Cow Beh Cow Bu

Ugly Expats: This is How Foreign Talents Should Not Behave

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This screenshot was taken off an FB group for foreigners living and working seeking employment in Bangkok (sorry, decided to call a spade a spade — most of the fellas on the FB group are mostly transition migrant workers seeking jobs… for the sake of being able to remain in Bangkok after their work contracts have expired or in many cases, terminated).

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I find it amusing how people who claimed to have worked in so many countries, and in cultures markedly different from their own, can still display behaviors that suggest they are not as culturally savvy as they think they may be. Or maybe they never bothered understanding or immerse themselves in the local culture, seeing as they are more often than not blinded by their own selfish economic interests to even pay heed to the host country’s norms and practices. Certainly a red flag there if the chap who had put up the post dared to claim he was adept in cross-cultural work teams!

And I haven’t even gone on to comment on the language errors that can be found on that post (and subsequent comments on the thread), but I shall not go there.

Has it ever crossed that thick skull of yours that the reason why so many job ads say “Open to Thai nationals only” has nothing to do with them disliking foreigners, but because the role called for native Thai speakers? I don’t see many people complaining about discrimination when an international school puts up an ad for an English Language teacher that says native English speakers only (read: only whites may apply).

And then you have people who respond in that thread saying how “backward” Thailand is, or how “Westerners are their source of income” — comments that seem to imply that the expat is more superior to the local Thais. Sound familiar to my friends back home in Singapore? Good, cause it is: all too often we get expats who get too big in their heads and they start thinking someone died and made them overlords of their host country, and then they start getting this sense of entitlement and privilege over the locals.

By the way, the proper definition of an expatriate from the perspective of most HR departments reads:

An employee who is sent to live abroad for a defined time period. An expatriate is expected to relocate abroad, with or without family, for as short a period as six months to a year; typical expat assignments, however, are from two to five years long

In other words, you call yourself an “expat” when you are sent to live and work in a different country by the company that hired you. When you’re overseas and without a job, you’re just a foreign job-seeker. Get it out of your hide that you’re a god-sent gift to the masses.

But I get it: after months or years having a good time because your pay package is a lot more attractive to that of the locals, because you live in a swankier neighborhood and start having mia nois and SPG girlfriends by the dozens, and because the locals, being Southeast Asian, tend to be a lot more mild-mannered and accommodating than you are, you start to think you have a right to be a total wanker who can start pushing people about, talking down to them, even having the gall to demand (it’s not even suggest) how things should be done, and everything points to one salient fact — you’re really one heck of a bloody closet bigot who thinks you are more superior to the locals.

Southeast Asian countries have had a long history of being colonized by western nations in the past, that much is true. And even though Thailand was the only fortunate one without a former colonial master, Siam did adopt a “friendly” policy with the British, if only as a strategy to prevent itself from being colonised by other European powers in the Far East — meaning more often than not, it did give out concessions favourable to the British, and whether or not the consequences of which were favourable to the Siamese themselves was quite another story altogether and open to one’s definition and debate over the word “favourable”.  But just because we all had former western colonial masters does not mean we desire to be colonized again, although in this time and age, it’s not political and social colonization but more economic in nature that subsequently sees more of our local citizens getting displaced and replaced at work with their foreign counterparts on the false and misinformed perception that the locals were inferior.

If there was any one good thing that came out from being invaded in World War II (not that war is a good thing, it isn’t– but it did shatter any false sense of security and changed the whole status quo albeit in a violent way), it’s the fact that the whole unpleasant business of having one colonial master replaced by a cruel overlord taught us that we are responsible for our own growth and well-being, that we cannot expect someone else to take care of us just because we derive benefits from the arrangement, and more importantly, these non-natives will flee at the drop of a hat when the shit hits the fan, leaving us locals to fend for ourselves. That is why after WWII, every Southeast Asian country rose up against their former masters– and succeeded in becoming independent nations with sovereign rights.

Today, that sovereignty seems to be challenged by a wave of neo-colonialism in the form of multi-nationals and institutional hedge funds sweeping in to take advantage of economic opportunities in the especially promising ASEAN region, and along with it, the bigots in the midst who come over and mistakenly think their role is that of a modern-day conquistador or missionary out change the way of life in independent sovereign states, and that everything else the locals do is “backward” or “stupid”.

I have news for you: we don’t need your opinions and views to prosper, because we’re more aware of our own capabilities than you are. By all means, give us your money, thank you very much, but no, we don’t need you to tell us how to change the way we make our mango glutinous rice or mee laksa more savory by adding blue cheese just because some 5-star Michelin chef from Le Cordon Bleu thinks so (just saying).

I see it happening here in Bangkok, and I read/hear about it again in my own country in Singapore. Sure, the expat community will be quick to jump and defend themselves and say things like “the actions of a few black (note: not targeting any one racial group) sheep are not representative of the entire community”. Of course we all know that. But be very, very, very honest, and ask if you have heard yourself speak — when was the last time you had that “oh my god the locals are dumb” thought, because I, for one, am sure as hell guilty of it. Lots of times. The only difference is that I try to get over it as quickly as I can, and I still maintain a genuine respect and admiration for my hosts’ culture and practices. After all, I’m in a country where no-holds-barred kickboxing is a national sport, so you better learn quickly to zip up…or be silenced forever.

Sure there are things I’m not happy about, and things can get better. But if you just stopped to put yourself in the shoes of the locals, you probably understand a lot better why things are done the way they are. It’s really not up to us to decide and dictate whether or not the locals adopted Thai or English or Aleut as the de facto lingua fraca in their everyday dealings just because it conveniences us; and certainly not our place to say our way of doing things is a lot more superior just because we organized our underwear drawer using the Dewey Decimal Classification and got ISO 9000 certifications as a result of it.

The way I see things, there is perfectly nothing wrong with local companies and governments putting the interests of the local first, and setting up systems in place to guard those interests. Thailand has done it for a long time since the colonial days, if only as a safeguard to ensure continuity of their way of life and maintain their sovereignty. It’s their way of saying, “my turf, my rules”, and every country has a right to be protectionist — foreigners won’t be happy, sure, because it means opportunities to line their own pockets with gold will be limited, and the irony is that the countries of origin of these foreigners themselves are very often protectionist as well.

Hell, if anything, I wish Singapore could be a lot more like Thailand where there are outright and deliberate attempts to put in place measures to ensure the locals’ interest come before migrant opportunists, because the outcome of being overly welcoming to foreign interest is more often than not the displacement of locals and incidents of bullying, much akin to a playground brawl. I’m sorry lah, but if you were one of those who come to my country and say it’s discriminatory for a company to base its hiring practices on the candidate’s ability to accurately add fillers like lahs, lehs, and lors at the end of sentences because it makes the local dimbulbs understand self-proclaimed-linguistically-talented-but-cannot-use-spellcheck folks like you, then you should think twice about coming over. Especially since you think there are other countries out there that you have been to or worked in that are supposedly so much more civilised and advanced. Cannot meh?

So I tell you what, Mr I-Have-Worked-In-So-Many-Countries-Your-Country-Sucks, learn that number one, some people are more equal than others (in the words of my great Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew); number two, governments have every right to protect the interests of their citizens– even if your own government doesn’t; and number three, the door’s always over there if you aren’t happy. Just make sure you clean up after yourself before you leave.

This commentary was written by Roy Phang.
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