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Chris Pavone

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Expat Travel: Tips For Authentic Experiences

Posted: 03/ 7/2012 11:22 am

Why are we flying all over the planet, spending loads of money and standing in our socks at airport security? What is it we want out of travel? Is it to take snapshots of ourselves in front of famous monuments, surrounded by other tourists? To eat unfamiliar food chosen from unintelligible menus? To earn frequent-flier miles?

No. It's to glimpse what life is like somewhere else. An opportunity to put ourselves in shoes that walk those cobblestoned streets every day, to get a sense what life would be like if we lived there, instead of here and to feel that we are part of a place that doesn't belong to us.

This is tourism. This is also what it means to be an expat, to live in a country not your own. But, as I state in my new book, The Expats: A Novel [Random House, $26.00], expats are there far too long--years, decades--to live like tourists. On the other hand, expats will never truly be locals; these are not your people, and never will be. You are a permanent--or indefinite--tourist.

Here, in the intersection of permanence with transience, are some lessons for the traveler seeking a more authentic experience.

1. Find the Expats
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The Wimbledon final is on the large-screen TV in the packed pub. I'm sharing a large table with enthusiastic, friendly, raucous Brits. Everyone here except me is from England, including the bartenders. But it's not England I'm in; it's Paris's 4th arrondisement.

Parisians aren't going to welcome you into their community just because you've spent a few days in their museums, no matter how hard you try to get a table at that bistro that the locals supposedly adore. There's nothing you can do about this, short of buying an apartment and moving to Paris for a lifetime (or two).

But you know who will welcome you? Expats. Five minutes on the web will lead you to their hangouts--most likely pubs--in any city. Expats make it easy for newcomers and strangers to find them. Because unlike the locals, they actually want you to show up, order a pint, and start talking. Expats are a self-selecting group of outgoing people, eager to make new friends. They also tend to have a useful amount of local knowledge that they're more than happy to share with strangers, like you.

Hanging out in Paris with a bunch of people from England and Denmark and Australia and South Africa isn't the same as hanging out in Paris with Parisians. But it's still foreign, and it's interesting, and it's fun. It may not be exactly what you're looking for, but it's probably not that far off.
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