Alternate Title: An Ode to Comrades in the Upside Down
Read the title aloud: expats are greater than regular gringos.
Over the years, you can’t help but notice as a gringo in Latin America that you end up with some odd drinking buddies. While your Latin friends are probably the same kind of friends you ran around with back home, gringos are in short supply. So you end up hanging out with personality types that you normally wouldn’t.
You make friends from the other side of the pond who drink tea and watch soccer. I have a buddy who went to a feminist rally (on purpose!). I had a buddy in Bogota who weighed 140 pounds soaking wet with work boots on.
Needless to say, my meathead redneck* cohorts back in St. Louis don’t drink tea, watch soccer, go to feminist rallies or weigh 140 pounds. Strange bedfellows for me.
We’re all living in Spanish, the language of migrant labor. We’re throwing the shit paper in the trash. We’re eating rice every day like peasants. When we’re not hearing the constant beep of the horn, it’s cumbia or vallenato or, worst of all, rock en español. The ignorant masses, the inept aristrocracy, the backwards companies staffed by educated professionals who can’t even write well in fuckin Spanish.
It’s like we’re in the Upside Down, the alternative world in Stranger Things, a popular television series created by Dungeons and Dragons nerds.
But unlike Will, who spent just a month in the Upside Down and left as soon as he could, we went to the Upside Down and liked it. We chose to stay. We’ve been in the Upside Down for years. We’ve carved out a life, maybe even married Upside Down natives and spawned Upside Down offspring.
In time, we don’t relate so well to the normal humans (gringos) back in the other dimension. We relate better to humans who choose to live in the Upside Down.
“There are two types of expats. The first kind only hangs out with locals and complains about the expats. The second kind only hangs out with expats and all they do is complain about the locals.” – English Teacher X
For years I thought that explained it. We hang out with each other because we love getting away from the natives, if just for a minute, to make fun of them or complain.
But that’s not all. I’ve come to realize that we expat gringos aren’t such strange bedfellows after all. We have something in common — we live in the Upside Down. And the Upside Down is not like Anywhere, U.S.A. The Upside Down gets inside you and changes you.
It doesn’t happen that fast, but it happens. It gets into you and makes you more like It.
So when you go back home and get together with the old gang, of course it’s fun and of course I love my old friends. But we are growing apart. We don’t relate as much because where you live is a part of your identity, especially if it’s been 10 years and especially if you live in another dimension.
So when you’re back home and somebody says he doesn’t drink beer anymore, or expresses shock that you’re putting an egg white into the drink or, my favorite, espouses the policy merits of Donald Trump, it reminds you that you’re not the same person you were when you left.
“I bet you get real good tacos down there,” they say.
Just smile and nod.
When they talk about their typical house troubles, job/salary, wife/squeeze … we expats can’t relate anymore. Whether we realized it or not, we abandoned those societal norms. And we have new experiences like maidservants or wives who do all the domestic work. Or five dollars a gram (!).
At the same time, we’re outsiders in the Upside Down so we don’t feel the need to conform to its norms either. We’re in a strange place of personal development. And we’re in it together with new, shared experiences. The do-nothing brother-in-law, the oppressive suegra, the ever-suspicious wife, the wannabe mistress in the neighborhood doing her best to break up the marriage, the drama-queen neighbors, the incompetent work colleagues, the five dollars a gram (!) …
And we have our own local news and things to talk about. How about that game, Peru in the World Cup!? … Man, I found the new ceviche spot, you gotta try the causa acebichada, shit we still gotta get together for the Arequipeño place up in Comas … I used to hate pisco but I’ve really turned the corner lately … Sundays down here are just the best, aren’t they, I don’t do SHIT … And how bout this weather, you couldn’t find a better climate, definitely beats back home … We got it good here, don’t we?
So to my fellow expats in Lima and greater Latin America, this song’s for you.