Not All Expats Are Created Equal

Posted on 16/12/2012

One thing that you need to understand is that all expats are definitely not the same. Oddly enough, this flies in the face of how we are perceived by the locals of any given country. However, in Southeast Asia, it’s particularly true. I thought long and hard about this and the answer to this conundrum became clearer as I got to know the locals, in my own adopted country, a little better. But to be honest, I had a bit of an advantage. Rather than renting a condo in a secluded area populated by other expats, I decided to live out in the town area inhabited by the natives.

The first thing that I noticed is that folks on the street stared at me, as if Tom Cruise (or the Elephant Man) had decided to take a stroll in their neighborhood. It was less than “subtle”, to say the least. It was kind of odd when a number of these guys would wave and shout “Hey Joe”! I’m thinking – “Hey, World War 2 was back in the 40s”. Then it hit me. Places that tend to have a way of thinking that is alien to Western civilization can create a single stereotype and go with that. In Europe, it’s a bit different since even though you have different countries alongside each other, you and they can understand each other’s way of thinking. Not so with Asia. For example, when I lived in Japan, one of the natives on the island of Okinawa couldn’t wrap her head around a simple concept. The concept that I was trying to explain was that the members of the U.S. Marine Corps., stationed there, did not accurately represent the culture of most Americans. You see, in Japan, people are conformists. The same holds true with more simplistic (read “primitive” societies).

I instantly ran into this, once I let go of the notion of buying a house out in lucrative land and rented a relative’s home in the outlying provinces. The provinces consist of mostly farming communities that lack the sophistication of the major cities (which is really saying something). I think the biggest difference is the fact that while, in Europe, the locals may start off with some preconceived notions, but they can adapt over time. Not so in many parts of Asia. And to be honest, I can’t blame them, because some expats seem to follow certain stereotypes with a vengeance. I’m absolutely sure that this is true no matter where you go, especially for Americans. That’s because humbleness is not the hallmark of American culture(s). This can be especially true in cases where they’re having some difficulty understanding different ways of life.