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How to Not Make Friends: An Expat Guide to Avoiding Expats

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For many, meeting new people is an aromatic slice of the foreign retirement pizza. And while this can be a challenge if you're not quite up to speed with the local language, most anywhere you choose to retire abroad, you'll find an existing pool of potential new friends: other expats.

Americans abroad tend to greet each other with open arms, as if we were all members of the same long-lost tribe -- but why? If you travel all the way to Katmandu, why are you so overjoyed about meeting Bob and Wendy Whomeverthef*ck from Jerkwater, Ohio?

In any event, whether you want to meet them or not, you will. So be prepared.

(OK, full disclosure: Neither of us qualify as what most people would consider to be "nice." I'm not only Usain Bolt to dismiss people who question birth certificates, but also those who like the Miami Heat, put liquids in their carry-on or hail from any state North, South or West of Brooklyn. I've seen Gay throw her shoe at a guy for dancing a certain way, ridicule some poor schmoe for ordering French dressing, and I once saw her punch someone in the stomach for quoting Tennessee Williams (still not sure what that was all about...).

Moving to a new place upon retirement is a lot like moving into your freshman dorm: You're in full chrysalis mode, ready for new experiences and interesting new friends. Only you arrive to discover your new roommate's moved in with a bookshelf-busting sci-fi collection and matching Asimovian head gear. And then on the first day of your Psych 101 class, some little haggis glomms onto you, convinced you have everything in common and can relate to one other on a deeper level than all those frivolous popular kids, and then manages to sit next to you in so many classes you eventually switch your major to Geography.

We've been lucky to have made new friends -- not only with a handful of Americans, but also with Ticos (Costa Ricans), Nicos (Nicaraguans), some Brits, Italians, French, Dutch, Swiss and others. But we've come to recognize that scary gleam in the (mostly American) eye; that tell-tale sign that you've been selected as the new Best Friend Forever. So a word of advice: Remember that girl from Psych 101... and slowly back away from any of the following:

The Bar Guy.
Don't get us wrong. At five o'clock most days, right here en casa, cocktails are served. Drop by any afternoon for some Flor de Caña rum, various vodkas, one of those crappy Costa Rican beers or even a glass of crappy Argentinian wine straight out of the box (the latter two somewhat improved by as many ice cubes as your glass can hold). Todo bien.

But when you're retired, any hour can be cocktail hour, and it seems that when every hour is happy hour, the libations quickly turn into little cocktails of sadness. And so that person perched on that stool every single time you go by? Unless your retirement plans include listening to someone mumble and slur their way through stories about the house they used to own (in 1972), the All Star game (of 1986), how great the moonwalk was (Armstrong? Jackson?) and other random clumps of this mook's featureless life, pretend you're Latino, say, "mi brazo se hincha" and keep it moving.

The Great Pretender (GP)
Retirement is a good time to (re)assess what's important to you, a sort of final act in improving your character. But for some, leaving the U.S. is not just an opportunity to create a new future, but also to invent a new past. You can recognize a GP pretty quickly; they speak of themselves as if they were telling their favorite bedtime story. If they're nattering away about their emu ranch in Texas, eating tofu burgers with Brad and Angelina and the time they crashed their Delorean, heed that little voice in your head and go see un hombre about un perro inmediatamente. We often debate whether it's worse to hear about someone's career as a UPS driver or how they used to do coke with Whitney; turns out it's a tie.

The Proslytizer.
You know the type: People who have found the secret to life and now their mission is to convince everyone within shouting distance to follow their lead. Oh, you HAVE to come to my (outdoor church/drum circle/ayahuasca ceremony...); You HAVE to stop eating meat and dairy, toss out your stove and get a food dehydrator; You HAVE to quit your yoga teacher and go to this amazing man who plays nose flute while you're in shavasana...

There are plenty of proslytizers in the non-retirement world, too, of course, but in this small town, you tend to run into the same ones again and again. They're cheerful, this bunch, as they squeeze your elbow and stare into your eyes, insistent, manic and maybe even a little bit insane: Do you know how HAPPY I AM now that I've had my meridians realigned? Do you? DOOO YOOOU!!?

The Bad Luck Charm.
If you manage to fall in with your adopted country's natural peristalsis, good for you. But like all organisms, countries also reject certain foreign objects trying to weasel their way into the system, and will vomit them up and out.

Everyone who moves here will have something happen to them: a weird bug bite, a stolen bike, a blatant request for a bribe, whatever. But for some, it's one awful experience after another. It's unfortunate these bad-luckers can't immediately be identified by a stormy cloud hanging over their heads, like Al Capp's Joe Btfsplk, but when you meet someone who's been here three months and has already contracted dengue fever, been bitten by a fer-de-lance and lost their passport, don't get too attached.

It's Costa Rica's way of identifying folks who weren't meant to live here and not too gently suggesting they go home -- and it's best not to be standing too close by when the gods decide to drop a bunch of coconuts on their head.

AND THEN THERE ARE: the pervs, the thinly-veiled racists, the everything's-better-back-home club, the don't-go-out-at-night mice... and more.

Point is: Keep your expectations real. Don't imagine for a moment that because you're there, and they're there, you're all like-minded. Chances are, you're not.