As most expats tend to do, I have spent a considerable amount of time fielding all kinds of inappropriate questions about my personal life. For some reason, whenever I meet someone from the USA (yes, I am stereotypically using my countrymen as an example of what NOT to do) my life becomes sort of like a game of 20 questions, except way less exciting and with a lot more dog poop in it. They want to know everything about me, from how I met my boyfriend to my social security number and how much I pay my landlord for my gas and electricity bill (that’s actually not even a joke, someone asked me that once).
Sometimes answering questions about my life doesn’t bother me–I understand that my life must seem foreign and impossible to a lot of people (mostly it’s the really stupid people who find it difficult to realize I am in fact a person and not a zoo animal). But the majority of the questions I get asked are enough to make anyone react like this:
Somehow when I moved to Italy, I also crossed into a land where personal boundaries and privacy are an imaginary concept invented by Santa Claus. Now it’s a very well-known fact that Italians have no idea of personal space (as evidenced by many an Italian stranger stopping to comment on my outfit, weight, choice of deodorant, etc. on a daily basis) but guys–come on. We Americans practically INVENTED the idea of personal space!! We make our little cubicles at work into SHRINES to our personal space, we build enormous houses spread miles apart from any living thing, and we drive MASSIVELY oversized vehicles just to keep everybody out of our little bubbles of security.
So why do you all turn into creepy little weirdos that want to know incredibly private details about the lives of strangers the second you arrive in Florence?
If you are in fact a tourist who suffers from Nosy Nelly syndrome, don’t worry–we’ve all been there a time or two (especially after one or two gin & tonics). In order to help you overcome your inner idiot, I’ve created this handy little reference chart that should leave no doubt the next time you decide to have a friendly “get to know you” conversation with a stranger. If you see any of the following reactions while talking to someone new that you’ve met in a foreign country, you’ll know without a doubt that you’ve freaked out everyone involved your conversation and you should probably just turn around and walk away before they decide to get a restraining order or jump into traffic to avoid you.
Expat #1: The Politely Bored Expat.
This face means that you have the great luck of encountering the Politely Bored Expat. This type of expat is probably newly relocated to the city you’re visiting or an old veteran–either way, you’ve hit the jackpot. Politely Bored Expat, or PBE, has the good grace and years of training their face to passively reflect almost no emotion while listening to you prattle on and on about all the cities you’ve visited on your travels and everything you love about the current city. Be warned: they’re probably thinking about their grocery list while pretending to listen to you or mentally calculating how many years in the local prison they’d get for popping you one right in the mouth then hightailing it out of there.
Expat #2: The Always Drunk Expat
This expat is most often met after a wild night out at the local bar or club. Here you’ll find a willing participant in your incessant question-and-answer repartee, someone who enthusiastically agrees with every observation you’ve made about the city and it’s inhabitants, and tells you “how it really is” to live abroad. However, upon trying to Facebook friend the Always Drunk Expat the next day, you wake up to find a series of penises drawn on your forearms and absolutely no memory of any of the previous night’s conversation.
Expat #3: The Creepy Overly Friendly Expat
You’ll undoubtedly run into this expat at a restaurant given 4 stars by TripAdvisor, where you’ll strike up a conversation in between bites of deliciously overrated food. They’ll be your new best friend, promising to show you all of the cool “undiscovered” spots in the city and end up taking you to a bar where not one person will talk to you as long as Creepy Expat is by your side. Do yourself a favor–if you need someone to listen to you this badly, adopt a dog. At least then you won’t be considered a leper amongst the locals.
Expat #4: The Disappearing Expat
At first glance, you’d think that this expat is actually just another local. They’ve managed to fly underneath everybody’s radar, but you sneakily overheard them talking to someone on the telephone in a mix of the local language and English, and you’re totally waiting until they finish their call to bombard them with questions about how to move here. Until you turn around and realize they’ve pulled a Batman maneuver and disappeared.
Expat #5: The Insufferable Know-It-All Expat
This is the expat most likely to not only listen to your hundreds of questions, but interrupt you every minute or so to interject their own opinions into the conversation. While the Insufferable Know-It-All Expat is a wealth of valuable information, hanging out with them after they’ve already answered all of your questions will make you want to stab yourself in the eye with a fork rather than listen to them blab on and on about the city you’re in, and now hate thanks to them.
I like to pride myself on the fact that on any given day, I have been all 5 of these expats. Now go bother someone else with your questions–I’m busy eating gelato from a locals-only place away from the tourists.
Want to hear how other expats deal with crazy questions from people about their lives? Visit C.O.S.I: Crazy Observations by Stranieri in Italy–a badass gang of expats who blog about the ups and downs of life in Italy.
hahahahah this is awesome Gina, I think we have been all five absolutely! I think the ‘creepy expat’ is my personal favorite!
Italians have no idea of personal space………..Huhuhuhu…hahahaha I can’t stop……… hihihihihihi…..incredddddible …. an american who says that………. Pleeease… Your administration even knows how many fleas has a dog, filters each email, any bank transfer is under supervision of an american agency, it’s easier to go to paradise than to USA, you exported this insane life style almost everywhere.
Well even Mrs Merkel’s cell was controlled…. wasn’t it ? great !!
Thanks for taking the time to browse my article. If you had, in fact, read and understood the whole article, you would have realized two things. One, that most of the article is explaining exactly why Americans, or non-Italians in general, have a limited understand of privacy–just as you stated, we are in fact a rather nosy and intrusive bunch of people. Two, that the concept of personal space, i.e the amount of physical space each person requires to have between them and another person, is something that Italians as a culture tend to disregard in favor of being the first in line at a queue. At least this has been my experience of the Italians that I encounter in my day to day life, anyway. I’d be more than happy to have you prove me wrong, assuming by your name that you are in fact Italian–we’ll stand as far apart as possible so that you can show me how much Italians respect personal space.