Foreigner Fatigue

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Expats are foreigners

By guest blogger and long term expatriate – Karen Watson

When you live abroad every day brings new challenges, whether it be language or cultural, and new experiences. Most of the time this is great, exciting even. It is part of what what you sign up for when you move away from your home environment into the unknown.

You buy local food, you learn local culture and traditions and after some time you may even start to learn the language. Dare I say, you might even be proud of your ability and adapt and change to a different country. You do not just circulate in the expat circle, with people from your own country speaking your own language, but you have gone all out to make new friends and really integrate.

However, no matter how hard you try, and how well you speak the language, you will always be a foreigner in another country. Sometimes that is no longer exciting but can bring you down and even give you a sense of fatigue.


You will always be a foreigner in another country, and sometimes that is no longer exciting. It can give you a sense of fatigue.



When we live in our home country we take for granted the sense of belonging, people speak the same language at the supermarket, we understand the systems and generally can blend in socially. When you live in another country, you can feel like an outsider, not necessarily accepted and certainly you can feel that you stand out from the crowd.

If you operate in an international circle then this may not be so all the time. However, if you have your children in local schools, are trying to navigate local clubs and healthcare, then you can feel very weary at times and as always the foreigner. The outsider. You may not have the right accent, do not understand the same sense of humour, do not share the same background and values. This can be very isolating at times as well as frustrating when you are indeed trying your best to integrate.

I call this foreigner fatigue.

We must remember that everyone feels like this when living abroad, not every day, or even every week, but sometimes regularly enough that it gets you down.




You need to pick your battles and control your resistance to being “different”. Understand that local people, who have never travelled outside their country or learnt another language or culture will probably never really understand how you feel. Also, the chances are that they will treat you as the outsider no matter how exotic and interesting you are.

I have come to grow a thick skin when dealing with a system that for me was unfamiliar and illogical. I will, or can, never change the way things are done, nor should I, so I persevere, take a deep breath and keep trying. When faced with the famous French bureaucracy, if I come across someone particularly unhelpful on the phone, I simply politely end the call and try again with the next person.

Here in France you really do need to speak the language. After many years here, I can safely say that I speak French fluently. I will however, never lose my English accent, so despite my best efforts I will always be considered foreign. This leads to moments of foreigner fatigue when I am just frustrated by not being truly accepted.

I still encounter strange scenarios, for example I had one well informed official who kept telling me he could not understand English even when I was speaking French and refused to speak to me.  He just heard the accent and made an instant judgement.

There will always be those people, and it is important that you do your best to not let them get you down. I try and keep a sense of humour, laughter is the best medicine as they say.




I seek out those friends who have worked or are also working internationally. They are more open-minded and are able to relate to me and I to them. More or less.

I have also accepted my own uniqueness, and the fact that I will probably never be accepted as native. When I feel most challenged and isolated, I seek out contact with people from my home country. Talking with those who share the same background and sense of humour is a great tonic.

At the end of the day, it does not matter if most people you meet assume that you are an English teacher, that no one understands why the British voted for Brexit or why we always have turkey at Christmas. I smile and steer clear of those conversations which will for sure bring on a bad case of foreigner fatigue.

Karen is English and have lived in France with her family for almost 20 years. 

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