Perth’s Melting Pot: Opinionated Expats & Cliquey Locals?

‘Isn’t it hard to make friends in Perth? They all seem so cliquey here?’ one expat said to the other. In French. The other one agreed wholeheartedly nodding her head and adding; ‘I know, and it’s not just that, clothes shopping is SO expensive too, no wonder everyone shops online here’.

And then of course there is the sweltering heat, the lack of culture, the outragous house prices, the lack of Michelin star restaurants, the price for a steak (from $40 in a good restaurant, without any sides) and of course ‘the isolation’, you really can feel cut off from the world living in Perth. According to some expats.

Perth has a large number of expatriates, people who live outside their native country: a staggering 30 percent of the 2 million inhabitants are born outside Australia.

Now you wonder, why did they leave their home turf behind and move to Perth? For a lot of immigrants the flourishing economy (thanks to the mining industry) mixed with a wonderful warm climate are the initial pull factors  to move to Perth.

In my opinion there seem to be two majority groups of expats. There is the short term expat, who comes here to work for a set number of years and goes back when the contract finishes; a life experience and a lot of savings richer. And then there is the long term expat who decides (already early on or along the way) to stay for good.

The difference between the two groups is that the first group, the short termers, usually keeps strong ties with the home country, won’t take ‘integrating’ too seriously (as home awaits anyway) and just has a good time while enjoying the adventure for a while. After a couple of years they will move back to their old house in their home country. The second group (in which I sit) I think can be split up in two sub groups, the first one being “in limbo” and here for a long time (2 years plus) and unsure where they will eventually settle and the “committed” ones who have decided to cut ties with their home country and stay – for good.

Now I have noticed there is a big difference in “attitude” between the limbos and the committers. The limbos, are the two French women comparing lives and measuring up pros and cons between their old and new life. They miss their friends, their old life and tend to flock together in groups of their “own ” so they can speak their own language and put a magnifying glass over everything that catches the eye.

Sure there is no Eiffel tower and the housing and food is pricey, but Perth is a young city and a lot of things need to be shipped in or built from scratch which makes it pricey (plus wages in WA are much higher compared to a lot of other countries). And the fashion, it’s not Milan, but who needs haute couture in the heat? My UK friend and I once quietly confessed to each other when we moved here (ten years plus ago – still being limbos ourselves) thinking we were “quite ahead of the fashion trends being from Europe” only discovering after a while we looked pretty stereotypical European (brand on brand) and if not quite the opposite to some of the very well dressed, wrapped in Australian designer glads, climate suited top brands that look unique and sophisticated instead of the 12 in a dozen look you see in a lot of European cities.

Going back to the other sub-group, the committers (to which I count myself after 13 years), seems to have literally committed and stopped comparing (I compared long and hard) and embraced the lifestyle Perth has to offer. Instead of flocking together in expat communities and reading Dutch magazines I have subscribed to some Australian magazines, joined the library, the local tennis club and I only Skype home once a week instead of daily. I read the Australian (as well as the Dutch and New Zealand paper online) and I love hanging out with my local Perth born friends as well as occasionally Whatsapping my overseas friends.

To me ‘the isolation’ makes Perth a true paradise. Having grown up in the Netherlands I literally feel the space and freedom living here. It took some years to settle in, and I still have strong ties with my home country, but I could not live anywhere else in the world right now. Waking up in Perth you can actually smell the warmth and the ocean and it filters through in anything you do and the people you meet. Perth to me is paradise.

To finish off with the Dutch King Willem-Alexander’s words (I had the privilege to meet him in New Zealand a  few years ago): the world would be a better place if everyone would see themselves as “citizens of the world” instead of a “Dutch expat in New Zealand (or Australia)”. Go out to meet the locals and connect, adjust, speak their language, take on their culture and habits. Your roots will always be your roots, but when you have the privilege to experience the world, absorb the new rather then trying to hold on to what was once familiar.



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