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Everyday Expat Fails

Moving abroad is full of challenges and surprises. From cultural differences complicating daily life, to language barriers leading to awkward misunderstandings, all expats have made mistakes. As embarrassing as they may seem at the time, we’ve all got to learn somehow. We’ve collected some entertaining anecdotes about everyday “fails” that we’re sure many expats will be able to relate to.

Accidental Rudeness

A British Expat in Japan

Living in Japan, you quickly find that the Japanese are very particular about hygiene, maintaining the division between indoors and the outside world by swapping their regular shoes for indoor slippers. A trip to the toilet even involves a separate pair of “toilet” slippers. The slippers are known for not fitting properly, so keeping them on your feet requires practice. The school I was teaching in at the time had squat toilets — still pretty common in Japan — where the flush is on the floor. During my first week, I attempted to flush the toilet with my foot, when the ill-fitting slipper fell off, and landed right in the toilet… major fail!

An Australian Expat in Ghana

While living in Ghana I came across several cultural differences. One of the most difficult to get used to was the concept that your left hand is unclean, and never to be used to eat with — a particularly difficult one being left-handed myself! Early on in my stay, I was at a traditional dinner with business colleagues, and began tucking in with my left hand, happily unaware of my crucial mistake. I quickly felt the gaze of several others at the table on me, before my neighbor politely corrected my error and explained the real reason why the left-hand was considered dirty. I quickly began practicing eating with my right hand!

Cultural Differences

A British Expat in Germany

For many newcomers in Bavaria, whether they are tourists or expats like myself, investing in your own Tracht (traditional costume) is often seen as a vital part of settling in — particularly if you plan on visiting one of the many beer festivals in the region. When I went to buy my dirndl, I didn’t know how the outfit was meant to be worn and ended up putting it on back-to-front! After being sternly informed by the shop assistant that I was wearing it wrong, I tried to make a joke out of it. “Guess this happens to tourists all the time?”, I said. “Not really…”, she replied. A little bit embarrassing…

Food Fails

A British Expat in Japan

My first time eating sushi in Japan was a fiery experience, to say the least. I had no idea that such an innocent-looking green paste — wasabi — was in fact extremely spicy, and only to be enjoyed in miniscule doses. I happily added a large dollop to my sushi, and instantly regretted it. Needless to say, my nose, ears, and mouth felt like they were on fire, and the same mistake was not repeated!

A British Expat in Hong Kong

As an expat, you often feel you should throw yourself into life in your new destination by trying anything and everything that is new and different. But this is not always as exciting, or pleasant, as it first might seem. While living in Asia, I have eaten the entrails of a chicken, both raw chicken and raw horse, and fried pig ear. While it may be authentic, it is definitely not something I would be in any rush to try again.

Language Mix-Ups

A Kiwi Expat in Germany

When I first moved to Germany, I didn’t speak any German, so I took a job as an au-pair to help improve my knowledge of the language. The children I was looking after also spoke no English, so the first months were spent muddling through, teaching each other, and all learning along the way. One day I was giving the kids a bath and one of them kept yelling “Ich muss aufs Klo”. Not understanding what he was saying, I just nodded along, pretending to know what he was saying. Turns out I definitely didn’t understand… I soon discovered he was saying “I have to go to the toilet”. On this occasion, it was too late to rescue the situation, but I very quickly learned what this and many other phrases meant.

An American Expat in Italy

Perhaps part language error, part general misunderstanding, one time the instructions I gave to a hairdresser in Italy got seriously lost in translation. I had recently decided I wanted to dye my blonde locks to an autumnal chestnut-brown — just a few shades darker, nothing too drastic. Unfortunately, this did not go to plan. When it came to the big reveal, my hair was less chestnut brown, more jet black. Not quite what I had in mind, but seemingly just the look the hairdresser was going for. Needless to say, I will be taking one of my Italian friends to translate for me next time!


A French Expat in the US

I have lived in three different countries as an expat, yet one “fail” has stuck with me along the way — not keeping the assembly instructions for flat-pack furniture! A seemingly crucial error for an expat who has moved three times in four years, but for me, a consideration that quickly went out of the window after I first successfully assembled the items. As it costs extra to get the shippers to reassemble furniture, I’ve ended up, after each move, having to improvise and struggle through the tetris-like challenge to do it myself. A regrettable decision…

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