I’m foreign, so I must be rich

An open letter to the locals around the world that assume I’m foreign, so I must be rich.


Dear locals,

Yes, I am a foreigner, but that does not mean I am oblivious. I see you eyeing me when I walk down the street, ka-ching! noises ringing in your ears. Those dollar signs shining in your eyes are visible from miles away, and I hear you snickering with your friends before offering me your services. I know what you’re thinking: I’m foreign, so I must be rich. You know what? You’re absolutely right.

Being foreign, every morning I bathe in spring water fresh from the Himalayas, carried to me on the backs of sherpas every week. I dry myself off with $100 bills–they are excellent for exfoliating my skin–which I so generously toss out the window to the ever-present beggars below. I know it can be hard to believe since I’m walking around with stained clothes that reek of sweat, carrying a backpack filled with a small desert’s worth of dirt. I make sure to roll in dust before leaving the house, so commoners like you don’t feel bad about my luxurious life. Unfortunately, mister hotelier, I already paid for my $10 room-sans-shower, but I’ll gladly consider your bargain $200/night hotel room, as long as you’re fine with me bringing my own spring water.


I'm foreign, so I must be rich: that's why I stayed in this grubby cheap hotel room in Sanandaj, Iran.

One of the fancier rooms in my recent travels. This is what my 5-star lifestyle is like, dear local. I pipe in my Himalayan spring water via the squat toilet, and the soap in the dispenser is actually filled with artisanal saffron soap handcrafted by local villagers.


Being foreign, I have a different European sports car for every day of the week, though I usually pay for a chauffeur to drive it so I can use the ride to Snapchat selfies on my solid gold iPhone 7. This might not be obvious, given that you just ran into me trying to buy a $0.50 ticket for an overcrowded public bus while using a very shattered smartphone for a timepiece, but I can explain. I recently left my gold iPhone in my friend’s new Porsche after a night of too many martinis while cruising the Las Vegas strip, and I’m actually just taking this bus so I can show my Snapchat followers how charmingly rustic your country is. Your offer to drive me in your taxi for my 8-hour journey for only $100 is kind, but I’d like to avoid being seen your old Peugeot. It’s bad for my image.


I'm foreign, so I must be rich: that's why I ride in cheap minibuses in Iran.

They may look like minibus drivers, but I assure you, they’re actually my chauffeurs. Just the idea of sharing a bus with dozens of other people makes my skin crawl.


Being foreign, my breakfast consists of wild berries hand-picked in the Swiss Alps, and freshly ground coffee grown on my grandfather’s plantation in Tanzania. I lunch only on the finest Russian caviar accompanied by a light, subtle French champagne. Most evenings I fly in my private chef from Japan to craft fresh sushi for my supper. It might be hard to imagine, since you just witnessed me me wolfing down $1 falafel and stocking up on unlimited toppings at the fast food joint next door. I was simply trying to stock up on super foods—I need to improve my skin for next week’s yacht tour in the Maldives. Thank you for letting me know about your restaurant next door with the $15 kebabs and mandatory 30% service charge, it sounds lovely. Perhaps I’ll visit tomorrow… is it possible to get a side of quinoa with my kebab?


I'm foreign, so I must be rich: that's why I eat cheap falafel in Yazd, Iran.

The carrot is for a more illustrious hue, the purple cabbage is for increasing elasticity and reducing wrinkles, and the chickpeas are gluten-free, so I don’t have to worry about bloating while in my bikini.


Being foreign, I am the owner of a large penthouse overlooking Manhattan, despite being only 25 years old. All of its several hundred square meters are covered with the finest animal skins that my money can buy. The photos I just showed you of the apartment the size of your dining room table? I was just showing you those so you would feel less bitter about my vast wealth. I would love to take some time to peruse your very affordable $3,000 Persian carpets, dear salesman, but I’m afraid they really would clash with the endangered animal theme that I employ in my penthouse’s powder room. I’ll think of you when it comes time to decorate my next summer home.


I'm foreign, so I must be rich: that's why I had a tiny apartment in Haarlem, the Netherlands.

It may look like it’s only 30 square meters, but I assure you, it’s closer to 500. I had just taken the animal skins to my personal taxidermist for a routine cleaning.


Alas, locals, I’m afraid I have to cut this short–I need to do some retail therapy in Milan before my dinner date below the Eiffel tower. I’m glad we had this chance to communicate. I hope I leave you a tad more enlightened about what life is like in foreign countries, so you understand what you’re dealing with the next time you see a dirty young backpacker walking your way.


Sincerely yours,

A Foreigner

More like this? Check out our article on the sustainability of dual pricing!


An open letter to all the locals that assume ALL foreign tourists are rich.


Have you encountered this problem in your travels? How did you respond?

Alex Reynolds profile picture

Alex Reynolds

American by birth, British by passport, Filipina by appearance. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

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20 thoughts on “I’m foreign, so I must be rich

    Hannah Logan says:

    ahahahah SO TRUE! Mostly common in SE Asia but I’ve had it happen in Europe too. Meanwhile I’m like I can’t afford a real dinner… how much is that apple?

    Bwahaha we know the feels! Real dinner? How about I just eat an extra plate of rice to simulate the fullness of a real dinner?

    Madeline says:

    Love your posts! So obsessed with your lifestyle – inspiring is an understatement!


    Glad you like! We appreciate your love, and hope you’re inspired to travel to some of these places!

    Don’t spend too much time getting excited over us, we’re just two ordinary folks with a love for adventure 😉

    Christie says:

    I can empathize with your sentiments. At times I also find it difficult to manage the facade of “American” privilege while traveling abroad. It’s difficult, but telling to see what conceptions foreigners have of Western travelers. What to do about it?

    On the one hand, we are undoubtedly privileged—we have the luxury of time and money that can take us to far away lands. But, on the other hand, just because you have enough money to take a private taxi halfway across the country doesn’t mean you should!

    What we’ve found helpful is to explain to people how much it costs to live at home. Many people don’t realize that western loving costs are much, much higher. It also helps to explain that you’re only able to travel in their country BECAUSE it is cheap. When we’ve told people that we can’t afford to travel in Europe (the money sucking scourge that the western half is), they often can relate to that a little bit, and it helps the understanding along.

    Christie says:

    For sure, I can see that as potentially beneficial in coming to understanding about differences in culture, and how Westerners (and non-Westerners) will inevitably be challenged by these situations at one time or another. For me, underlying it all, is openness and compassionate that softens language barriers, cultural differences, and getting to a true place of human understanding. Loved your perspectives!

    Alex Martin says:

    While I get what you are trying to say, I ultimately would disagree with the post. As an American citizen, you can travel to many places where locals would have a hard time even getting a visa to the USA. Also, those 200 dollar a night hotels are often western owned or owned by the 1% of the country. In the case of Thailand where I’ve lived for 12 years, I know resorts where wealthy westerners (as well as cheaper but still too expensive for a local) are placed after stealing land from ethnic minorities. I know people who make 5000 baht a year- that’s less than two hundred dollars. The cost of living isn’t low enough for them not to be in poverty. Actually, they don’t have enough to eat and live off of white rice during he dry season. So, in comparison you are rich. We as Americans have access to free education till the age of 18. Not the case for people in lots of parts of the world. While some people might look at you as a waking ATM, which is wrong, that doesn’t discount the fact that you get to make a life out of traveling he world which is a privilege and a luxury. You have access to clean water, medicine when you travel, and an economy that while is in flux, is still the largest in the history if the world. I’m currently in a village where families of 5 live in a house the size of the room you posted, yet can’t even own it due to encroaching governments on their traditional land. So, you are pretty rich in a relative scale, even if you aren’t to American standards (you aren’t in America do those standards don’t work).

    Alex says:

    I think you’re missing the tongue-in-cheek nature of this article. Not saying I’m not rich in comparison, but rather locals should realize not all Westerners are equally loaded, nor as luxurious as media may make them out to be.

    Alex Martin says:

    I get the tongue in cheek. I personally think this type of hyperbole isn’t constructive to the issues of wealth disparity. As a foreigner, it’s our jobs to understand why something is happening the way it is in that cultural context. A lot of people stop at- “this is what people think of me and I don’t like it”, which stops them from understanding them. I’m sure if you spoke the local language and asked people questions, things wouldn’t be as simple as this article makes it out to be.

    Sky says:

    YES. I am very undecided about how I react to this because on one hand, I *DO* have more money than most of them will ever have. Just the fact that I get to be in their country as an outsider says that. My friend and I were just arguing about this the other day that yes, we are traveling broke and don’t have a lot of money, we still are incredibly privileged just from the passport we carry and the language we speak (I’m from the US, he’s British) and we can’t argue that. It gets so frustrating sometimes, though – I live in a very touristy area of Costa Rica so the reality is that most of the foreigners here DO have a ton of money so I guess it only makes sense that’s what they expect from me? I’ve gotten in the habit of saying, “Yes, I can live here alone and eat out sometimes but I do work every day and couldn’t live alone in the United States”. Or I just ignore it, depending on the day. 😉

    guillaume says:

    To answer your question :

    The most important in this situation, in my opinion, is to be humble, to arouse people’s interest by learning some of their language and culture, to adopt their manners and traditions. Bringing a music instrument, photos of the family, or other things, may also help to be looked upon as somebody with a life, a story : somebody like them, who can be a friend.
    It took me many travels to adopt this attitude…

    When I’m looked upon as a rich western man, I try to take it easy, smiling, saying :
    “You know, my country is rich, but I am not ! People have nice house and cars, but not me.” 🙂
    But I know that I actually am privileged, compared to people stuggling with poverty, corruption, social violence, …

    Thanks for your blog : it is interesting, and entertaining !


    Dulcie says:

    Haha this is so on point. My biggest issue is that I start to believe that I must be absolutely loaded and end up blowing a weeks budget at a market because I’m treated like I’m mega rich… hmm!

    Alex says:

    If you believe it, it’ll come true eventually… right? Right?! 😛

    Sammeh @ www.travelingstill.com says:

    I LOVE this…

    Lately in India, I have just taken to being super real about myself. “Actually sir, I have less than you! No, I am not married. No, I don’t have a job. No, I’m not in school. No, I don’t have a house.” That last one gets the weirdest looks. I’ve had people respond, “No house? Promise?” haha, promise, I’m not lying!!

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