Social Networking Etiquette for Expats – the Dos and Don’ts of Facebooking from Afar


You don’t want to be on the receiving end of this BluntCard due to dud FB updates.

When you emigrate, your friends go from being fleshy companions whose physical company you quite like to modern-day pen pals. Binary buddies, if you will. Suddenly, your relationships live on your laptop. Life updates are now almost exclusively clusters of pixels you fling at the Internet and hope land on your friends’ retinas.

Mistakenly, we expats assume that distance makes other people’s hearts grow fonder of our minutiae. Self-awareness seems to wear off at about the same rate as jetlag, and then we start to make poor social networking decisions. Does that loaf of bread I bought this morning need to be: A) Eaten over a period of days then forgotten about or B) Instagrammed immediately because I BOUGHT IT IN NEW YORK? And what to do with that riveting photograph of me eating a sandwich made with said loaf… Hmm, I know, I’ll shove it on Facebook. I probably mean well and, to use an icky American expression, I’m just trying to ‘stay connected’. Well, tough luck, me. It comes off as boring and weird.

Good pals will tolerate this behavior (somewhat) if you’re on holiday, because they know it’ll stop (maybe) when you land and have to go back to work. But when you live abroad and carry on like this indefinitely, it makes the sensible people in your networks groan. Some of them will ‘hide’ you; others won’t be so kind.

But together, expats, we can conquer the social networking menace we’ve become. Let’s agree that the newly relocated have a grace period of a fortnight. In that window, shout virtually about your new life until your laptop wilts. After that, those artisan loaf snaps have to stop. Please please realize that your friends don’t need a blow by dull thwack over the head account of your day, just because YOUR DAY HAPPENED IN BROOKLYN.

There are other social networking landmines to step around when you’re a Brit living in the U.S. Spelling your status updates in American English, for instance, is never acceptable, even if you have more U.S. Facebook friends than British ones. Neither is parachuting in Americanisms to demonstrate how “naturalized” you’ve become, and how fast you’ve picked up the few words our nations don’t share. And don’t pretend that you write in American because you’re worried that your U.S. pals won’t be able to translate terms like “nappy” and “cash machine”. If this is true then you need some cleverer friends.

Of course, this treaty we’re scratching out will also stipulate that you can still Facebook or Tweet about your life a bit. Bantering on your wall every so often might actually keep you from jumping off of one on your bleaker expat days. Just remember to filter, and ration yourself to a couple of updates a week. Overpromote your new life and it will lose its mystique. Let me put it this way. You know how people’s babies quickly go from delectable cherub to irritating gnome when their wonky face fills your newsfeed all day? Well, this is just like that.

Finally, consider this: if you’d like a reaction to your perfectly sculpted status update, be aware of the time difference between here and there. It’s no good uploading a snap of that foot-deep pastrami bagel hilariously titled “Tower of bagel” at 3 am GMT. Save it for later. Or better still, keep it to yourself.

Join @MindTheGap_BBCA on Twitter Wednesday (October 23) at 2 pm ET to how to use social media to promote your personal brand. Tweet your thoughts using the hashtag #MindTheChat.

Have you or someone you know been guilty of the social media overshare? Tell us below:

See more:
10 Reasons to Be Cheerful About Living in the U.S.
This Isn’t a Hotel, Luv: Handling Friends Who Overstay Their Welcome

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.
View all posts by Ruth Margolis.
  • expatmum

    I never know what to do about the spelling thing; half the time my spell check corrects it to American and I can’t be bothered to change it. With words that are completely different, I usually write both with a / between them. Is that better or worse? I can’t decide.

    • cynara0362

      I had to set my computer to American English because of all the papers I needed to write for my degree. Most of my friends and relatives back home are very tolerant of the US spellings fortunately :)

    • frozen01

      You do what you want, hun. If your friends have a problem with how you spell words or which you use, then that’s their problem (and a strange one, at that).

      For as much as Brits make fun of us Americans for how we spell things, that commandment (hardly was a suggestion, was it) seemed rather hypocritical to me. If an American moved to the UK and kept using AmE spelling indefinitely they’d never heard the end of it from their British friends (their less-friendly ones might even accuse them of refusing to integrate).
      If an expat Brit lives in the US, has mostly American friends, and feels more comfortable using American spellings (or wants to “practice”, or just doesn’t want to bother recorrecting the autocorrect) why should they change this habit to satisfy their friends back home who apparently can’t seem to grasp that this person lives in another country now?

    • Dinan

      There is a British spelling setting on Facebook.

  • Nay-Sun

    Mostly of my contacts suffer from overshare issues and have to admit that I had to look a job for one of them, because their share was incredibly unbearable not to mention that gave a very different impression from real life. Now, I’m dealing with…Babies photos, prays and indirect communication with God, Jesus and all the saints…,I just wonder if they know that this characters do not have or need these tools, I could tell… but do not want to hurt feelings.

  • Beverly

    I find it quite amusing that one of the points of the post was not to start using American spellings in posts, however the post itself uses ‘realize’ rather than ‘realise’.

    • Jeremy Kirn

      Not to mention the word “cleverer”.