I was reading an article about life for Dubai's expat community after one of its members was arrested for public sex and it took me back to a conversation I had just before moving to Athens. I was having dinner and drinks with a friend who had spent six months working in Tokyo as an English teacher. "Let me give you a piece of advice for when you get to Athens," she said. I listened. "Whatever you do, avoid the expat community like the plague."
How interesting. Why exactly would one want to do that? Surely that's the first rule of moving to a new country? To seek out fellow country persons or at least people who speak English? "Trust me, it's a bad idea. You'll get stuck in this expat bubble, all they do is complain about the country they're posted in and not bother getting into the local culture because they know they'll leave again. And most importantly," she said, waving a fork in my direction "they are full of older men who live by the out of sight, out of mind policy and make a hobby out of cheating on their wives with young girls." Things got so dire for her on this front that she had to recruit a male friend to pose as her boyfriend.
I filed the advice away in the Moving to Athens part of my brain, not really thinking that life as a foreigner in Tokyo could be applied to Athens. The months passed, those lonely first months when I had few friends and those that I had were of the still-getting-to-know-you variety, and I was often very tempted to join in the expat community's events. But I resisted, and eventually the friends who did initially go to those events and then stopped told me exactly the same thing that my friend in London had, that the expat community generally looked down their noses at all things Greek, didn't bother learning the language since they'd be leaving in x amount of years anyway, and stuck within their own little bubble, rarely venturing beyond downtown Athens. The only people tended to know were other expats or self hating Greeks.
I have since had a few scattered run ins with expats at gatherings and events, and they left me exhausted. By and large I found them to have a what-can-you-do-for-me attitude, whereby they can't be bothered to get to know you because they like you, they will first try to guage how useful you might potentially be to them. They gush enthusiasm on meeting you but it was usually fake. There would always be that nudge nudge wink wink question "So... what do you think of Athens?" and they'd hiss "Really?" as if I'd said I like giving myself brazilian bikini waxes using nothing but tweezers when I'd say "I love my life here."
There's the "We simply have to meet up sometime" type who takes your number and never calls and the bored expat wife type who has made bitching about the place she lives her hobby. Her life revolves around tea parties with other bored expat housewives where they probably cry over the inavailability of baked beans or something.
I'm generalising here and I know it's mean to do so, but if you've met expats anywhere in the world, this will sound familiar. The Athens expats are so caught up in their little foreign downtown Athens bubble that ask one where in Glyfada they like to hang out and you'll see that most haven't even been that far out of the city centre.
The litmus test is that amongst the expats, I feel like a stranger, an oddity, looked down upon. I know that the moment Cassandra gets back to her all expenses paid apartment, she's only going to delete my number straight off her phone. When I go to the James Joyce pub, a nice place and expat watering hole, I usually feel like an apple in a crate of oranges.
I decided that yes indeed, if you want to get anything meaningful out of your life in Athens, or even just your time in Athens, expat groups are to be avoided. My foreign friends are people who like me came to make futures in Greece and used expat groups as a crutch until they established their own social circle, which is perfectly healthy. In the end it's up to each person to do whatever they think will ease their path into settling down, but sometimes the slower, harder option yields better results, nicer friends and a richer social life.
If you are an expat upset about what I wrote, I apologise. You're probably one of the nice expats I've never met anywhere, probably because you too were avoiding the other expats.