For those who don’t know of the thing I’m riffing on, well, you should go and give a gander to The Five Geek Social Fallacies. It’s a list of five fallacious beliefs that many geeks seem to take for granted, and which all too often (and too-annoyingly) govern social interactions among geeks, along with some psychological analysis of why this is the case.
It seems to me that there are also some Expat Social Fallacies, some analogous to the Geek Social Fallacies, and probably for comparable reasons. Over the next five days or so, I’ll be trying to identify some of them. Feel free to chip in with comments on them as we go alond. And when the cycle is finished, if you think of more, chip in. But be warned: I’ve prewritten the whole series, and they are scheduled to go up, one post at a time. I’m too busy to make major changes, though your comments are welcomed and will be considered!
Expat Social Fallacy #1:One Big Happy Family
We’re all expats. We should get along, right? There’s usually at least one person in the expat “community” (so-called, usually most often called so by this very person) who dreams of holding a big event–a Hallowe’en party, a rock concert, a drinking contest, whatever–where all the expats in town show up.
This person gets your phone number, sends mass text messages to everyone “inviting” them to events, and even goes so far as to keep a running tab on who turns up at “events” like Trivia Night. One may be subjected to lectures on why it’s important to participate in the “Foreign Community” or receive a comment of untenable disappointment at one’s failure to show up at some stranger’s pre-birthday bash.
What seems impossible for carries of ESF #1 to really conceive is that maybe not every expat fancies a Hallowe’en party, or getting hammered at a party where the people who turn up have nothing in common with them. Because, and here’s the heart of the fallacy–just being from the same country, or just being mutually not-from-around-here, does not mean we all have something in common.
The truth, for better or worse, is that there is no expat community. There are little groups of people who come together out of common interests. Some guys I knew used to computer-game together. I myself was in a band for a few years. Some expats play RPGs together, or hike. Some go drinking together, every weekend. These are not communities, these are just people who know one another.
Communities, and families, have enduring connections. They have a stake in things, and their coming together must at least gesture toward that. The expat world does have communities within it, mind you; but they are much more rare than ESF#1 carriers would like you to think.
(Note: There is an analogous and widespread Korean social fallacy that all foreigners will somehow get along as well. It seems rooted in Korean cultural attitudes, particularly in the behaviour Koreans imagine they would exhibit while abroad — which, I’ve found, they often do exhibit while abroad — in terms of socializing. Just as Koreans abroad tend to prefer to company of other Koreans abroad, many tend imagine foreigners want the company of foreigners, differences in age, culture, attitude, intellectual background, and class nonwithstanding. This may manifest in terms of “introductions” with random expatriates by Koreans who assume they will get along, but can also be part of unofficial practices like the restaurants where, if another foreigner is present, one will immediately be seated as closely as possible to that fellow foreigner.)
Well, that’s it for Expat Social Fallacy #1. More tomorrow…