By Liam Higgins
Jerry Gilliam has lived in seven countries in 27 years and calls himself a “student of innocence abroad and the lack thereof.”
Gilliam, who currently lives and blogs in Singapore, is working on a book about his experiences living overseas that will include a chapter about what he calls the “types of expats.”
“One of my fascinations is the personality types of expats and why people decide to become expats in the first place,” he says. “It has been a great source of amusement to observe expat life close-up, the good, bad and ugly of it.”
Among the expat types Gilliam identifies are the clusterer; the counter-culturist; the expert; the paradise quester; the adventurer; the homer; the grouch; the not-an-expat expat; the fugitive; the give-backer; the assimilator; the conspiracy buster; looking for love; and the Interneter.
Although he makes no claim to scientific accuracy, Gilliam says his research represents overwhelming anecdotal evidence and a lifetime of keen observation.
“Obviously, there’s some overlap in my categories and all expats, myself included, tend to move in and out of the categories as circumstances dictate,” he says. “We all get grouchy when we deal with foreign bureaucracy, for example, and many expats are looking for love from time to time.”
One category that has been particularly fascinating to Gilliam lately is the Interneter. “This category didn’t exist 15 or 20 years ago, obviously, and it overlaps other categories like the expert and clusterer,” he says. “What amazes me are the number of expats who spend literally hours a day in front of computer monitors, skipping from website to website, many of them virtually living on forums and website comment sections. It’s a way to escape the real expat experience and is, at the same time, kind of a digital lonely hearts club.”
Gilliam, who lived for three years in Ecuador and says Cuenca is one of his favorite cities, says he’s most fascinated by expert expats.
“The expert is the guy — and it’s almost always a man — who is driven to lay claim to the role of authority figure in his particular expat community. He is the guy who knows all about the hot topics of the day, whether it’s visas, the best restaurants, real estate, government policies, gringo pricing, the weather, and which marriages are on the rocks.
“He has an impressive pre-expat resumé and has often been a war hero, CEO of a major corporation, or lead singer in a rock and roll band. Oddly, these achievements don’t seem to show up on the search engines.”
“Years ago, the expert held court in cafés and bars that were popular with expats; you didn’t need to look for him since he would make himself apparent in due time. Today, his venue is just as often the Internet, and he is a frequent contributor to blogs, community Facebook pages, website comment sections and email forums.
“Amazingly, the expert is usually not fluent in the language of his adopted country, if it’s anything other than English. He is also known to hold strong personal grudges, which he is eager to share. He is mightily threatened by other would-be experts and guards his turf jealously. And, he is an utter bore if you have to deal with him in person.
The bottom line on the expat expert, according to Gilliam?
“Be extremely suspicious of anything he says and run the other way if you encounter him in social situations.”