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#98 Knowing How to Negotiate the Expat Bar

October 10, 2011

Submitted by Theodore Spelt

Top Gun. Mmm hmmm. (Photo:

Nothing establishes your credentials as a seasoned Expat Aid Worker  more than being greeted in name by the staff at the local expat bar. And nothing can either fast track your career or send you to oblivion more quickly than a half-drunken rant with a donor over a few shandies sitting in the dim hours of the morning, struggling to hold a grip on reality, the bar, or both.

The EAW needs to know how to negotiate the socio-political geographical hazard of the expat bar.

First off, it is extremely important when approaching the expat bar to scope out everyone at the outside tables. The EAW knows that failure to acknowledge donors, partners, or colleagues even at this early stage could set him or her up for return lack of acknowledgement (refer to #17 Pretending Not to See Each Other), as well as a snub when it comes to invitations to the next sector meeting, joint workshop, or dinner party.

Once inside the bar, it is important to use the local language to greet all staff by first name. The level of language skill doesn’t matter as the staff know the EAW’s pronunciation is severely limited, but they will be too polite to say otherwise and will knowingly smile as they indulge the EAW while having no idea what he or she is talking about.

When taking a seat, the seasoned EAW will be sure to have a drink in hand so that appropriate acknowledgement can be given to everyone in the room using the following hierarchy of greetings:

  • fellow ex-pat aid workers – a slight head nod
  • foreign representatives visiting local Embassy – a shake of hand to local representative, nod of head to others
  • that highly paid consultant fresh from their latest trip deep into the jungles – be prepared to listen to a 10-15 minute story – reply at poignant moments with raucous laughs, for example, “Then I had to bite the ambassador’s leg to ensure no poison entered her heart, it was the second time that week she had been bitten…” give raucous laughter, “By the end of the week her leg was like a hippo and my breath like a crocodile,” give raucous laughter.

Despite not having sex for several months the EAW knows that it is extremely important in such a socio-political environment to ignore the table of freshly arrived NGO volunteers. The volunteer circle is the most dangerous, as nothing says, “I have just arrived, know no one and have no established friends,” more than joining the circle of new volunteers eagerly downing bottles of the cheapest local alcohol.

At some point during the evening, the EAW will be brought to comment on the latest rumour going around that a certain organisation is lacking funding, or a certain two colleagues last field trip was really an excuse to carry on their latest affair. Whatever the state of the EAW’s inebriation, survival crucially rests on the next move.

The seasoned EAW will make a gentle turn of the head, turning from left to right to scope out for representatives of the rumoured donor or organisation going bust, or friends of the happy affair makers. Failure to carry out such a head twist may result in the EAW embarking on a tirade of honest assessments that can only result in being overheard by the organisation or friends of the couple having the affair; henceforth forever missing out on future invitations to BBQs and dinner parties, and possibly losing any chance of employment with a range of NGOs who are affiliated with the subjects of said gossip.

It is ultimately important to understand, however, that while one’s reputation is of key importance, the seasoned EAW has a finely tuned ability to respond and adapt. Anyone taking offense at any comment shared on a Friday night at the local ex-pat bar is only letting it be known how rarely he or she frequents the place and how little he or she understands about the expat bar dynamic. A true ex-pat bar frequenter knows this is simply regular behavior for a Friday evening.

By adhering to these seemingly basic rules (and adapting additional ones based on specific local context), the EAW can begin to successfully negotiate the socio-political hazard known as the local ex-pat bar and will certainly be on his or her way to becoming a career EAW.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 10, 2011 11:44 am

    This is pathetic, are there any NGO’s that aren’t staffed by self-indulgent children?

  2. wayne permalink
    October 11, 2011 7:03 am

    Actually, I think its very good.
    And M, in answer to your question: No.

  3. Claire permalink
    October 14, 2011 1:50 am

    This post is amazing – I have termed the “head twist” in Malawi the “Lilongwe look”.

  4. Jon permalink
    October 22, 2011 3:14 am

    So… no mention of the difficulties of dealing with aggressive sexual proposals from locals?


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