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Dear Caroline,

My wife and I are Canadians. We recently moved to Mexico as snowbirds. We know how to get along with people, yet once in a while, we feel we made a faux pas with citizens of our host country and we don’t know why. What are your thoughts?

…Confused Kanook

Dear Confused,

My answer is long, but it’s the best I can offer based on my own frame of reference.

I grew up in (what once was) Italian north Denver, Colorado — a working-class, first- and second-generation immigrant neighborhood back in the day. People I meet still assume that since I grew up in Colorado, I’m a great skier. That assumption always rankles me. Here’s why:

Back then, locals like me came from large working-class families and didn’t have the money, time or energy to hit the slopes on weekends. We worked, did chores, went to mass and spent Sundays at home with our grandparents and cousins. Meanwhile, the tourists — mostly from Texas and the East and West Coasts — skied.

Nowadays, like many parts of Mexico, my hometown has become “slick,” “posh,” unrecognizable and too expensive for me to live in ever again.

That’s life, and I have adjusted to it. But that experience also gave me a little insight into today’s expat dynamic.

So, dear expats, here are my 10 commandments for knowing your place when living abroad:

1) A location doesn’t become a sunnier, brighter place just because you’re there with your money. True, the influx of money is always felt by the locals, but it still results in conflicted feelings. Understand that.

2) If you come with money and are also entitled, rude, drunk, oblivious or even menacing, the locals will dread you, and rightfully so.

3) Just because you’re on vacation, or retired, doesn’t mean the locals aren’t under the everyday strain of responsibilities.

4) Just because you feel “warm and friendly” doesn’t mean locals have to feel the same way.

5) However “cheap” the destination may seem to you, the locals are likely struggling with the prices, since inflation is pretty much a universal reality.

6) Your loose talk and proclivity for snapping and uploading photos are likely to make the locals feel like “priced out” second-class citizens in their native land. How would you feel in that situation? Think about it.

7) You’re an expat or a tourist, not an immigrant. You have come with the safety net of possibly returning “home” someday. Don’t, for a moment, kid yourself that you’re in the same boat as a true immigrant or refugee.

8) You can’t underestimate the importance of overcoming the language barrier if you want to make friends.

9) Just because locals are criticizing their government, culture or the even weather, you, as a visitor, mustn’t join in. If you don’t believe me, just try it and see how it works out for you.

10) When in doubt, hold your tongue.

Sorry if this stings, but as my column always says, “Since You Asked…”


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