Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Do You Have an Expat Mask?

©Expat Life with a Double Buggy
Many, many years ago I read an article in the Dutch daily newspaper, the NRC, about how people wear 'masks' according to the situation they find themselves in and who they are with.

In essence, people are only really one hundred percent themselves when they are alone. With a partner most, if not all, of the facades come down. However, when people are amongst strangers a wall goes up, or a mask goes on. We adapt to the group we are with.

It is an article that struck me at the time because I can relate to that idea. I'm an introvert. I'm uncomfortable in unfamiliar situations and that means there are very few people on this planet that know the real me. Becoming an expat made the idea of wearing a mask in some situations even more poignant. I have a British mask, my expat mask, my wife mask, my mother mask, my daughter-in-law mask, my writer mask....... and I'm sure this is just a selection of my mask collection.

It's a topic I have touched upon before in an article for Expat Harem. The very nature of being an expat means adapting. It often means communicating in a foreign language. It means hanging with people you don't know. It means following a steep learning curve. It means starting again. It means taking on parts of a new culture. It means reshaping everything you know and moulding it into a new daily life.

How many masks then does an expat wear? How many versions of ourselves are there? Do expats hide a part of themselves away to blend in with their surroundings? Can we really be truly ourselves and let our personality shine though when we are communicating in a foreign language and wrestling with cultural quirks that feel alien and uncomfortable? Does leaving our friends and family behind mean we leave a little part of who we are elsewhere? Do we reinvent ourselves with every new country, or do we stay true to the essence of who we are?

Is expat life at the expense of our own authenticity?

What do you think? Do you hide part of yourself away because you live in a foreign country? Can you let the real you shine through when you live in unfamiliar surroundings?

*This post has been adapted from a post published originally on my blog A Letter from the Netherlands*


  1. I don't know that we give up our authenticity when we become expats. I think of it more as a "tweaking" of how we interact based on the situation. Unless you're a really good con-artist, every interaction will be based on some core personality. But how that core is expressed comes out differently in different situations. I'm more introverted when speaking Dutch as a result of language and cultural differences; but I don't go out of my way to be center stage when I go back home. When I speak English with non-native speakers, I don't use my regular vocabulary because I don't want to use uselessly complicated terms or slang to confuse the situation (though they still slip out). I'd like to think the "real" me still shines through in each situation, it's just perhaps under a different color light.
    Fantastic, and thought provoking post!

  2. Great post Amanda! I think expat life allows you to wear more 'masks' or rather 'hats' because instead of hiding, you're actually becoming more than you were before you left your home country. Perhaps we do hide parts of ourselves in order to fit in and integrate, but I think we also discover even more about ourselves and we change and adapt. One thing that I've 'hidden' after living in Britain for so long is my natural tendency to chat to people I don't know, for example, if I'm waiting in line for something and the person next to me has a bag that I really like or a small child that is talkative or something. Or, I'll talk to my neighbors even though I don't know them. People are not as used to that here so I've changed a lot and don't tend to do that as much. That's just one example, but I do think I've become more outgoing and pro-active because I've had to. I've needed to learn new things and meet new people and make a new life for myself.

  3. I agree with Meg that we become more by being expats - we grow and adapt. I also think that we have masks but not just because we're expats, everyone does and I certainly don't think we give up our authenticity. I've been an expat all my life in 8 different countries so if I had given up my authenticity I'd be a shallow fake by now and I don't believe that's the case! Interesting to think about this this as obviously people who make one, or a couple of, big move(s) later in life are going to have a different approach than someone like me who's known nothing else and doesn't have a "home" country.

  4. Interesting post..... do I wear a mask? I guess I am a slightly different person in each country because I am responding to how my life works in that country if that makes sense. I am still, however, me and I think I perhaps communicate through a different lens rather than wear a mask.