If you’ve lived abroad long enough you’ve undoubtedly encountered other foreigners who are also there either by choice (like myself) or because they’ve been sent there by their employer. In my experience a lot of them tend to fall into 1 of 2 categories – those who go out of their way to integrate with the local culture and those who band together and try to recreate a feeling of “home” while constantly moaning about how much it isn’t. Although understandable to a certain extent the latter group far outweigh the former and the communities they form bring with them a certain sub-culture which I would best describe as follows:
- Live in expat ghettos (like Shekou in Shenzhen) surrounded by businesses catering to foreigners
- Frequent bars where the prices are 4x that everywhere else
- Almost exclusively eat at western-style restaurants or those in high-end shopping malls
- Mostly hang out with other westerners and foreign women half their age (a whole other topic)
- Complain bitterly about anything and everything in their host country
- Think that shouting at non-English speakers in English will make themselves understood
Many of the above a fairly typical of any community living in another country not their own but I still find the attitude and lifestyle it breeds distasteful and disrespectful to a degree. Over time the behaviour creates negative stereotypes in the minds of locals who feel impinged upon by outsiders leading to resentment and even anger. This isn’t to say that all expats behave this way but it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch and even a seemingly small incident can spark extreme reactions.
In South Korea activists have gone as far as to stalk foreign English teachers in an effort to expose unsavoury behaviour with little evidence other than they are foreign. I would never condone such behaviour but it’s clear that feelings run high and deep on these issues.
It annoys me that I’m often having to correct people’s misconceptions about foreigners but at the end of the day its only human nature to be suspicious of people who are different and the only ones to blame are ourselves if we don’t recognize that our actions have direct consequences for people’s perceptions.
I’d love to hear what other expatriates think about this. Do you find yourself slipping into bad habits or making a conscious effort to integrate?