten 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.
Here’s some more clues to look out for so you can take steps to alleviate expat brat syndrome long before the kids head off to college. Good luck!
–They flew before they could walk
–It’s not a nice day unless it’s tropical outside
–They base their opinion of an entire country on how fancy the 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 two beach clubs
-They take off their shoes as soon as they get home
-Their best friends are from four different continents
-An invite arrives for a classmate’s party at the Atlantis hotel on the Palm, followed by a private desert safari
-They watch the Travel Channel or National Geographic specials and recognise the places
-They know what TCK* means and consider themselves to be one
-Their school closes (or threatens to close) for rain, prophets’ birthdays, national mourning and SARS
-Someone mentions the name of a team and they get the sport wrong
-They get Christmas and birthday money in three different currencies
-They blank 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.
First published: 11 May 2011
Earthshaking moment in my childhood: after spending ages 2.5-10 in Asia, we moved back to the USA (for a few years before moving back overseas to Germany.) After dinner the first night in our new house, I looked around the kitchen in bewilderment and asked, ‘Who’s going to do the dishes?’ My poor parents realised then they’d created something of a monster..and set to work sorting me out immediately, I might add. ; )