March 2, 2010

My Home in the Air

The Chinese say money can buy a house but it cannot buy a home. Does that mean that you can have a home without any money? I think so. While on California highways back in the 1980ies, I found that my home was on the roads since I spent so much time on them. I formed emotional attachments to certain highways, streets and buildings which I would silently greet every time I passed them by. I also created homes for me on certain streets, beaches, in restaurants and parks in Saudi Arabia, Japan and Singapore. Some hotels where I stayed for years, with their nice coffee shops, became my homes.

However, I must say that the place that I feel completely at home is in the air, aboard a plane. Somehow, a perpetual traveler such as myself recognizes it as the ultimate "home". It becomes almost a house on intercontinental flights, especially those that are half-full. I migrate to the back
of the cabin and then, if I am allowed to, occupy a whole row all to myself. I can read books, watch a movie and have beautiful stewardesses bring me my two meals a day. The thing that makes it so cozy for me is the fact that I am no longer located in any particular country- I have departed the one I was in, had my departure stamp put in my passport, but still have not arrived in the one I am flying to. This gives me a sense of emotional freedom as I am not a guest, not a resident, not a citizen. I am just what I am- a traveler.

I gaze down on the earth and I am aware of the fact that people down below no longer have any control over me. They cannot see me, talk to me, scold me or gossip about me. I am out of their clutches and will be so for many hours to come, something that I am going to savor along with the red wine served by the chraming young ladies in thier fresh uniforms.

I am surrounded by people who are passengers and travelers just as I am, but I am not feeling that I am in their country or that they are in mine. We are all ten kilometers up in the air, relaxing, watching movies, drinking beer and wine and are being lulled to sleep by charming young girls. There are no bosses, no coworkers, no juniors or seniors, and we are all equal. At least, before the captain we are.

Sometimes I wish I could spend more time up in the air like this, where I experience life at its highest, both literally and emotionally. I was taught that heaven was high above the earth so, hopefully, after I die I will spend a few eons flying as a passenger on some angelic plane. I will settle for the new Airbus- the one with bars and lounges, and, hopefully, it has the same onboard entertainment system as Singapore Airlines. That will be Heaven of all Heavens.


How to Prepare for a Trip Abroad

I have been traveling all my life, and I think that one of the most important elements of a successful voyage is proper preparation. If you get ready for you trip in a correct and thorough way, you will have less to worry about when you are in the foreign land. Traveling is stressful as it is, so there is no sense in making it even more so. Hence, prepare early, prepare well and prepare carefully.

First of all, you need to make reservations at least two or three months in advance. For some trips, a reservation as far ahead as four of five months is advisable. You need to be ahead of time for several reasons: Sometimes, there are very few seats on certain very popular flights and many seats out of your airport may already be booked very far in advance. If you book early, you will have plenty of time to change your reservations should something come up. After you make the booking, check it carefully. On certain occasions, travel agents make mistakes. They can also give you not enough time to change planes at airports. Some travel agents are young and inexperienced and thus make serious errors. Some may be tired and book you on wrong dates. So, check your reservation on the Internet. Is everything correct? Are all flights confirmed? Some agents forget to confirm a flight. If that happens, you can be stranded at some foreign airport. Also, make sure that hotel reservations are also in place; either reserve one on the Web or ask your agent to get you a room. They can often get room rates that are way below the ones you can get at your destination if you try and find one by yourself.

Second, pack well, but do not pack too many things. Put only the most necessary items in your luggage. Do not take too many heavy objects as you are usually only allowed twenty kilos with you on your flight. Also, some suitcases are very heavy. If and when you go and buy travel gear or bags, it is often better to buy soft ones. These are lighter and you can pack much more into them. Moreover, when packing, do not put your documents, your laptop, digital camera, phone charger, or other such vital items into the bags that you are going to check in. And, please, never put any money in there. If, God forbid, your luggage is sent to the wrong destination, you will not be able to get to them for a long time. So, check-in bags are for clothes and shoes, and carry-on bags are for documents, laptop computers, electric/electronic items, cameras and toiletries. Do not forget to put a few pairs of clothes and underwear in them, too. You may need those in case you have a long stopover in some foreign city and feel the need to change your garments.

The next thing has to do with electric appliances and cell phones. Your phone chargers go into your carry-on luggage, remember? Do not forget to buy an electric adapter, as well- some countries have different types of electric sockets and some even have different voltage. Any big supermarket will have those and please shop around- the Chinese ones are cheap, the Japanese are expensive. Cheap Chinese ones will do for short trips. Do not forget to charge your phones before your trip and, also, ask your telecommunications company about how to dial from overseas- if your phone roams in a foreign land and locks into a local network, you may have to dial differently from there than you do from here.

Another thing to keep in mind is that your most important items such as the cell phone, tickets and your passport are the things that you will need to keep on yourself. I recommend that you get a special travel pouch which you can wear on your chest under the shirt or dress. Or, you can get one that you can affix on the inside of your hip or under your arm, beneath your clothes. In this pouch, you will keep your credit and ATM cards, your cash, travelers’ checks and other such personal articles. If your cell phone is small, you may want to keep it in the pouch, too; if it is big, I recommend getting a special holder for it which you can attach to your belt. Also, you may want to consider buying a belt bag or a small over-the-shoulder bag to keep your valuables in. If you travel to big cities with many poor people there, keep in mind that there are many thieves that are constantly looking for victims to steal from. Tourists and foreigners are their favorite targets. Do not become such an easy mark for those criminals, always check your personal items and keep your hands on them as much as you can.

Finally, get to the airport early. If it is an international flight, be there at least two or three hours before the departure. It can be boring but so what? You can buy a book or a magazine after you have checked in your luggage and gotten the boarding pass. If you get your boarding pass three hours early, which is called pre-boarding, you can spend the next couple of hours relaxing, getting snacks or reading a newspaper while others are jostling each other in the long lines. If you, however, get there late yourself, you may be in for a mad rush, long lines and unneeded nervous tension. So, the motto is better early than sorry!

If you follow the above-mentioned steps, your will be able to have a very pleasant trip and save yourself many headaches. Proper preparation is important in any endeavor, but trips to foreign lands deserve an even more thorough groundwork on your part. He, who prepares well, travels well. Let that be your slogan from today onward.


Provincialism Everywhere

Every nation-state maintains a sort of a cultural matrix with a myth about its glorious past, its comfortable present and even a better future. An average citizen of such a nation-state, unless he is well-traveled, well-read, and multi-lingual, swallows such nationalistic myths hook, line and sinker. Often, as one would expect it to happen just that way, this mythology is not shared by the neighboring nation-states who have their own versions of how great they themselves are, and how not-so-great the other country is. The story is not only limited to nation-states, but holds equally true for cities, neighborhoods and even villages. A non-traveler most often thinks that he lives in a place where everything is right and better than in other places.

Such an attitude is a manifestation of Worldwide Provincialism Extraordinaire, a force not to be ignored as one makes his home in all these new places. One needs to be very diplomatic when one meets his hosts and try not to complain about the inconveniences one experiences there, as the natives will never take your complaints kindly. The rare person that does, will probably agree with you but won’t be able to help you, however, most will just say” If you don’t like it, why are you still here?”. Hence, when in foreign lands, do not ever criticize the country, village or area, except in confidence, tactfully, and to other expats. And only if you must.

I remember I was once in Bangkok and a Thai neighbor decided to drop in with his girlfriend. After exchanging some pleasantries and making some international small talk with me of the" Where are you from?", "How long have you been in Thailand, etc?" kind, he proceeded to deliver a glorious speech on the greatness of his country, the magnificence of its King and how other nations, particularly Western nations ( including Russia- which is West to Asian peoples) were out to exploit it and rip it off. His speech was fervent and passionate and I kept nodding and smiling while recalling so many similar speeches that I have heard from as many other nationals- Nicaraguans, Russians, Puerto Ricans, Japanese and so many others about how great they were, how kind and friendly and hospitable, and how everybody else was out to get them, exploit them, rape their women and take away their natural resources.

Just write a script, leave blanks where the name of the country is and start the harangue. They will all sound the same.

Nation-states, in general, are very protective of everything that they view as part of their domain, be it the territory, cultural treasures, women or jobs. Such nationalism is what keeps people from migrating freely around the world as they used to in the past. It also keeps large areas in some countries unpopulated and in other countries- overpopulated. Even though many countries are capable of absorbing large numbers of people, they will zealously guard every inch of their territory and only allow very small numbers of migrants in, most often those whom they do not view as threats and only on their own terms.

In most of Europe and Asia, nationalism has always been tied to people who, for millennia, belonged to the same ethnic groups, had the same type of names and physical appearance and lived in the same places since what they perceive to be the beginning of their history. Europe and Asia, consequently, been two difficult places to settle and be accepted in. Recent riots in France have proved that to be true. There are some places where things are easier. Countries such as Singapore and Philippines who for centuries have been home to all kinds of ethnic groups and who have absorbed them are somewhat exceptional. One can, in fact become a Singaporean or a Filipino. One cannot become truly Japanese or Korean, though. Thailand has also absorbed immigrants, particularly of another Asian origin declaring them to be Thai once they were naturalized.

In Europe, Great Britain has been very good to immigrants in spite of what some people perceive to be the notorious British “coldness“. As recently as the 19th century people could just come to the Kingdom, Anglicize their names and live there, and they would be thought of as locals as long as they looked, talked and behaved as such. Russia was also once open, and many foreigners became absorbed into its mainstream and considered Russian provided they were willing to be baptized into the Orthodox faith.

Things changed in the 20th century as forces of nationalism became stronger and migrations became harder to carry out in these two places.

Nationalism in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa seems to have been of the nativistic variety: It would be of the “ I was born here, therefore I am this, and you were not born here, therefore you are not”. Hence, you would have the conflict of the native-born towards the foreign-born for quite some time although it would only last for one generation. That conflict also existed alongside the discord between the true indigenous population vs. the native-born white people who looked and behaved as their colonial forefathers, something that did not exist in Europe or Asia.

In Africa, there were two types of “nationalisms” . There is the original African tribalism which has nothing to do with “ I was born here” factor, but simply with what tribe you descend from, plus the nationalism between the newly created European-style nation-states which divided people into strange new colonial nationalities. People were now Nigerians, Kenyans and Cameroonians with no one really understanding what it meant to be one. The natives there simply thought of themselves as Kikuyus and Yorubas or Muslims and Christians. Often, new countries which were simply European creations to suit their own conveniences would have a territory of one tribe divided between two sovereign states, and members of the tribe that spoke the same language would now have two different nationalities. Instead of having a true European model where nations are delineated by language, culture and ethnicity, they now had totally unnatural entities which the traditionally tribalistic Africans have never been able to fit into.

In the Gulf Nations of the Middle East, nationalism is usually based on something called “Jinsiya”- roughly translated as “nationality/citizenship”, but normally tied in to one’s belonging to the indigenous tribes of that particular state. Therefore, being a Saudi or a Kuwaiti or a Qatari means having native roots in the Aboriginal ethnic groups that have "always" been there. Being born in those countries does not automatically entitle one to becoming a national of those nations. In some countries, notably Saudi Arabia, many children of pilgrims to Mecca were able to become Saudi citizens when citizenship was still easy to obtain some thirty years ago, but their children are still not considered to be “true Saudis” because they are not blood-related members of the some thirty or so original native clans of the desert. These are still in the luckier situation then so many people who had neen born and raised in those countries but do not qualify for the “ Jinsiya” and ,therefore, are stateless and destined to live a rough life in the land of their birth.

As an expat in all these countries, one will on many occasions come against such forces of provincialism and nationalism. The best weapon in one’s arsenal would be citizenship from some highly respected country such as Canada, Great Britain or even Singapore or Japan, as well as some highly sought after skill, and/or plenty of money. With very few exceptions, money seems to be the best weapon of them all against the forces of international cliquishness.

Philosophically speaking, one should not take the concept of nation-state as something totally eternal and holy. It is just a group of people temporarily occupying a certain territory and calling itself by a certain name. These are things created by man and they are not lasting. Try and do a web search on “the map of Europe” over the past two thousand years to see how many countries have shifted borders and how many have simply disappeared. There were undoubtedly many gallant knights who had fought for the prosperity of the kingdoms of Aragon and Pomerania, and hundreds of thousands may have died so that the glory of Prussia would live on. These nation-states are gone now and new ones with new names have sprung up. But what did those heroes die for? And does anybody still remember their names and their feats of arms against the hated Andaluz or Courlandia? Most probably not.

A wise expat, armed with a marketable skill and/or money and aware of how ephemeral all these things are, should forever try and maintain his peaceful independence as he moves between countries. Forever on guard, cautious and healthily skeptical, answerable only to himself and his own view of personal freedom, he is able to maintain his unique way of living a varied and multi-faceted life in this mythology- and provincialism- ridden world.

The American Dream vs. the America+ Some Other Country (ies) Dream

There are two types of American dream. The first one is that of a foreigner in some oppressed land where he has no freedom and no opportunity to advance himself or his family. He may suffer from the lack of political freedoms, or poverty in spite of all his hard work there. For such a man, America looms as a paradise in which his basic requirement are all met and where he becomes truly happy.

The second American dream is by a native-born person- it is about establishing a career in the field one wants to pursue and making big money at it. One then finds the partner of one's dreams, gets married, buys a beautiful house and lives happily thereafter with a new family.

Both dreams are imperfect. They are based on many false assumptions and filled with naiveté. The foreigner usually has no idea what America is all about. He thinks it is a country where money lies around on the streets. Sure, he is now getting paid in dollars, but everything is equally expensive, too. And, while he may be a subject of respect back home and is now called “ an American” by the people whom he left behind, he is but a nobody in the US. Unless, of course, he has some exceptional skill that the country needs. For most people, however, life in America is a hard struggle to advance and attain the middle class status. For many it takes a generation or two.

Young immigrant men may have it especially hard in the US. During their late teens or early twenties, the time when they should be dating and falling in love, they realize two painful things- American girls are not interested in Fresh.Off the Boat men ( F.O.Bs) as these appear clumsy and hick-like to them, and present very little value as boyfriends and future husbands. They also learn that within their own immigrant community, men often outnumber women and the guys that had been there before them now have the money and the status to get the best girls from that same community. Many of the immigrant women also prefer to date and marry the “real Americans” and not the struggling “fresh-off-the boat” bumpkins. These men also get caught in between two cultures. They are not yet accepted as Americans by the new society and they are no longer what they were to the people in the home country. Many cannot go back as they may not have the money to do so. Some of their countries may even arrest them if they attempt to go back. China and until recently, Vietnam were doing just that and many immigrants from there were caught in a cultural limbo in between the two places. For a Vietnamese refugee man to meet a beautiful VN-ese girl in the US would be quite hard as many prefer rich and handsome Americans or the long-established US- based VN-ese with cars, houses and businesses. Loneliness and alienation may drive many to join gangs and do all sorts of wild things as younger people often lack the maturity needed to face such solitude in a new land without being severely traumatized by it.

America has many good things, too: there is freedom of speech in the sense that you cannot get arrested for saying things against the government. You cannot be put in prison not paying a debt. The infrastructure and the services are top-notch. There are social programs for the very needy, as well. Products of all kinds are easily available delivered with a smile. Credit is easy to come by. You can purchase real estate and cars relatively easily, as well. There are student loans that can help you finish school. It is easy to get into colleges and earn diplomas and such US degrees are respected everywhere in the world. People treat customers nicely. There are laws to protect minorities and other non-mainstream people and you can sue people if you feel such laws are violated. There are numerous opportunities in many fields and if you know how to take advantage of them, you should be fine. US citizenship is also not hard to obtain, albeit harder than, say, the Canadian one. If you are stateless, the US government will provide you with a semblance of a passport- a “refugee travel document“. America has no major coup d'etats or revolutions. There are no true military invasions or occupations by foreign powers. So, one can thank America for many things that it can offer a prospective immigrant.

The bad things are- many things are so expensive now that the way to afford them is by using credit. Some forty or fifty years ago, basic salaries were often enough to live a good life. Now, they are not. So, people end up borrowing money to afford all the things that used to be affordable at much cheaper prices in the past. Many people are, therefore, indebted up to their ears and are working just to make the monthly payments. Taxes are high, medical services are also high. Even if you have medical insurance, you may end up paying a high deductible. So, you had better stay healthy.

Also, socially speaking, there is general unfriendliness and cliquishness in society. People are not easy to meet. Racial and ethnic groups often end up staying with their own kind. As in any other immigrant society, those who had been there before look down on newcomers. And, many children of immigrants can be particularly unfriendly to those who are fresh off the boat since as we know that &^%$% tends to travel down the hill. Also, just as a foreigner has a distorted idea of the American paradise, so does a native-born American has a distorted idea of the countries these new people come from- he thinks that these are very backward places with no electricity and no TV. If one’s English is accented and not fluent, one will be often treated as a hick or a mental *&&^%$%. Until one gets completely Americanized in behavior and speech, it is quite hard to fit into the US society, at least, on the social level. The closer one gets to the White Anglo Saxon Protestant in looks, speech, acting and thought, the better are one’s chances of fitting in. If not, one can be in for some lonely times. Hence, the somewhat off-the-mainstream people hang out together. Blacks with Blacks, Hispanics with Hispanics, Asians with Asians.

So, any immigrant who goes to the US needs to be aware of these things and weigh them carefully against his often idealistic expectations of life in the US. “Know before you go” applies to any place in the world, and the US is no exception. Still, all things considered, if one is adrift in the world, America is probably the best place to end up in.

The happiest immigrant in the US is the one who still maintains ties with the home country and uses dollars to build a nest egg where things are cheaper and where people now admire and seek him out as “that rich American”. These are the ones that you see smiling as they work hard in their noodle shops. They measure their worth not against the American standards, but against the standard of their cheap homeland where they are now treated as kings even if they used to be treated as nobodies there before.

The native- born person’s dream to buy a house, get married and live happily ever after also needs to be weighed against the realities of the American society today. With divorce rates sky-high, one can lose one’s shirt during a divorce settlement as the laws are heavily slanted in favor of women. Childbirth is expensive unless you are very poor and the government can pick up the tab for you. Raising kids is also expensive. Becoming a member of America’s middle class is not easy and, even if you become one, you will find yourself in a very unenviable position where your money seems to disappear right and left and you feel squeezed on both sides- from the strata above you and the strata belowow you. The very rich have tax loopholes and the very poor have welfare but if you are in the middle, it is hard to get rich. One ends up working very hard to maintain a semi-decent standard of living while supporting a government that does not even have national health insurance since America is the only developed nation in the world that does not offer it.

Becoming a doctor or a lawyer is probably the fastest and easiest way to propel oneself up and beyond the middle class category but is that what you want to do?

Dating is also quite hard for an average American guy as local women have enormously high standards as to the kind of man which they think they deserve to have. They want rich and handsome guys with enormous incomes. This leaves a lot of average guys behind, living lives of harsh work coupled with blank and consistent solitude.

The native-born American who is not a doctor or a lawyer can learn something from the happy, noodle-soup-stirring immigrant. He may check out some countries where these immigrants come from and see if he likes them and would like to spend some of his time there. The idea for him is not to leave America forever, but to combine the US with those countries where the US dollar acquires incredible might once it is changed into the local currency. And, if one feels that one is hopelessly behind in the American rat-race, and is labeled a “loser“, one can leave it and position oneself against the rat-race of some other country where one will be decidedly ahead.

Here is one good example: about a hundred years ago, some of my ancestors had an American dream, a ‘South’ American dream, that is. They emigrated to Argentina. In the beginning of the 20th century, Argentina was a land of promise- people from all over Europe were emigrating there in hordes, the economy was booming and a melting pot of nationalities was being crystallized into a new Euro-South American nation. Anybody could become an Argentine. A new, almost completely ethnically European country was being formed near the Antarctica. Great European-style cities were being built. Buenos Aires was one of the most exciting world capitals now, with Parisian architecture, opera houses, theaters of drama and ballet and a whole new culture of tango, great poetry and literature, and general sophistication on par with any European state. Argentinean tourists were traveling around the world in style while receiving the same respect as rich Americans were at that time.

However, something happened towards the middle of the century as the country's economy and politics began getting worse and worse. By the end of the 2nd millennium the largely European Argentina became a poor Third World country. Heaven only knows what happened to my relatives and their children and where they are now.

I, nevertheless, decided to take advantage of the cheap prices in the country and went there in the summer of 2005. While I was never much of a Mr. Popularity or the Man Most Likely to Succeed in America, I used my US citizenship to make money as an English teacher in Saudi, Kuwait and Oman, changed my money into US dollars and ended up in Buenos Aires armed with wads of cash, debit cards from US banks, and a big smile on my face. Boy, did I have a ball! I stayed in downtown hotels in Buenos Aires, I traveled everywhere by taxi, I went to exclusive nightclubs and walked around that magnificent European city like a well-off man. I went to restaurants that only the rich locals could afford, and hobnobbed with the cream of the local society. The exchange rate of three Argentinean pesos to the dollar made me three times richer- literally. I felt that, probably, by sending some telepathic prayers from a hundred years ago, my ancestors who ended up in that city, somehow fulfilled their dream of becoming a rich Argentine through me. I also felt that I was like a deep water diver who ended up in that country as one would under water, and my air supply was in the form of American dollars turned into pesos. For the first time in my life I felt what it was like to be rich in the “West”- a strange, suddenly impoverished “West” near the South Pole.

I remember that once when I was a kid in my native country I was walking in the port area where a large foreign ship had docked in. The ship was from Argentina. The tourists from it were getting ready for a stroll around the city ,and one of them looked at me and gave me a piece of chewing gum. He had probably thought that I was so poor I could not afford it. Some thirty years later, as I was doing my shopping in Buenos Aires, I remembered the event with a smirk, bought some chewing gum and gave it to a teenager who was begging in front of the local McDonald’s. “Here, Argentina, my debt to you has now been repaid!” . And my ( South) American dream of strutting around like a rich man in another melting-pot American country had come true. I had the money to buy a house or rent a big one there, I could most easily have fallen in love with a local lady if I wanted to, and, I was economically somewhat on top of things. Was this an American dream come true? Kind of. At least to me, it was. I also learned something about “foreign currency manipulations” but, to me again, it was just finding a place where my dollars could buy more.

So, if your American dream has not come true yet, and you feel like you are running out of time, consider creating a somewhat modified version of it, which would involve some other country in addition to the US. With enough imagination, preparation and guts, you may attain it sooner than you think, although its realization may happen in places you had never even thought of traveling to before.

Other languages- parallel universes

As you learn a new language to the point where you begin to think in it and read literature in it, you will feel like you will develop a whole new personality and move into a parallel universe. Concepts will be different, the flow of thought will be different and many words will have no equivalent in your native tongue. Some expressions and adjectives will have approximate counterparts but never the same. The music of the language and the colors, tastes and sounds that it contains will reflect the centuries and millennia in which it formed by the people who had had a different history and values from your won. Ones you reach the point when no translation is necessary and every time a new word or sentence is pronounced you can picture, taste or smell what it says, your move into a parallel universe will be complete. You will for all intents and purposes become a different person, while still remaining yourself in so many ways. You will also understand why so many misunderstandings occur between your culture and the culture whose language you have just learned. However, there are five to six thousand languages in the world so, to understand the way humanity really feels and sees itself and the universe around it, you will need to approach native fluency in those languages. This is a chronological impossibility as you will need at least a year of constant immersion and insanely intensive study to master at least one. No one lives 5000 years and even if reincarnation were possible, you would need to be able to recall all the other languages from past lifetimes. It has never been known to happen. Consequently, complete understanding of humanity and all the nuances in the way it perceives and expresses life is utterly impossible.


Oh, they are so friendly!

After my many visits to foreign lands I would come and tell my family about how friendly the people there were. My dad would listen to my stories with a smirk. He would then tell me " You will only know about the people when you start sharing daily bread with them". People who are friendly to a new face in a foreign land will turn into devils if you end up costing them money or taking away from them rather than contributing. People are selfish any way you look at it and they like you because you are a novelty and can ( at least as far as their hope for you goes) improve their condition of life, be it as a source of entertainment, friendship, love, or most importantly, new money and profit. If you do not deliver as they hoped and become a burden, few will help you. Most admiration they had for you will turn to scorn. Unless you run into some holy man, your experience is such a land will turn into hell alongside with the new devils by your side.

By the same token a person who visits a country will form a completely different impression of it from the one who has to work and live there. A guest is always treated differently from a resident. Again, being a new face who is relaxed and on a visit and does not have to work and take away jobs from the locals works in one's favor. People like guests or tourists. Once you start living and working there, your whole perception changes and you will have to go through a big culture shock from which you may or may not recover completely.


Facts about assimilation into other societies: 100% assimilation into any new place is impossible. Even within the same country moving from one place to another and being completely accepted in it as its member is impossible.

With foreign countries it is naturally harder but the elements of assimilation are as follows:

1) Race/ethnicity/tribe : is one a member of any of the majority races/ethnicities that are present in the country? Does one look like someone who could possibly be from there? Can one's facial features pass for those of a long standing member of that society?
2) Language. Do you, or can you learn to speak the same language and with the same accent as the locals? Even if you learn the language that may not be your own, you will still have to deal with the accent factor, especially when you are on the phone. Do you know the idioms, proverbs and the slang in that language? Can you use them well and in all the appropriate situations?
3) Mannerism- can you move, walk and use the same body language as the locals? If not, can you learn it?
4) Dress and hair. Can you master the way the locals dress and cut their hair? This may give you way even if all the other things coincide.
5) Thinking. Can you think and form ideas the way the locals do? Do you agree with the way they view the world.
6) Religion and citizenship. Do you, or are you willing to practice the same religion as the majority of the population or any other large group inside of that country? Are you willing, and/or allowed to become a citizen, or are you a citizen already? Are people of your ancestry allowed to become full citizens in that particular place?
7) Educational background. Can you behave like a person who had been educated in that country and taken the same subjects as what locals normally take there?
8) Historic knowledge and national self-consciousness. Are you familiar with the history of the country, its place in the world ( the way the locals see it) and the complexes and grievances that it has towards other countries or other "groups" of peoples. Are you familiar with how it formed and do you feel that you are ( or, you can behave as if, you 'were' formed as part of that country).
9) Your name. Does your name sound like the majority of names in that place? Can it pass for a name of a local?

Each one of the above counts for 10% of the total. One is missing- your birth in that country and, in many cases, the birthplace of your parents and grandparents.

Since, assuming that you were not born there, you will not be 100% assimilated. If you do something bad or have to complete for jobs and other things with the real locals during hard times, you will be painfully reminded of your foreign birth. If you do something great, it will be forgotten and you will be declared a full local.

Cases in point. Joao Fernandes migrates from Portugal to Brazil. After some 10 years in the country, he loses his accent and assimilates into the Brazilian society and is treated like any other Brazilian. Li Hwa Peng arrives in Brazil from China and studies Portuguese. He speaks it with an accent and is never really treated like a local. The people are friendly however and he has few problems except that people always ask him where he is from, which is not the case with Joao Fernandez.

Jon Smith moves to Japan. He learns the language until he is completely fluent in it and becomes a citizen of Japan. He learns the culture very well and speaks and acts like a local. However, he is not allowed to rent apartments in most parts of the country and some hotels and bath houses do not let him in. The man is not Japanese and never will be.

Hans Gruber was born in Russia and speaks, looks and thinks as a Russian. However, because of its very conservative blood laws, the Russian government considers him to be a German even though his family has been in the country 200 years. He has many obstacles getting employment because of his last name and is called a "Kraut" by many Russians. Even though he is a citizen on paper, his birth certificate says " Nationality "German". His neighbors treat him as a German as well. However, in daily lives with students at the university and people in the neighborhood, he is not suffering that much. He has many friends and has recently gotten married after he had finally gotten a job in spite of many struggles. He has decided to change his name to his wife's name and change Hans to Ivan to further his assimilation.

Immigrant countries in the Americas are much better places to assimilate into than the homogeneous countries if Europe and Asia. Recent events in France have proven it. However, even in such immigrant countries as Australia or the US, a group that is more recent, less numerous and more conspicuous will still experience problems from the people who had been there before them and who had been born and raised there.

The rule seems to be this: if your assimilation chances are below 60%, you had better have some really good qualifications that will knock people out cold, and, if the laws of the country as well as its culture still put obstacles in your way, move some place where you can make some money and come back with money. Money usually facilitates the assimilation process as nothing else would. But even that may not offer a hundred percent protection when angry masses of teed off natives roam around, looking to beat up on the newcomers.

There are people who are really out of luck such as poor illegals who are not wanted in their country or displaced groups who have nowhere to go- Indians in Africa, children of African illegals in Saudi Arabia. If you are not one of them, be grateful. Those folks are really screwed.


We see other cultures as both inferior and superior to ours. The reason we do so is because we use our own cultural standards, i.e. things that we learned as important in the societies in which we grew up. So, when we see new societies we compare them to the values that we have learned from parents, schools and peers in the places where we grew up.

People from such a spiritual country as India may admire the United States for its wealth and technology but be appalled by the spiritual poverty. An American in India may enjoy the spirituality of the people but be appalled by the physical poverty that is there. South East Asians will also admire America for its money, but be appalled by the lack of friendliness, the way children abandon their parents and the general lack of the sense of community in the country. American travelers in S.E Asia are amazed at the friendliness of the people but find the social interdependence that people there display as a sign of weakness. They also see the countries as being dirty and disorganized. Americans see Brits as being sophisticated but cold and impersonal and Brits see Americans as being loud mouthed, pushy and disrespectful of one's privacy, albeit funny and entertaining when one socializes with them. However when one is with the culture that one grew up in, one cannot see it as an outsider and is not aware of its many things the way a person from somewhere else could be.


No place in the world is completely free, however many countries like to advertise themselves as free.
As you travel you will see that usually countries that are not free politically seem to be free on a grass-root level.

Freedoms of people to do business without special permits, to make love and show affection for each other are often in inverse proportion to the political freedoms. Many societies where one is free to practice all kinds of politics and say anything one wants are often regulated on the grass-root level with too many rules and ordinances to control the daily lives of people. So, one country is free in one area but unfree in another and some other country is vice-versa.


Caveat for English Teachers in "Poorer" Countries

If you get an English teaching job in a place like Thailand or Chile and you get paid in local currency, please be prepared for one thing. When you get back to the "First World" and apply for loans or credit or other such things, you will often have to put on the form the amount of money you had been earning. If you had been working in Thailand making 30,000-40,000 baht a month and living like a king, or working in Chile or Mexico making oodles of pesos, you will seem like a pauper when you put that you have only made USD$8,000-13,000 a year. The loan officers will not care that it was big money in the "Third World". You are below poverty line in your country, making less money than what a janitor would make. That means that you will not qualify for credit, home loans and the such.

Please keep that in mind when you head for all those exotic countries where you will be living the life of Riley compared to the locals. You will be seen as a poverty-stricken street bum on the dole by credit agencies of your own country when you get back.

What is the solution? Make sure that you have enough credit built up before you go to such exotic destinations for sizable downpayments when you get back home as your earning history may not look that great to people who will be granting you credit.


Expat Vampires

I remember once watching a movie on TV about a young man who had just been bitten by a vampire, and who was in the process to becoming one as a result. He was lectured by an older veteran on the particulars of a vampire's life. There were big disadvantages- such as one could not go out in the sun lest one be burnt to a crisp, for one. One had to stock up on blood, and food became unnecessary, hence no true enjoyment of eating anymore. Naturally, things like love and marriage would also be out of the question from now on, as well as being able to simply participate in the normal affairs of society. And, most of all, one could never, ever become a normal human being again. There were advantages, however, too. A vampire would be a hard creature to kill. Common diseases would not take him/her. One was not always alone, as there were many vampires out there, and they would recognize their own and often befriend him/her. One could walk on ceilings, one did not have to worry about getting a job and, most of all, one did not age as fast. It took some six years of a vampire's life to gain one human year. Hence, one could look forward to a youth that would last a good 200 years vs. some 30-35 years. One would become wise and solemn the way most vampires were, and one would learn the exquisite pleasure of consuming blood as it would now become the absolute elixir of life, more delicious than any wine ever produced, or any nectar drunk by Gods heretofore.

I realize that it may be a long stretch of my imagination, but somehow, I compare becoming an expat to becoming such a vampire. We lose a lot of things by expatriating, and by moving into sometimes unfriendly societies, we sometimes become like silent ghosts whom the natives view as strange novelties, sometimes admiring and sometimes fearing. We can no longer participate as actively in our new societies of which we are not citizens; and even if we become citizens, we never quite fit in, often because we may not be fully allowed to. We have to deal with visas, work permits, new languages and customs and we get all sorts of reactions from people, ranging from joyful hospitality to complete rejection and even hatred. As vampires, we are often alone among the average folks, only able to relate to other expats. We sometimes go through months or years of silent agony of being among people whose ranks we cannot ever truly join.

There are many advantages, as well. There are about 200,000,000 of us all around the world, people who have started looking for opportunities in new lands. We should unite and help each other and give guidance to each other the way vampires often help their own ilk. We can use our being different to our advantage. If we are not attractive as employees, friends or partners in our old countries, we can always find a place where we will be valued more. If we are too young, we can go to a location where being young is not a disadvantage. If we are too old, we can also go to a place where older people are respected more. We can learn to quietly but quickly slither off to yet another destination in search of new opportunities, such as can only be known to international persons like ourselves. To vampires, a silent, vast and scary world of the night becomes their huge domain while other people sleep, and to us, the unknown chasm in between cultures also becomes our huge terrain in which we can make money, meet exciting new people and have the time of our lives. Like vampires, we can sometimes make friends with others like ourselves, but we are mostly on our own and are as independent as one can be. Other people are climbing social and corporate ladders in their countries, thinking that these are the only ladders that can be climbed, worrying about their image in their society and what their neighbors will say. We do not do so as much, as the possibilities that we have in front of us are mostly very unconventional and with far less competition. Since we are never truly members of our host nations, we care less about trying to be like everybody else, and can remain ourselves more. If things go haywire in the country where we are at, and we are lucky to get away unscathed, we can quickly rebuild our lives in a new host nation; something that other people can never do. And like vampires, we can never become "normal" again. Wanderlust, as the vampirical search for blood, is forever in our veins as we always look forward to new frontiers and new adventures. We are often misunderstood, and only another expat can relate to what we are going through, just like only another vampire can understand the problems that their kind goes through.

We may not have been bitten by another expat so as to become citizens of the world, but we may have been bitten by society that refused to provide us with what we needed. But, once you are an expat, you are always an expat and there is no going back. We might as well get comfortable with our identity as there is almost never a way to get rid of it in favor of reverting back to one‘s previous form. Too bad, we cannot live 300 years to prolong our ability to do so.

But then, again, who knows? Maybe there is an expat somewhere who has been bitten by a vampire and I am telling you, he is the luckiest dude of them all!

One man's heaven is another man's hell

Most human beings do not create dreams independently. Most of us lack information as to where we should be heading in order to attain maximum satisfaction, and we form goals that are often dictated by society- our parents, fellow students, relatives and friends. We want to be doctors or lawyers, or actors because these are respected professions according to what people around us tell us. We want to be respected. So, we choose one of them as "our goal". However, most often than not, we were nudged into such goal by nothing but peer pressure, and advice from people who know, or think they know, better than we do.

The same goes for countries. Few people venture into unknown/uncharted territories. Most of us want to avoid countries that are seen as "bad", unprestigious or unknown. That is why we want to go where everybody else goes, someplace that is classy and "in", so that next time when we are at a dinner table, and are telling our friends that we had been living in such and such a place, they will say "Wow"! If we work in Rome, or Hong Kong, or New York, or even Dubai, it is better than being in Bratislava or Asuncion,or Libreville; or so we think. No one will say "wow" if we go there. Plus, human nature prefers something known to something unknown, so we follow the crowd. By doing that, we often end up in expensive places where job competition is high and where people are unfriendly. Or worse, we find ourselves living in cultures where we do not quite feel comfortable with the people, hence, our stay there becomes miserable.

A friend of mine is an old-time resident of Thailand, and, for years he had been convincing me to move there, find work and live a happy life ever after. He sang praises to the country, the friendliness of its people, the beauty of the women and the exquisiteness of the Thai culture in general. So, since he was one of my best friends, one day I decided to take the plunge, and obtained a job in the Kingdom. It proved to be a disaster. I am very good at languages and I became fluent in Thai within a year. I studied the culture thoroughly, but, in spite of all my efforts, I could not help feeling that I made a severe mistake by moving there. Something about Thailand and "me" simply did not click. My personality, my character, my whole set of values were completely different. Thais like quiet and discreet people. I am gregarious and talkative. Thai people like neat and polite people. I am by nature sloppy and straight-to-the-point. Thai people do not like intellectual discussions, but prefer to speak "ngai-ngai" -just chit-chat. Knowledge is a personal thing to them. I am very much into knowledge, expression, conversation, etc. They are not. Thai people like people who dress in nice clothes; I do not dress in nice clothes. I can adjust to the culture but it implies changing myself too much. It goes against everything that I am. Hence, they did not like me so much. And the feeling was mutual.

In other words, it was a complete mismatch. Thailand and I simply did not connect. This was when I realized that the Thai dream was my friend's dream, and what was good for him was simply not good for me. Duh! One man's meat is another man's poison, as they say. No matter how hard I tried to live a normal life in Thailand, the culture was as alien to me as it could ever get. And it was not just the East/ West thing. I lived in some very traditional areas of Japan and I seemed to relate to people quite well. With Thailand it was just total incompatibility.

When I arrived in the Philippines some years later, a country that is not on many a travelers' list, I felt like I was a hand, and the Philippines was a glove. I fit right in. The way people behaved, talked, acted with friends, the way they sang songs and carried on discussions was very similar to the way I did the same things. Filipinos dressed modestly, so did I. They were intellectual, so was I. They enjoyed someone who was a joker, a talkative and gregarious person. Unlike in Thailand where they would always tell me to "shut up", the Filipinos wanted me to talk more and would sit there and listen to me for hours. They liked me and I liked them. I was like a star to them. Or so I felt. Whereas in Thailand I always felt that I was somewhat of a nuisance.

When I invited my Thailand-based friend to come over to the Philippines to visit the country, he did just that, but he felt out of place. He and the Filipinos simply did not "chime". Something was missing for him there. He became distressed and ended up going back to Thailand. So, while Thailand was good for him, I wound up living in the Philippines on and off for 15 years after that. We ( the Philippines and I) simply 'clicked'. Thailand and I, on the other had, did not click at all.

The moral of the story is this: just because a country is in the news and everybody including your best friend is singing praises to it, it does not mean that it will necessarily be a good country for 'YOU'. Go there and see how you and the people there "jive". It may or may not be a good match. Ask yourself how you feel there after a few weeks or so. There is that certain something that you will feel. It is kind of like ' love'. An affinity.You will feel the same when you meet a person of the opposite sex that you are considering falling in love with. Either there is chemistry or there isn't. If you force it, it will be pure misery, even if your parents think it's a match made in heaven.

Do not live another man's dream by blindly following him to a country X. You may adopt bits and pieces of the dream, maybe, his general approach to making such international dreams come true, his pioneer spirit and courage to move to another place, but it will have to be tweaked somewhat to fit your own requirements, including going to a whole different country to live, if necessary. What may be a good place for him, may turn out to be a total hell for you. Also, try and venture a bit off the beaten path. A job in Lithuania rather than in the Czech republic, for example, may be the best thing that has ever happened to you. Everybody was going to Prague, but you found out that Vilnius was where you belonged more. Some of your friends grimaced " Where is that?" , but you did not shrink away from the place because it was not as glamorous as moving to Prague. Later, you may learn that it may have been the best decision you have ever made.

Dare to be different. Follow your dreams even if you do not know 'where' they will come true. It is still better than blindly following another person's itinerary.


FFF- flip-flop foreigners

I have been struggling to coin a term for this group of people and it is not about tourists in flip-flops. By triple f’s I mean people who are caught in between cultures. In the nation of Flops they are Flips and in the nations of Flips they are Flops. How so?

Take second generation immigrants in some country such as say, Japanese in Brazil. People would call them Japanese there but if they went to Japan, the Japanese would call them ‘Brazilians’. So they are Japanese in the land of thier birth and Brazilians in the land of thier ancestors . Hyphenated Americans or, especially, naturalized Americans also face a similar classification: George Soros and Arnold Schwarzenegger are often referred to as the ‘Hungarian guy’ and ‘the Austrian immigrant’, respectively. However, if they go to thier native lands , they immediately become ‘Americans’ there. So, again in your old country you are an American, but you are not really an American in your new country. Kind of weird. Almost twilight zone-like.

Many people fall into this category. British Indians for one. Malaysian Chinese, too. A British Indian may have heard “Paki go home!” numerous times but he cannot do so. If he went 'home', he would be a Brit there. Plus, he is not even a 'Paki'. But he is an Indian/Pakistani in the land of his birth; at least as far as common people are concerned. Something similar happened to African Indians. They are called Indians in Africa but they become Africans in India. Flip-Flop, Flop-Flip.

Malaysian Chinese are a similar group. As far as the majority of people in go, these are just “Chinese”. However, if these land at the Beijing airport, they immediately become Malaysians. Why? Strange.

Arab-Americans are just Americans in the Middle East and African-Americans are just Americans in Africa.

I think being an FFF sucks! You do not have a real home and a place where you feel really comfortable in. The indigenous people in every culture will always see you as coming from another place no matter where you go.


Different "Yous" in Different countries

As you go from country to country and spend time in them, you will become aware of an interesting phenomenon- you will assume a new role, so to speak in every country you visit and your image and self-image will change. In some countries you will be a low class nobody, in other countries you suddenly become a shining prince, a playboy or a lurid intellectual.

How so? Well, most people see themselves the way society around sees them. For example a man who is 5'7" in the US will always feel short and be aware of that all his life. He may or may not care about that, but he will still be short. A man who is making $27,000 a year is lower middle class in the US. He may again not care but he will still be of that economic status and be aware of it. A man who is average looking in the US may not attract too many women, and again, he may not care whether he does or not. However, his social standing will remain what it is and he will be aware of it.

Once he goes to another country, an amazing thing happens. Say, he goes to the Spanish-speaking countries of the Caribbean. He will immediately cease being short and poor. He will also cease being unpopular with women. In many such countries an average man is only 5'6"-5'7" and much poorer than he is. His looks will also not be average anymore as he will look interesting and exotic to people around him. He will be invited to other people's homes and possibly introduced to women. A previously obscure person is now somewhat of a celebrity in a new land. Therefore, his self-image changes whether he wants it or not. He becomes rich, handsome and of normal height.

If you do a good research on economics, demographics and culture of different countries, you will be able to locate the ones where you will become somewhat of a hero and an object of fascination. Sometimes, it can become annoying, too but if it ever comes to that, the airport is never too far away.

Also, the environment you are in affects you in yet another way- the way you feel about your life and see yourself changes depending on whether you are in some industrial cold city such as Cardiff, Wales or whether you are in the subtropical Rome surrounded by many amazing architectural landmarks, refined and loving art and people sophisticated people dressed in fashionable clothes.

In addition to that, there is a saying that a person who speaks two languages has two distinct souls. I am fluent in several and I must say that it is true. The "me" that speaks Spanish, Russian, Thai or Tagalog is a different " me " that speaks English. Thought processes in languages are different, logic is different and ways of expressing nuances of emotions and shades of meaning are different. Once you master these, you will sort of acquire multiple personalities except that they will not be neurotic ones but natural, healthy and each one assigned to a particular place and time period.

I became even more acutely aware of how amazing the variety of "me" became during my trip to Argentina this past summer. When I appeared on the streets of Buenos Aires, a city decorated by splendid European architects with the most ornate buildings and delicate monuments depicting Greek and Roman heroes everywhere, I myself became kind of ornate and delicate inside. I became like Buenos Aires and its very dignified and classy people. The way people responded to me was also different. They did not see me as short or poor or naive. I was seen kind of like part of the crowd and treated just like anybody else. In addition to that, I spoke Spanish to everybody. I became for all intents and purposes a completely different person, not a variation of "me" but simply a whole other "me".

A flight to South Africa and then Malaysia and then Philippines again kind of created a new "me". And when I left those countries I could not help but feel that the other me stayed behind and continued an independent existence in that place. He still got up, went around the city continued living his life long after I had left the country.

Perhaps, if there are parallel universes, or universes that split up , a new universe was indeed created and an" Argentinean me" stayed there to meet some girl, get married, have kids and live a whole new life there. Maybe without being aware of it, as we choose to either return home or go to yet another country, numerous copies of us stay there, maybe not quite "there" but in some quantum replica of it. Somehow I feel that it is true but I cannot prove it.

I left Thailand in 1996 after having suffered a business setback there. After having lived in Bangkok for several years, I felt like I was part of it and it was part of me. Leaving Thailand was quite painful for me as I felt that I was leaving a whole life there which consisted of me and my Thai environment. Later, in the year 2000 I flew over Bangkok and I could not help it that the Thai me was still somewhere in that city. Perhaps I gave birth to it, created a shell of a personality that continued to live on, and maybe a whole new Thailand was created as well that forked off into some strange universe and now, in that Thailand there was the Thai speaking me, with a Thai wife, a condominium on Silom Road and a great CEO position. But another me was flying over Bangkok into Manila where I was going to become the Philippine variation of me.

A lot of things can be explained away by logical reasoning but I somehow know that even in spite of the fact that the new me has to do with a different environment, I still give birth to strange siblings of me that continue their respective destinies in those countries long after I am gone. When I return there, I may become yet another me while being aware of the fact that the other me is still in that place albeit we will never meet for it would contradict some quantum law.

Living in many countries adds many new facets to one's personality, true. It even creates different varieties of you. However, I still think that on top of that, something strange happens as well and it cannot be easily dismissed as a result of romantic imagination. Song lines such as "Still in Saigon" and "I left my heart in San Francisco" may mean a lot more than we think.

Why Do Some Europeans Call Americans Dumb?

When I was working in Saudi Arabia, a British co-worker once told me:" Let me sing you the national anthem of the country of dummies!" He then proceeded to sing "the Star-Spangled Banner" with the following lyrics: "dum.b dum.b dum.b dum.b dum.b du-uu-mb ". Another British co-worker said that Americans were "the dumbest race of people on the face of the Earth".

I asked him why? He said that he once made a phone call using an ATT&T operator and inquired her if he could place a call to London. She asked him " Where is London? Is that in Europe?" Later he told him that whenever he switched the TV channel to see a rugby or a cricket match, American co-workers would simply leave the room, totally uninterested in the game. In his eyes, these incidents made Americans "dum.b".

America is the largest economy in the world and Americans call themselves the richest country in the world. American leads the world in technology, space exploration in other such areas. So, why is this accusation of being "dum/b"? And if Americans are so du.mb, why is the country so rich?

America is rich, there is no doubt about it. And it owes its riches to many factors. The main factor is probably the culture built on Protestant work ethics and solid North European common sense. People work hard and they work smart. They know how to solve problems. While some may call modern Americans "wastrels", the past generations had been very thrifty. The country was built on free enterprise and for hundreds of years the government had a laissez fair policy towards business. The culture is forward looking with a "can do" attitude. People are enthusiastic and believe that they can achieve their individual dreams through discipline and never giving up. Add to this the fact that education is much more accessible to many more people than how it was in Europe and the fact that the society has a much less rigid class structure and you've got yourself a rich country. And don't forget the fact that the country has lots of natural resources and unlike the European countries there have not been any major invasions for the past 200 years or so.

So, where does this "dum.b" thing come from? I think what is happening here is a classical case of intercultural misunderstanding. It occurs when foreigners visit the US and when Americans go to foreign countries. The people that call Americans d.umb for the most part are Europeans. Latin Americans sometimes call US people uncultured, but not necessarily dum.b. So, what is going on?

There seems to be a difference in education. Europeans believe in being informed about the world outside. Being a well-rounded person is seen as a virtue. In the US, according to Europeans, people are very good at their individual professions and a few of their hobbies. However, studying anything that does not lead to practical results, is seen as a waste of time. That for some reason seems to include Geography and World History. So, as long as a conversation between an American and a foreigner runs along a specific topic such as business or the American's chose field of expertise, everything seems fine. Problems start when a European wants to have a broader discussion on international culture or current world events ( the ones that do not cover America's involvement in some war). Once a discussion like that starts, an American tunes out. He gives his conversation partner a blank look and starts feeling uncomfortable. Some Americans will even say with pride "I don't know anything about ( insert the topic).” You might be talking to a five-year-old for all one cares.

The neglected areas of Geography and any knowledge of the world outside the US- a subject that many Europeans take for granted and learn at an early age which seems to go largely uncovered in the US causes the impression of 'dumbness'. Brits complain that when they were in the US, MIT graduates would ask them questions such as : "Is there a bridge between England and Scotland or do you take a ferry? One Brit was fuming ”Do you know what that American asked me? He asked me ‘So what language do you guys speak in England?’" Australian TV once ran a program where an Aussie went to some American city and stood there with a map, asking people to show on the map where Australia was and no one, allegedly, could do it.

And these are American reactions to people who come from fellow- Anglo-Saxon countries! Things get worse when other countries are involved. Numerous foreign students who go to the US to study complain that most Americans have never even heard of their countries to begin with. One Malaysian girl studying at a college in New York was almost hysterical " No American has even heard of Malaysia". They keep asking me " Where is that?" One Saudi Arabian official once told me this story: He was studying in the US in 1980ies and once he was picnicking with his friends when a man walked up to them and said " F*** you, Iranian!" They promptly left the place but later decided to go back and explain to him that they were not Iranians. Upon approaching the angry man and telling him that they were not Iranians, the question that came their way was " So, what the f**** are you?"." We are Saudis!" to which the man replied " Same f****ing s**t!" In Latin America tales abound of US presidents calling Brazilians "Bolivians" and being surprised that Brazil had Black people. White South Africans are asked " You come from Africa, how come you are white?"

The other thing that aggravates the situation is that, because of geographical and cultural distances involved, even if Americans know about the existence a country, they have a very distorted picture of how life in those countries must be. Questions such as " Do you guys have electricity or TV?" or" Do you guys live in houses and are there cars in your country?" or "Are there big buildings in your country?" are asked of Thais, Nigerians and Singaporeans, people whose countries are quite modern in spite of poverty in some of them. Movies made in the US about Russia or Korea or Africa notoriously portray poor peasants and countryside devoid of any civilization whose people, nevertheless speak English and who all want to go to the US. Since most Americans have not been to those countries, they blindly believe the simplified Hollywood version of the world.

A similar phenomenon occurs in the Philippines, a country that was once a US colony and that adopted an American system of education. Many foreigners visiting the Philippines or who work with Filipinos often say that Filipinos, even those with BA degrees have not heard of many countries unless they are those from which most tourists to the Philippines come and where Filipinos work : USA, Canada, Japan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Italy, etc. Having a worldly discussion with many a Filipino is quite difficult in spite of the fact that they are a well-educated nation.

Hollywood, too , plays a role by putting America in the center of the world with other countries somehow being "run-away provinces" of America, who one day will want to join the Union and become another state of the US. They think that the world speaks English ( because on the screen most people do) and if some people don't ( actually 75% of people do not) then they should and soon will. Even the National Geographic channel covers only the very modern or the very exotic countries leaving a huge number of countries unmentioned. All these factors contribute to the international "uninformed-ness" of an average American and makes him or her appear "d.umb" when a meeting between an American and a person of another culture takes place.

In all fairness, many Americans also see some other nations as "dum.b". For example, the "Polish jokes" seems to be a uniquely American phenomenon. Few people in Europe think that Poles are dum.b. Countries surrounding Poland actually think of them as astute, discreet and highly cultured people. In Russia, for example, a Pole is highly respected as being intelligent and even aristocratic. Possibly, the Polish immigrants to the States were originally poor and appeared "d.umb" to Americans since they did not function well in the American culture in the beginning. French Canadians whose English was often poor and who also acted clumsy when they first arrived as immigrants in the US, were described as "dum.b". But these adjusted to the country, learned the language and the culture and are no longer referred to as such. However, the "du.mb" American image persists, especially in Europe.

Being uninformed about the rest of the world does more harm than earning the title of being "d.umb". People who think that they live in paradise while unaware of the many social and technological improvements that are always taking place in other countries will eventually fall behind in many areas. They will not be able to adopt many exciting innovations that are being introduced around the world all the time. Japan had video- cell phones as early as late nineties and Singapore solved its race problem once and for all by very ingenuous quota systems that seem to benefit rather than harm. Many countries, such as Slovenia ( Where is that?) have small per capita prison populations and have much better programs to rehabilitate prisoners. However, if Americans do not know about them, how will the country improve?

They will not be able to elect good leaders and will support international campaigns of dubious usefulness which drain US resources by diverting money from home to some overseas ventures in which patriotic Americans always die. They will believe myths about how the rest of the world is a God-forsaken place and if they become just like the US, they will be OK.

Such ignorance creates suffering and death and stalls progress at home and abroad. And changing that requires improving the education at home and creating a new generation of highly intelligent, worldly citizens. Such Americans will probably be the world's most perfect human beings.


You Love the Country But Will It Love You?

Some people who are interested in other cultures to the point of wanting to expatriate and go to another country to live, need to keep one thing in mind and ask themselves this question: "Will the country love you the way you love it?" Prejudice against certain groups is very strong in some parts of the world. Find out how you will be perceived in that particular nation or region, and whether you happen to be a member of a group that is not very popular in that country.

For example, an Israeli guy who likes Italian music and culture may not be making a wise choice when he contemplates moving to Italy long term. Prejudice against Jews in Italy is still quite strong. He may run into unpleasant incidents while there, and many people may not like him.

A Canadian guy who has always enjoyed Russian music and is fond of Russian culture and people, is contemplating a long trip to Russia. He is hoping to make new friends and, possibly, even to meet a great Russian woman and have a romance with her. The problem is, he is black. Now may not be a good time for black people to go to Russia. Skinheads are attacking people of color in many parts of the country. Black people have been beaten, stabbed and shot at. While he may love Russia, many people there may not like 'him'.

A Russian guy loves Cuban music. He is contemplating a trip to Cuba and a possible relocation there. He has always been fascinated by the sultry Cuban women, Havana cigars and, in his heart, he may even like Fidel. However, Cuba may not be a good place for a Russian to be. Anti-Russian propaganda is very strong there now. Since Russia became capitalist, many Cuban people feel that they have been betrayed by the Russians. He may feel resentment coming from a lot of people there. Therefore, planning to go to Cuba may not be a good choice for him.

The good news is that there may be a culture similar to the culture we like, but whose members are not nurturing a grudge against someone like us. An Israeli guy may want to go to Uruguay instead. It is a cosmopolitan society with not much prejudice towards the Jews. And the culture is very similar to the Italian culture.

A black Canadian may choose Croatia or even Slovenia- a similar culture to Russia but without much prejudice against blacks or black Canadians.

A Russian may do better if he goes to a place like Brazil or even Venezuela. People in those two countries have similar cultures to Cuba without much prejudice or grudge against the Russians.

So, choose wisely. Do not invest time, money and energy in preparing yourself to love a country that may not love you back. Unrequited love hurts. It hurts even more if it is accompanied by daily frowns, a beating or a gun shot.

If you want to expatriate, I can assure you that there is a country just for you where you will feel at home. So do your homework, research, ask around and you will soon find your true love which also returns your feelings.

Fallacies in Comparing Cultures

We have heard the new politically correct slogan- "There are no inferior cultures, we are just different."

There is also another slogan-" there are good and bad people/things everywhere". As you travel from country to country you become more and more convinced that the above two statements are simplistic at best.

Nations undoubtedly have different cultures but there are definite inferiorities and superiorities inherent in each of them. However, these do not exist in the entire culture, but in different aspects
of it as compared to the same aspects in another culture.

Here is a case in point: Country A has very friendly people, delicious foods and great music. Families are strong, there is very little divorce and children are well- behaved. The country has a great number of wonderful artists and beautiful architecture. However, the streets are dirty, the infrastructure is backward, and the police routinely take bribes, not to mention the fact that they do not do their work properly. Jobs do not pay any good money, and services are also bad.

Country B has cold and unfriendly people, bland food and non-impressive music. Local art is also of inferior quality and could not hold a candle to that of Country A. The divorce rate hovers around 50%. Young people appear tough and disrespectful. Houses look like shoe boxes. However, the streets are clean, the infrastructure is superb, bribery is almost non-existent, and the police is efficient. Salaries are high and services are excellent.

So when comparing cultures we cannot easily say- "Country A is inferior to Country B". However, we can confidently state that, apparently, several aspects of each country do not compare well, and are inferior or superior to each other.

And yes, there are good and bad people everywhere. However let's take a case in point- a Japanese and a South African are talking about each other's homelands. The Japanese says that South Africa is dangerous and there are many criminals there. The South African feels offended and replies:" There are criminals everywhere!" There are criminals in Japan, too".

A Thai is offended when someone mentions that there are many prostitutes in Bangkok. He shouts back "There are prostitutes everywhere!"

I can't count how many times I have heard similar arguments. What is wrong with them? Well, you see, it is true that every human society will have a certain number of good and bad aspects and various social goods and evils. No one denies that, say, both Bangkok and Jedda, Saudi Arabia, will suffer from the scourge of prostitution( in case of Jeddah it would be one or two secret whorehouses), and that both Tokyo and Johannesburg will have criminals. However, they will vary from country to country in their numbers, degree, frequency of occurrence, and intensity. Sure, there must be prostitutes in Saudi Arabia, but what would their numbers be? Ten, fifteen of them? I'd say rather small compared to Bangkok, where houses of ill repute are on the main street of town for everyone to see. Sure, there must be violent criminals in Tokyo, but what is the overall crime, murder or robbery rate per 100,000 of population per year?

So, if you say that South Africa has a much higher crime rate than Japan, or that Thailand has one of the highest rates of prostitution in the world, you will be making a much better statement. It is just that few people like to hear the truth about how screwed-up their countries are.

About the Linguo-Racial Complex again:

It happens when:

1)You have large ethno-cultural groups of people who are socially and politically "pitched" against each other. The example would be the US, especially in large areas where Hispanics feel that they are oppressed by the "Gringo" and they want to preserve the purity of "La Raza".

This would probably never happen in Buenos Aires- people there are all of different backgrounds: British, Polish, German, Russian, Hungarian, etc. All are Argentines and all speak Spanish. There is no "Raza" there, meaning the mythical Mestizo " Jose Rodriguez" who needs to "protect his culture and race" against a mythical blond John Smith- the case of the US. An Argentinian more often than not is a "Jose Smith" himself.

Some Asians ( except tourists and foreign students) after living in the US also develop the LRC. It is funny that after years of living in some Asian country you come to the US and want to speak Japanese or Tagalog to the people and they give you these squeamish looks. Really sad.

2) When you are abroad and places where there are large groups of tourists or military men whom the natives see every day and whose ways and behavior they think they already know and are trained to deal with- Mexican border towns, San Juan, Puerto Rico and the tourist areas in the Philippines, Thailand, and other such places. Cairo? Paris, maybe?

Places that are not like that at all:

1) Smaller towns- not necessarily very small but kind of like second biggest cities which do not get many tourists. One is far less likely to be treated with a Linguo-Racial Complex in Osaka than in Tokyo.

2) Places where all kinds of immigrants come to assimilate- Argentina, as I have mentioned, Brazil, I guess. And of course, the US, Canada ( with the English language) These people are used to seeing immigrants, not tourists. The attitude is- "this is Argentina, you are here now, you had better speak my language".

3) Remote areas where people can speak only one language and they will not answer to you in English simply because they don't know any English- rural Russia and other rural areas in E. Europe. Rural China, I guess? Small town Italy?

4) Places where the person you are speaking to is a foreigner as much as you are a foreigner. LRC does not happen much in Saudi Arabia or Dubai if you talk with Filipinos or any other such people there. I was very happy to be able to speak with Thais in Thai and Filipinos in Tagalog and even Puerto Ricans in Spanish when I was in Saudi. It was great.

It is the same if you travel in ,say, Costa Rica and you meet a German or a Japanese who is also traveling there. More often than not, they will not behave with LRC.

Love thy Conqueror!

As you travel you will visit many countries who had been colonized by one or another colonial power. You will also probably become aware of a strange paradox- usually, if Country A was Colonized by Country B, and Country B was richer and more developed than Country A, many of the natives of Country A will continue loving and admiring it long after the independence; despite the horrors perpetrated by the colonial power on its soil. It does not matter that Country B was dictatorial and oppressive. It does not matter that it had killed and tortured the natives of Country A. Many people there will love and respect the culture of Country B and treat Country B tourists and investors with supreme welcome. On their vacations, they will yearn to go to visit the former overlords' capital city and brag to their family and friends of their travel to that place.

In Latin American countries, anything that is related to Spain is still seen as sophisticated and proper. Never mind that Spain destroyed so much culture of South America and so many natives died from diseases brought there by the Spaniards. They were masters and they were stronger than S. Americans. They were richer, too- through stolen wealth, but hey, it does not matter.

The admiration for anything Spanish is alive and well there. Being fluent in the Spanish language is seen as a sign of being cultured and "high-class". Listening to music from Spain is also seen as something very respectworthy.

In the US, a person with a British accent is seen as someone very intelligent, and one of the main destinations of American tourists is still Britain.

In the Philippines, after all the struggle for independence, the natives proudly display American symbols and wear bright T-shirts with letters "USA" on them. The dream of many a Filipino is still to go the States.

Malaysians also love going to London on holidays and British tourists are received with a big smile
and a warm handshake when they visit Kuala Lumpur. Tunisians and Moroccans look up to France. The dream of many a Ukrainian is to go to Moscow to live. Taiwanese teens go crazy about Japanese music and culture.

However, if the colonizers was poorer than the colonized, the former colonial subjects have nothing but scorn for them. The Balts discriminate against the Russians and do not want them in their countries but may look up to Germany in spite of what the Germans had done there. The Vietnamese have the same scornful attitude towards the former USSR while young people there adore anything American and marriage to an American is a desirable choice of many a Vitenamese woman. Go figure! But then again, who has got more money? The Russians do not cowtow to Ulaan Bataar or dream of visiting the Mongolian capital on their honeymoon. Few dream of emigrating to Lovely Mongolia or studying there. The Mongols were powerful militarily but they were not necessarily richer than the Russians when they put thousands of them to the sword.

I guess it is human nature to kowtow to and respect the strong and the rich, no matter what bad things they have done to you. After the revolutions and the wars of independence pass, the former "oppressees" are back to the business of adulating the former oppressors.

The Linguo-Racial Complex

The Linguo-Racial complex is a phenomenon that I (and many other people, I guess) discovered while learning foreign languages. It refers to how average people associate a language with people's racial characteristics and have confusing reactions to the speaker of the language if he/she does not have the appearance that a "normal" speaker of such language has. Here are some examples:

A White American took years of Spanish and is now fluent in it. He talks Spanish to some Mexican or Cuban immigrants in the US. They make a wry face and answer in broken English. He again speaks Spanish to them. They again answer in English (which is much worse than the white American's Spanish).

A Brit learns Japanese and speaks it very well now. He stops people on the streets of Tokyo and talks to them. They look at him like they have seen E.T. -with eyes wide-open and jaws dropped. Some smile sheepishly and walk on. Some look irritated and say in Japanese- "the language, I do not speak the language". Some answer in bad English, some walk by saying "I do not speak English", some asking him: "Do you speak Japanese?"(And what is he speaking now, Bantu?).

A European gentleman sits in a restaurant in an Arab country. He calls a waiter and asks for "thom"- garlic. The waiter looks shy and makes gestures at the customer- "One moment please, one moment please" and walks away. Thinking that he went to get garlic, the customer patiently awaits his food. Guess what? He brought another waiter who addresses the customer with "May I help you, sir?" "I asked for bloody garlic in Arabic, why are you here asking me again?" "Sorry sir, we did not realize you could speak Arabic". "But I was speaking Arabic to the first waiter!"

The first waiter's mind did not register the fact that in spite of the speaker's European appearance he was, in fact, speaking Arabic.

An American man who spent 15 years in the Philippines is with his girlfriend. He stops a taxi and talks to the driver in Tagalog. The driver ignores him like he does not exist and starts talking to his girlfriend about the taxi fare and all. People with high noses and white skin speak English. People with flat noses and brown skin speak Tagalog. People with high noses and white skin speaking Tagalog are absurd and probably unreal. Let's talk to the girl- her nose is flat and her skin is brown. She is a Tagalog speaker.

Here is another example: an Australian has spent half of his life in Thailand and speaks Thai fluently. He stops at a street stall. The hawkers look at him incredulously as he begins speaking Thai. One of them lights up and starts yelling out to others: "He can talk! He can talk!"

The Lingo-Racial complex can take ugly extremes such as people ignored at restaurants and not served. People not being rented apartments because the landlord is afraid that he cannot communicate with English speakers (who speak his language very well) and friendships and dates being denied because, you see, I can't speak English. "

"But I can speak your language!" A dull and incredulous look and silence are the answer.

In a place that has many tourists and foreigners of a particular "stock" people form a stereotypical reflex about how a person who looks like that should talk and behave.

In places that are excessively provincial and or/nationalistic people cannot even conceive of a person who is clearly of another race being able to speak their language.

In some Latin countries particularly in the Caribbean and Mexico the speakers see Spanish as "their" language and become shocked and even insulted if a person of "another (non-Latin) race" speaks it.

Anglo-Saxon countries such as the US , UK, etc. do not have that complex but the opposite of it- in their cultural view the whole world speaks English and if they don't they should and soon will. So there is no surprise if a Japanese person speaks English- he should.

Argentina, being an immigrant Spanish speaking society will have a similar attitude and will lack the Complex. So, I guess, would Brazil.

Good news? Well, not everyone has the complex. There are many people who are happy to see that you speak the language and many people who will not even be surprised that you do. Many will treat you as an equal especially after they got to know you. However, when one studies languages of nations where the majority of people do not look like you, one has to get ready to face the awkwardness of it.

It's all in the expat's day's work. What's to do?

Double and Triple Expats

There is new and growing group of people whom I will call Double Expats. These are people who are from country A, who immigrated and became naturalized in country B and now are living and working in country C. There are also triple expats, those who after working in country C have decided to retire and live in country D.

An example- a Lebanese engineering student who emigrates to Canada, receives Canadian citizenship and dgrees and goes to work in Kuwait as a Canadian engineer. After he makes oodles of money in Kuwait, instead of retiring in Canada or Lebanon, he goes to Indonesia, marries a local beauty, buys a house and stays in Indonesia forever.

There is also a growing group of people who when faced with the simple question of "Where are you from?" or "What is your nationality?" in casual conversation feel confused, put on the spot and don't know what to answer.

Take one friend of mine- He is half French and half Italian but he grew up in Hong Kong. Basically he is almost Chinese in thinking and in manners. He then left for the Philippines and settled there. What will he say to people when he travels to another country?

Such people were not so common in the past when international travel was lengthy and expensive and working overseas involved only one country at the most. Nowadays, however, they are growing in numbers and we will be seeing them more and more often in the future.

***If you have a long layover at Dubai airport and are tired of shopping, reading and do not want to spend your money on expensive lounges, kickback and play a solitary game called "Ey Jinsiya". "Ey Jinsiya" in Arabic means: "What Nationality?" People from all over the world fly through or out of Dubai. Just sit down and try and guess what they are.
Can you tell Filipinos from Indonesians?

Filipinos have a certain European skin color because of the Spanish mixture which the Indonesians do not have- they look "purely native". Filipinos also try and "look American"- many wear jeans and T-shirts that say "USA", or "USA sports." They have big round eyes and are relaxed in the way they walk. They like to make eye contact with other people and observe what is happening around them. Indonesians walk in a tense manner and with more determination, so to speak. They are not interested too much in what the other people at the airport are doing.

Can you tell Americans from Brits? Brits are usually skinnier and have sharper features. They all dress in solid colors usually denim and black and do not look around much or try to have an eye contact with anybody. Americans also dress in subdued colors but are generally fatter. They turn their heads more and make eye contact with others more than the Brits. Can you tell Canadians from Americans without listening to their accents? Can you tell the Irish from the Brits? If you can't, keep trying, soon you will pick up on that certain something that will make you say- "Oh, a Canadian!", "Oh, an Irishman!"

Can you tell a Pakistani from an Indian or a Bangladeshi? Pakistanis are mixed with Iranians- their skin is whiter and they are taller than Indians. If you cross an Indian with a Persian, you get a Pakistani. They also wear these long shirts that go down below their knees. Indians are darker for the most part and they all walk like Gandhi. The look on their faces is strong. Many wear glasses. Most look like traveling businessmen. They are officious in their demeanor whereas Pakistanis look much more humble and less formal. Bangladeshis are very short and have round faces.

Can you pick out Sri Lankans? They are very dark for the most part and short with a certain "Sri Lankan face". I can't even begin to describe it. Sort of Indian but not quite.

Can you tell different Arabs from each other? Actually it is not that hard. Gulf Arabs may be harder to distinguish if by facial features- to an unpracticed eye, at least- but you can tell them by their dress and mannerism. Emiratis wear white headdress and they look very polite in the way they move. Kuwaitis dress the same way but have different expressions on their faces- either they look crazed from a night of wild partying and have that devil- may-care mien of an unruly teenager, or they look arrogant, like they own the Gulf (and the world for that manner). Saudis and Qataris are very hard to tell apart as they both wear red headdresses but Saudis seem to look like they are poorer- they walk like peasants lumbering along in a somewhat insecure manner. Qataris appear to have more class and move with a certain spring in their step that is uniquely Qatari.

Egyptians stand out by their aggressive walk and their oily skin, a special way their hair curls and the Arab/Nubian/ Pharaonic racial characteristics.

Can you tell an Ethiopian from a Sudanese? The Sudanese look like dark Semites but Ethiopians look like Africans but they have thin European features. Many have big teeth.

Anyway, "Ey Jinsiya" is a great game that you can play solo or with a friend. The problem is checking your guesses for correctness. Short of running after these people and asking to see their passport, there is really no way to do it. You may follow them to the departure gates and hope you will get a peek of the passport. But then you can get a punch in the eye.

Distance Decay and Ethno-Cultural Differentiation

The farther away a group of people is from you geographically or culturally, the more they fuse into a blurred whole, sometimes even becoming a completely new category.

To illustrate: A Brit can tell different accents of English in his homeland. However, he often cannot tell different American accents. To him they all sound just "American". Same with Americans- they oftentimes cannot distinguish different accents of the UK- they all just sound British, but they can easily tell a New Yorker from a Bostonian.

To a non-traveling Westerner, all East Asians will look the same while he could probably distinguish a Scandinavian fron a Southern Italian or a Greek. In East Asia, people will easily distinguish a Korean from a Chinese or a Japanese, but to them, a Greek and a Scandinavian will look roughly the same. They will all be just "Westerners".

The same with the average Westerner's view of Africans, Arabs or South Asians- people from E. Africa and W. Africa, Jordan and Egypt and Indian, Sri Lanka and Pakistan will look roughly the same.

However, they themselves immediately know who is who but they cannot tell Westerners apart.

Interesting, isn't it?



While you were growing up, you must have watched many movies about racism in the US. If you have not been out of the US, you may think that America and, maybe, South Africa before the end of apartheid, are the most racist countries in the world. One has to be a bit careful in making such conclusions. For one, if you have not been to every country in the world nor have done extensive sociological research involving statistics on incidents of xenophobia and general societal attitudes, you simply cannot think of America being the most racist.

America undoubtedly has a big problem with racial discrimination. However, the new politically correct generation has reduced overt racism and made life for minorities much better than before. People are taught that it is impolite to use racial slur as well as that you can get sued or lose your job if you do so publicly. They are taught by the new educational system that it is bad to be racist. If you call someone a racist or a bigot, it is an accusation.

Nevertheless, racism is still strong in America and inter-racial mixing is not as natural as it could be. Many people live in ethnic neighborhoods and many prefer dating people of their won ethnic groups. Dating across ethnic/racial boundaries is still somewhat of a big deal as people are still very racially aware.

In many other societies, particularly non-Western ones, racism can be much worse and local governments themselves may do very little to stop it. There will be no way for a person who is different racially to obtain legal help or even sympathy if he runs into rejection or persecution for wanting to date someone who is of a different ethnic stock.

One of the most racially exclusive societies can be Japan and Korea. While we are well aware of the White on Asian racism in the West, in the East, Asian on White racism, or Asian on Black or even Asian on Asian racism can be just as bad if not worse. Examples of this can be signs in Japan and Korea on bars and real estate agencies stating " No Foreigners" or " No Americans". There have been cases in some Asian countries most notably Vietnam and Korea of mixed couples spat upon and stones thrown at.

There are also societies, which are much less racist than the US. Such countries would be the Philippines or Brazil, Panama, Venezuela and many other Spanish colonies.
There, racism, even though not completely absent, is less of a problem and social mixing is much easier. People are not as aware of their racial "tags". Few are constantly reminded of their race.

If you decide to date interracially, the best thing to do would be to find out where it would be less of a deal and go to such places. A white man who likes black women should go to Brazil and a white man who likes Asian women and who wants to be able to date them more or less freely, should head for the Philippines.

If you wish to try other, less tolerant places, then you have to prepare yourself for the racial attitudes in the society where you are going. If you are thick-skinned enough not to care about what other people say and how they look at you and your girlfriend/wife, then you are ahead of the game. If not, go to places where populations have a greater history of tolerance and greater degree of interracial mixing.

If you are going to a place where people are of the same race as you, such as a white American heading for the Czech republic, then, you will, of course, have very little to worry about.


We only seem to be as free
As our bank accounts let us be,
And the degrees of freedom fluctuate
With ups and downs of your savings rate.

A lot of money gives you elbow space
To better move within the ol' rat race,
And even out of it you thus can move,
While other live and perish in its groove.

The money is a fifth dimension
To help you move within the other four.
May you be bless't to have a big, fat pension
To give you freedom now, and evermore.

***As an American you have probably learned while growing up that an American can be of any race. There are Black Americans, White Americans, Japanese Americans, Mexican Americans, etc. Anybody can be an American. a nation of nations, melting pot, etc.

This is not how most countries around the world see " Americans". Outside of maybe, England or Canada, etc., where people are in touch with the US culture daily, most people think and believe fully that the word " American" denotes a "race".

An "American" is a blond, blue-eyed , very light skinned, tall human being with a name such as John Smith or Steve Johnson. Everybody else is not an American. Or at least not a "true" American.

When various non-Anglo Saxon Americans visit various countries, they are asked :" What is your nationality?" "I am an American". "But you do not look like an American". "What is an American supposed to look like?"
"Tall, blond, Anglo- Saxon." John Smith.

Isn't it ridiculous?

Mexican Americans wanting to teach in Japan or Korea get turned down for jobs- "these are not Americans". Many people think that Blacks are not Americans but, conversely children of Irish Americans are. Close enough to the English. This is ridiculous to you but billions of people around the world still uphold this view.

The reason is the movies. And the fact that the president is almost always a WASP. And you know what else? Foreign investors in US movies are also the reason. When Taiwanese or Japanese invest in a film in the US they often want "American" actors to play main roles. That is why Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt are chosen for such roles.

There are such words that one hears abroad as a "pure American" or he is " half- Black and half-American", as if "Black" were not American.

For most people in the world an American is just an Englishman who was born and raised in the US.

Live long and you'll see a lot.

For an expat citizen of the world, life in 200 + countries of the world can be likened to watching TV with 200 channels. Each channel has an independent program that is running according to its own rhythm, has news and movies and music and commentaries. If you get bored with one, you can always change channels. If one channel is too violent for you or too annoying, or does not suit your mood, there is always a channel where you would feel more in tune with.

Here is my blank verse about them:

Two Hundred Channel Islands.
Two hundred countries of the Earth,
Like twenty tens of channels
Of some heavenly TV station.
Each channel unrolling its own program,
Its revolutions, heroes;
Staring proudly
From the screen, eyes looking dignifiedly
On his or her people.
And on me, the stranger, with
Half-suspicion, half-welcome.
Sometimes erring, sometimes smiling
All wanting to be great.
Two hundred islands
Caught in their triumphs and tragedies,
Doldrums, recessions,
Complexes and inconsistencies,
Now puffing up their chests,
Now cringing in obsequouisness
Before a bigger channel.
Change your channel and you are
In a whole different world,
Developing of its own
Centering upon itself,
Thinking itself the very core of
The Universe
From which other countries
Spring out as additions to it.
Such is the way people view themselves
In their tribal self-centeredness.