Expat forums can be helpful and exasperating at the same time

Bangkok Traffic

There’s something very strange that goes on in many travel and expat forums, and sometimes it’s very hard to figure out what motivates people. Having been on the road in Asia for over two years now, I’ve had some great experiences when researching topics or asking questions on expat forums, but I’ve also been brought nearly to the point where I’m ready to swear off the internet based on what I’ve seen on some of them.

I’m sure there are many more examples of these extremes on various travel and expat forums, but this is mainly a bit of a rant about two in particular, and an open question to see if others have noticed similar things. Lonely Planet’s infamous Thorn Tree forums can be fantastic as long as you can avoid the many permenent trolls who seem to be stationed there, which is difficult. Perhaps worse is…

Hostility on thaivisa.com

In 2010 I lived for 3 months in Bangkok and another 2 months in Chiang Mai, and unsurprisingly I had many questions about finding an apartment and finding many other things while I was there. Unfortunately, thaivisa.com is by far the busiest such forum for the country so it’s the best source of information. The problem is that many topics seem to be dominated by bitter and spiteful expats who appear to spend 16 hours each day on the boards, sometimes insulting newcomers and other times giving them incorrect information.

It’s true that some people ask simple questions that have been answered over and over on the boards, so it’s understandable when someone will reply that they should have searched before posting. But what I’m referring to is far worse.

Here’s a simulated thread that demonstrates some of the people you’ll likely encounter on those boards:

(New thread by forum newcomer) – Hiking sandals in Bangkok?

Q: Where can I find sturdy sports sandals in Bangkok to use on hiking trails?

A1: You should always hike in boots not sandals. Don’t be stupid.

A2: There are no places in Bangkok with hiking sandals so you should bring them from home.

A3: If there was a place with hiking sandals the government here would have shut them down or they’d rip you off for sure.

A4: Why would anyone hike in sandals?

A5: Hey (A3 person), if the government shut them down they’d just sell all the inventory to some other crook who would open it up somewhere else. Ha ha ha.

A6: There’s a place that sells good hiking sandals for cheap at the MBK mall on the 6th floor near the escalators. Just got some there recently. Good luck.

Have you seen threads like the one above? Especially in Thailand, there seems to be a large group of people (all guys) who spend their days scanning for new topics, only so they can insult the submitter or give out completely incorrect information or use it to complain about the country or make inside jokes with other bitter forum regulars.

I’ve heard some people say that these people are doing it to try to discourage new people from moving there by making it seem unfriendly, but I can’t accept that anyone would think this was a productive use of their time. My own guess is that there are a lot of people with very little joy in their lives and they can spread their unhappiness by being an active “expert” in the one thing they have left.

The Scorn Tree

At least thaivisa.com is confined to one country, but the Lonely Planet boards are for the whole world, and they are associated with the premiere independent guidebook company so it’s extra frustrating that the community is similarly filled with trolls.

A guy I know had a question about the consequences of overstaying a Schengen Visa of 90 days, so he made the mistake of asking on the LP boards. Within a few hours he was blasted and made fun of by many different board regulars who seem to be taking turns trying to amuse themselves and the other regulars at his expense. I find it kind of amazing that so many people have so much negative energy that they’d go out of their way to write a long answer calling the guy an idiot instead of a shorter answer that actually answers the question in a helpful way.

It’s sad because forums like the ones above are often the best, if not the only, way of getting up to date information from so-called experts about these destinations, so they do provide great utility. I’m sure this sort of thing frightens many people away from using the boards themselves because there’s a good chance that some people are going to unload on you or give you wrong information along the way.

Has anyone else noticed this?

Anyone else with experiences like this on the forums listed, or are there others that are as bad or worse? I find it to be a strange phenomenon that is weirdly common out there.

Comments

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14 Responses to “Expat forums can be helpful and exasperating at the same time”

  1. Guillaume
    February 14, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    I had the same experience in China.

    I guess these guys were kind of nobodies at home and now that they have a kind of “specialist” status they do not want to share their knowledge.

  2. Tom
    February 14, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    Guillaume, interesting that it’s the same in China, but not really surprising, I guess.

    I agree that most of these guys probably led miserable lives back home and many probably still live miserable lives. My experience is that only a few really withhold information and that more of them prefer to insult newbies or give out wrong information just because they don’t know the real answer and they are so bored that they want to type something anyway. I was constantly seeing guys in Thailand answering a definitive “no” to questions, only to have someone else give details on a yes later in the thread.

    -Tom

  3. Sanda
    February 15, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    I guess you take your problems, inferiority complexes and attitudes with you when you move abroad. Sometimes they change for the better, but sadly, sometimes they also change for the worse…

  4. John
    February 20, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    I will keep this information in mind when seeking assistance from the forums. I just started the idea of expat and will be moving forward as an expat soon. Maybe what I’ll do is post a question that I already know the answer to so I can weed out the bullshitters up front.

  5. Tom
    February 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    John,

    Probably no need for a strategy because there are a lot of great people out there on these forums. Maybe a strategy would be to have a thick skin and not take insults personally and also to not necessarily trust the first person who answers a question. Usually you’ll get a correct answer, even if the first one or two people are wrong. -Tom

  6. aussie oi
    February 21, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    Just go to japan – its infinitely better – best country ive ever been to (of 14). You wont cop shit there or in the forums – as an altogether superior class of people “do” japan.

  7. Tom
    February 22, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    Aussie Oi,

    You know, that doesn’t really surprise me about Japan, and I believe you. My theory about many of these grumps is that they left their home country for a new one to get to someplace cheaper and/or with better weather, but often NOT because they were particularly interested in the culture there. In Thailand it seemed that the majority of frequent forum posters would drone on and on about the things they dislike about Thailand.

    Japan, on the other hand, is expensive and not much of a great-weather destination, so I’d think that people who relocate there generally do it because they WANT to live in Japan. Thanks for the interesting perspective. -Tom

  8. Ellen
    March 24, 2012 at 5:16 am #

    I was very interested in moving to Panama for a time. I joined one of the largest and supposedly best Panama expat forums. The people there were horrible to me when I asked a simple question about getting help to care for my elderly parents who planned to move there with me. They were unbelievably hostile and negative in response to a number of questions I asked about living in Panama. I did go to Panama a few times to check it out for myself and surprisingly for me, a person who lives in NYC, I kept running into people from those forums. Believe me I didn’t make an effort to meet them or hang out in any places I knew to be expat haunts. One man I met who seemed decent enough online was nasty and hostile and made fun of American women every chance he got. Of course, I quickly disengaged and never spoke to him again, off or online.

    I’ve made acquaintances with some men and women who live what they now call the “location independent lifestyle,” mostly internet entrepreneurs, but although they seem really nice and offer some great advice, they’re mostly very young and don’t know much about health care except for where they’d go for a sore throat, a broken bone, or something fairly minor compared to the more serious medical care needs of a middle aged or elderly person. They don’t seem to have a handle on costs of meds either. I recently explained to someone that telling me that she paid $5 for antibiotics is not a good way to judge the cost of meds in Panama. I recently got some antibiotics here and they only cost $4 with insurance. What many expats need to know is what will their long term meds cost them, what does a doctor visit cost, etc. The forum I was on didn’t seem to have anyone who knew the answer to the question or lied.

  9. Tom
    March 26, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    Ellen, I’m sorry to hear about your Panama forum experience, but I guess it’s typical of the ones I’ve seen and that the China person mentioned.

    I’m one of those “location independent lifestyle” people so I’ve been living in many different places, and it seems like people who retire to “cheap and sunny” parts of the world are often bitter about most everything in their lives, so they like to spread the bitterness around on forums. Sometimes I think they are so common that they chase off the happy people so they end up dominating the message boards and making every place sound awful. Good luck with your medical things. -Tom

  10. Darcey
    April 1, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    I’m amazed to hear this… during the prep work to come to India, I found the Indiamike forums, and have found them populated by a vast majority of helpful, intelligent people. There are Indian nationals as well as expats residing in India, or long-term/frequent visitors to India there — I feel really luck that the forum is that kind, if this is the experience on other expat-focused national fora!

  11. James
    January 9, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

    I think Thailand is unique. It is the home of what’s referred to as the sexpat. It draws not only those looking for better weather or cheaper prices, but hoards of men who use the sex trade. It also draws men who are attracted to small Asian women, some of whom think that Thai women are very attractive.

    Thai women, even the most uneducated rural ones in Isaan, have a knack for going for the money. They know that foreigners can’t own land there, and that if they can just marry one and get him to buy her a car and build her a house she is set for life by her standards. Many expats have lost their shirts believing that some tiny cute young thing actually loved a fat, balding man who was 30 or 40 years her senior and who was such a social misfit he couldn’t get any woman in his home country.

    Go the ThaiVisa site and spend a little time reading the Divorce in Thailand section of the forum. The stories should warn anyone.

    Most of the expats in Thailand are from the UK or Australia due to proximity. It takes me 30 hours to get from the West Coast of the US to Bangkok. Also, costs of living in the UK and Australia are far higher than the US. I should say the common, middle class areas of the US. That’s a debate for another day, but the US doesn’t tack on high import tariffs for one thing. Just price cars, motorcycles, electronics, and Western food as comparisons and that can be done on the internet.

    Thailand is no longer cheap. A lot of retired guys are having to cut back lifestyles and are bitter about that because they can no longer afford to repatriate or even change locations. A lot of them are barely getting by.

    Internet and electricity are fairly cheap so a lot of disgruntled expats sit at their computers 16 hours a day in their 4,000 baht ($US135.00) cold water dumps in rural Thailand and make fun of anyone who’s making it in this world.

    You can lose your fanny in Thailand if you believe any of the lies that you can ever own land or work your own business or that a woman 40 years younger than you loves you for yourself.

    Thailand is a great place for a sexpat if he gets it that he can only rent, and never own much of anything including that sweet young thing.

  12. James
    January 9, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    I’d like to also say that I run into far more North American expats in South America than I do in Thailand. Maybe it’s logistics, I don’t know. It seems the expats in Thailand who are, again, mostly from the UK and Australia know nothing of S. America.

    Thai is an incredibly difficult language for a native English speaker to learn. Most expats I’ve met never learn it, nor have I. This is a disadvantage to living there. Thai is tonal, has forty some odd characters in its “alphabet,” and any word can have several meanings based on the tone used. Every written word can have several meanings based on small symbols or even how wide the word is made. It’s not for casual use for the expat. You could easily insult someone just saying hello if you used a rising rather than falling tone somewhere in a word.

    Spanish is far easier to learn because like English, it has a Latin derivative, uses the same alphabet and isn’t tonal. Many words have the same Latin root. “Casa” is “home” and “a man’s home is his casa,” pardon.

    In Ecuador you can own land. You can run a business. Visas are far easier and there is no age limit, where in Thailand you have to be 50 to get a retirement visa.

    If the goal is to have a lot of cute young Asian girls for the night at a price far below what’s found in the West, and if one’s favorite hobby is drinking cheap but lousy beer in a bar from can-see to can’t-see, then maybe Thailand is the place. It helps to be a fat, balding misfit because the illusion of acceptance is a feel-good thing for some who don’t get it that they are only renting it.

    If the goal is clean air, choices of climate due to elevation instead of solid heat and humidity and air pollution in Thailand, and if a clean family or even single person lifestyle is the goal, I’d head for S. America and Ecuador is certainly worth a look.

    If the author of the original article here thinks that only ThaiVisa is negative it would be a mistake. The expats on the ground are therefore also negative because their dreams didn’t come true and they are stuck.

  13. James
    January 9, 2013 at 7:20 pm #

    May I please continue?

    If you, like I, are from the US it would behoove you to not mention it on ThaiVisa or even among expats in Thailand. The great majority are from the UK or Australia and I never realized just how much hatred there is among so many for the US worldwide, even in other Western countries.

    You will be presumed to be a neanderthal from a gun toting, war mongering, rip off bankster and Wall Street country who is arrogant and from the dark ages because you don’t have a national health care plan for everyone or a complete gun ban.

    I have no intention of starting a political debate so please don’t.

    As an American I can see where some of those beliefs may be justified and I don’t have my blinders on. I don’t like political debates.

    Just be aware that what I say is true. You will be among people who you suddenly if not already realize don’t like you because of where you’re from. They are the clique and you are the outsider especially among expats.

    The Thai people won’t care and my experience is that they are friendly to all Westerners, called farangs or falangs in Thailand. Some are friendly because they are nice people and some because they want your money, but they don’t discriminate due to country of origin.

    If the OP here thinks that ThaiVisa is bad, it’s just as bad trying to assimilate with expats on the ground in Thailand. That’s true not only for Americans but for any Westerner because Thailand draws the misfit who couldn’t make it socially in his own country but is adored by all including pretty girls for his perceived wealth by third world standards in Thailand.

    The expats in Thailand don’t much associate with each other. It’s often hard to get them to even make eye contact with you. For the most part they appear to be still socially inept and depressed.

    If anyone thinks I’m exaggerating just join ThaiVisa and see how far you get trying to socialize even there.

  14. James
    January 17, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

    Well, I am now banned from ThaiVisa for 5 days. My heart is broken, LOL. What a bunch of misfits.

    I do visit ThaiVisa because I visit Thailand and this is the biggest forum for the purpose. It is in fact valuable for information about visas and many other things.

    I am however out of place because I don’t care for the bars or bar girls or too much alcohol. I’m also an American which puts me in the minority by far, and makes me a neanderthal.

    Horrors above horrors, I posted something which was said to violate a forum rule of being off-topic. Haha. If I had a nickle for every off topic post I’ve seen on that and other forums I could buy all of the members. 🙂

    The REAL issue was that I said something they disagreed with. I was polite. In fact I was very carefully polite. But it was a political debate which followed a news article as the OP, and my opinion wasn’t welcome.

    An excuse was found to get me out of there even though I wasn’t off topic. I posted about the topic, and used an analogy as a comparison. Well, the analogy was of course something else and I couldn’t add that to my post which was on topic, respectful and made a good point.

    I was winning a debate and that isn’t allowed if you aren’t “one of them.” 🙂

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