Stupid Things Foreigners Do
In my time abroad I have lived in both Korea and now Japan. Over the years I have met a number of admirable and inspiring foreigners. I have met teachers who took great pride in their craft. I have met foreigners who are entrepreneurs, owning their own schools, restaurants, stores, online shops, design companies, etc. I have met foreigners who have mastered the language of their host country. I have met foreigners raising families and involved in local community activities and charities. I have met a lot of people I look up to and strive to emulate.
On the other hand, I have met many foreigners who are not shining beacons of citizenry. I have met foreigners who are absolute screw-ups. I have met foreigners who basically give the rest of the expat community a very bad name. I have basically met a lot of douche bags.
I was thinking about this the other day after a loose acquaintance of mine was complaining about something that they had to deal with. It was a work-related issue. This person felt as if they were being treated unfairly because of a work policy although it was the exact same policy that all of that person’s Japanese coworkers had to adhere to as well. He was actually being treated as an equal, but still thought that he should be exempt from that policy. This is exactly the type of behavior that can lead a foreigner’s local coworkers to view him or her as a whiner.
I wanted to make a list of some common “foreigner behavior” I’ve witnessed over the years that although only acted out by some, makes us all look bad in the eyes of some.
Complaining about your pay in front of your Japanese or Korean coworkers: I understand that by the standards in your native country that the pay for being a teacher (English teacher) in Japan or Korea is actually quite low (believe me I understand!), but even if you think it is low, you are probably getting paid a lot more than your local coworkers. Honestly, you are probably making almost double what your Korean or Japanese partner/co teacher is making. You may have also noticed that for the most part, they are probably working harder than you and the expectations put on them are higher. By complaining about “how low your pay is” in front of them (I have seen many foreign teachers do this), you will just come across as unprofessional, immature and spoiled.
I complain about my pay all the time, but I don’t do it at work and certainly not in front of my coworkers. I save it for a safe environment like my house or over a beer with other foreigners!
Over the top public drunkenness: I have seen more than my fair share of foreigners in Korea and Japan drunk beyond belief causing trouble. Remember, you are an ambassador in a way. Many people in Korea or Japan who have had little contact with foreigners watch you closely and often assume that all expats act the same way. If you are an American and get drunk and violent in a bar in Seoul or Osaka, some locals might witness that and assume that all Americans act that way when drinking. In the words of the ever-awesome writer/director/podcaster Kevin Smith, “Handle your high.”
In Japan and Korea, public consumption of alcohol is legal. In America and Canada it isn’t and because of that, some young people (some older ones too) who come abroad to work as teachers or members of the military get carried away. You may see some Japanese businessmen enjoying a can of beer or Chu-hi on the train after work (something I enjoy doing from time to time), but they are quiet and reserved. They aren’t yelling and singing on the train while using the passenger straps as gymnastics tools. When Korean people and Japanese people see drunken groups of loud foreigners on a train, they get annoyed and rightfully so. I’d be pissed off too if after a long day at work, I just want to get home to my family, but there are some loud jack-asses stinking of booze disturbing my ride.
Handle your high. If you think it’s ok when you are drunk to break or steal a sign in front of a bar or restaurant…it’s NOT! That’s illegal. If you think it’s ok to get into street fights…it’s not! If you are caught doing this sort of thing, there is a possibility that the police or judicial system will punish you even more harshly than a local person. Also, if you are in Japan or Korea teaching children and you for some reason think drunken bar fights are ok; you shouldn’t be a teacher. You shouldn’t even be around children!
Drinking in Korea and Japan is fine. I do it! Just do it responsibly. Remember, people are watching more closely than most because of the fact that you are a foreigner.
Getting pissed off people compliment you on little things: When foreigners get livid because after 5 years in a country, someone yet again, compliments them on their chopstick skills…they need to relax. Many Japanese and Korean people who are new to English and new to foreigners just want to be nice. They want to compliment you and are also looking for a conversation starter. Although YOU may have heard this compliment a thousand times, it’s more than likely the first time that person has said it to you.
Getting pissed off at a Korean or Japanese person for speaking to you in English: Maybe you can speak fluent Japanese or Korean. Maybe you have been studying for hours a day over the course of years. Maybe you can communicate easily in the language of your host country, BUT a Japanese person or Korean person probably doesn’t know that! They don’t know you. They don’t know your background and they are just playing it safe. Many, if not most foreigners in Korea and Japan CANNOT speak the local language. Also, a country like Japan is rife with tourists from around the world.
Don’t get your panties in a bunch when someone speaks to you in English. You may want to practice your Japanese or Korean, but that person also would like to practice their English. Maybe you can politely reply, in Japanese or Korean that you are comfortable conversing in their language!
Special treatment going to one’s head: If you are new to Korea or Japan you will definitely get special treatment. You may be even treated like a celebrity, but don’t let it go to your head. Many local people are not used to being around foreigners and think that hanging out with you or having you in their bar or restaurant is cool. If you are a young man you may get an unusual amount of attention from females, high school age and up. Be careful what you do. There are some conservative men in Korea in Japan who may not like seeing young foreign men with “their” local women. That attitude is of course bullshit, but on a Friday night, after a man like that has had too soju or beer, it might lead to a problem.
Sometimes the chances of some sort of physical altercation may happen when some young foreign men show off their “I own this place” attitude. I’ve seen it happen many times while I lived in Korea. I’m sure it happens at times in Japan too, but since I don’t go out and party anymore (I’m on my way to “old fart” status), I don’t see it.
Even if people pay you a million compliments a day and treat you like a celebrity…for being white…you are still the person you were before you came to your host country. Try to be respectful!
Telling people why their culture or way of doing things is STUPID!: Almost everywhere I have worked in Korea and Japan I have met a few people who constantly do this. They complain about Japan or Korea to Japanese people and Korean people. No country or culture is perfect. They are all very different. Japanese people know what needs to be improved in their country as do Koreans. They don’t need a foreigner constantly telling them!
I’m from Canada. I love Canada very much. I am proud to have a Canadian passport. I love my country, but I know it is by no means perfect. I know it’s not perfect, but if I had a coworker from another country, constantly telling me why Canada isn’t good, I’d get pretty pissed off! Eventually I might want to smash their face in, or at the very least ignore them and give them the cold shoulder.
Be respectful. I will admit that I often complain about things in Japan, but I’m careful about where and with whom I do it. Save the bitching for a safe place like your apartment or with friends.
No one likes a troublemaker. No one likes a complainer (am I complaining about complainers? …oops!). If you are an expat abroad, acting badly may harm you and others around you. You may be damaging your reputation and that of other expats without even knowing it.
You can follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev
Check out my Facebook page.
I complain about banks, mainly because of waiting times for simple transactions, and my students agree with me. But the system is completely different. 3 people to do a transaction? I also complained about some drivers going through red lights and nearly hitting me. Would you say I’m complaining too much?
I complain about things too. Why is Japan still a paper based country when most of the modern world had gone electronic? Why is the culture so resistant to change and modernization in a corporate sense? But….I don’t do it everyday. Just at times. This was inspired by those constant complainers I’ve encountered.
My readers always tell me I complain too much about Japan and ask me why I’m still here, but they’ve never heard me complain about my home country. I just know it’s much worse back home. I guess I just like complaining. *g*
But I don’t complain in front of Japanese people.
I complain a lot about the crazy drivers here as well – however knowing that it’s much worse back home (no speed limit on highways anyone?).
I think everyone likes to complain from time to time. It’s therapeutic! I’ve worked with some folks though who are extremely negative and really seem to hate Japan…yet stay for years and try to spread their misery!
I don’t hate Japan. I would leave immediately if I hated it.
I don’t understand why people stay when they hate being somehwere – unless there’s a reason (there’s no other country they can get a visa for, they have family there etc.)
Exactly! Thanks for a good perspective on this. I’ve worked/lived in Japan for only 2 months but some cultural things are already getting to me. My dad suggested I write them down so that I can let them out and avoid bottling bad feelings up.
Some things are bound to get to you. You are now part of a drastically different culture. I would say “try to understand” why certain behaviors are the way they are (as foreigners we may never comprehend), but maybe inquire about why Japanese people behave the way they do. I often ask Japanese friends, “Why do people in Japan do…..? Why do people in Japan feel…..way?”
I will never get why people complain about a low salary here in Japan. People in America, Australia, Canada etc. must be really spoiled. I earn much more than I could ever imagine earning in my home country (Germany).
I never thought that public drinking in Japan is a big issue. I’ve barely seen or met any drunk people here. In Germany it’s REALLY bad, though, and I hate it. I hate the Oktoberfest as well. So, Japan is quite harmless, at least here in the countryside.
I didn’t know it’s forbidden in America and Canada. I really should move to Canada next, I suppose. *g*
I don’t get the people who think they’re the greatest after getting special treatment and a few compliments. They’re making me sick.
And I agree that there’s a bunch of foreigners who are ruining it for the rest of us.
I’ve witnessed a lot more of the drunken foreigners misbehaving in Korea where the drinking culture is more intense.
Great blog idea, Kevin. I’ve been in China now for 7 months and was only in Japan for one week. Since arrival, I’ve been staying in the most “westernized” area and I really hate it. It doesn’t “feel” like China and I’m sick of the kind of people I run into here. I’ve been looking at moving but just haven’t found the right spot. I’ve done primary school teaching and private learning center teaching and to be honest, the selfish, greedy, “exceptionalism” mentality is so prevalent that it sickens me. I have to say that I cannot stand to be around about 80% of the westerners I meet for more than a few minutes at a time. The Chinese staff walk on eggshells around the foreign teachers because they have to but I know that it’s difficult for them. Like you’ve said here also, I myself have complaints that I feel are legitimate about my working conditions and the society, but there is indeed a right place and time for it. I do take pride in my work, even if it’s not my ultimate goal (which is film making), and I sincerely care about my students progress. I feel good about how much the staff really likes me and they make it known to me on a regular basis. They aren’t accustomed to being treated very well by the foreign teachers and that is a sad fact. There is even a Russian girl teaching here (English as her second language, no less) who speaks a good amount of Chinese and all she ever does is complain, argue, yell, and complain to the people here. I seriously have no clue as to why she’s in China. Heck, I’ve even seen her push people out of her way while walking down the sidewalk! Once, a street beggar spit on my leg because I happened to be standing close to her when she insulted him in Chinese. Not few have been the times when I have wished I could blend in a bit more and look a little less foreign.