Expat Social Fallacies, Part 5

For those just joining us, this post is part of a series. I recommend that you skip this post for the moment, and check out the menu at the bottom of the post to start reading these in order.

Expat Social Fallacy #5: Separate But Equal

This is one of those subtle fallacies that leads to a very off-putting dynamic in many expat gatherings. It is gendered, though maybe it expresses itself in other ways I’ve not seen. I don’t tend to join in on foreigner-gatherings, but when I do, it almost never fails. You see a table surrounded not by one group, but by two: mostly expat males in one group, talking among themselves, and mostly local girlfriends, talking among themselves.

And never the twain shall meet.

A variant, occasionally observed, is that one or two of the foreign males who speaks some Korean, dares to venture over and join in on the conversation with the Korean women. Often, some of them are girlfriends and some are friends brought along (at least in part) so that the girlfriend doesn’t get bored or tired of all-English, not-very-inclusive conversation.

This is not, of course, purely the fault of one or another group. In fact, I’d say it probably arises for a few reasons:

  1. The majority of long-term expatriates (in a place like Korea, at least) are men, and most of them don’t speak the local language very well. They think a lot of stuff Korean girls like to talk about is boring. Also, expats of both sexes really relish the chance to speak their native tongue, sometimes for the first time in a while, with native speakers, on topics that may not be common discussion topics when speaking with Koreans.
  2. The majority of local (say, Korean) girlfriends may not want to socialize with a bunch of expat men who talk too fast, use weird slang, and talk about weird stuff they’ve never heard of. Plus, why bother when you can bring along your girlfriends and chat away in Korean?
  3. Expats in Korea tend to pick up and unconsciously emulate the socially awkward groupishness common in Korean society pretty quickly, so many make even less effort to engage Koreans in conversation that they otherwise might, when a group of expats is present.

One result is that a lot of Korean women I’ve known (or other Korean acquaintances, on the extremely rare occasion that they are invited at all) seem less than excited to attend these events, and their Western boyfriends (or acquaintances) are baffled as to why.

Another result is that those who engage in this falllacy tend to have skewed vocabularies, walking around believing, for example, that “waygook” means foreigner (it means “foreign country”, and “waygookin” means “foreigner”) and, much more direly, walking around pretty much out of touch with what Korean society is talking about, worried about, or occupied with.

That, of course, is only one diagnostic tool for testing whether someone is a carrier of ESF#5. Another is how readily they generalize about Koreans as “others.” When someone is in the habit of refererring to Koreans as a monolithic whole, specially using the phrase “The Koreans” with that definite article, it is an almost sure sign that he or she is a carrier. Another sign is when one seems intent on organizing social occasions where the “invited” include Koreans only when they are specifically “attached” to a Western partner in a couple-type relationship.

Another variant is when the Westerner goes fully the opposite direction, interacting with Westerners in decreasing degrees, usually aiming on an unconscious level to reach a point (but never actually reaching it) only when absolutely necessary, while making great efforts to cultivate relationships with Koreans, or perhaps with non-Westerners generally. A carrier of this strain sometimes takes immense pride in how effectively he or she has cut off the Western world and Westerners in general. There is, sometimes, an ideological reason offered, such as, “White guys in Korea are so caught up in a colonialist mentality,” or “Nah, most hakwon teachers are just here to sleep with Korean girls and get drunk every night.” A very interesting dynamic can emerge when a Westerner (or, more amusingly, a foreign-born Korean, or even a bicultural Korean) is introduced into the generally-Korean social circle for some reason.

Both variants seem to arise from undealt-with issues related to the experience of culture shock.

Well, that’s the last of the Expat Social Fallacies I’ll be sketching out here! If you have suggestions for others, please feel free to suggest and explain them in the comments section! Tomorrow, I’ll draw some conclusions on the subject.

Series Navigation<< Expat Social Fallacies, Part 4Expat Social Fallacies: Conclusions >>

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