May 6, 2010

The Curse of Illusory Respect

In quite a few poorer countries around the world, a white-skinned foreigner is an object of automatic admiration. He is presumed to be extremely cultured, sophisticated and fantastically wealthy. Aren’t all white people born with $1,000,000,000 in their trust accounts? Aren’t all white people movie moguls living in sunny Hollywood? Isn’t it true that only poor people of color are doing work in the great countries of white people?

Some tourists and expats enjoy the attention that such ignorant natives bestow upon them. They are now honored and exalted without having to work hard for decades- they are now high status people without even trying- only by virtue of their skin color; and through the illusory perceptions that the natives have of the Western world, which, accidentally, to them, includes Macedonia, Russia and Bulgaria- heck, aren’t they all part of America? And aren’t people there as rich as heavenly gods?

Yup, that’s what they think. However, such respect that is based on incredible ignorance and lack of understanding about the world is fraught with embarrassing moments, mostly for you, that is. You will be overcharged for many things and services that the locals pay very small prices for.” Aren’t you a millionaire? Why are you being so mean? Come’ on, pay up!” The fact that you can be budgeting your expenses in a foreign land where you often do not even have the right to work will never be understood by many of the local people.

You will be approached with outrageous offers and expectations. “Hey, would you like to buy my Internet CafĂ©? It’s only $50,000”. “I don’t have that kind of money! “ Come’ on, I don’t believe you!” “Why don’t you buy a condo? It’s only $100,000.” “Where on earth will I get $100,000? “You mean you don’t have it? What kind of American are you? All Americans are multi-millionaires.” “I am not an American, I am a New Zealander”. “You mean New Zealand is not part of America? And you mean you are not rich? How preposterous! You must be joking!”

“You are courting my daughter now. Hey, we would like for you to take our whole family of ten, and the daughter, as well, to a luxury resort. Buy the airplane tickets for all of us, too. You are the one courting, right? And you are an American. So, what’s the problem? The whole thing will only cost you some $10,000. Why is that a lot of money for you? You Americans are loaded with trillions of dollars”.

You will soon realize that you are in a very awkward situation: you now have the rich man’s problem- you don’t know who your friends are and why people want to be your friend. You are constantly approached by smiling people and given looks of admiration that you really do not deserve. However, the nasty truth is, you are ‘not’ rich; only perceived to be rich. You cannot hobnob with the rich because you are not one of them and you cannot hobnob with the poorer and middle class people because they think you are rich and are constantly trying to rip you off.

And guess what? Once any of those poorer-to-middle class people see that you, in fact, do not have the trillion dollars in the bank, they lose all respect for you and start giving you scornful looks. “Hey, what happened to you?” How did you end up in such miserable poverty? I thought all Americans were rich and I had great plans for our friendship. And now you can’t even invest a lousy $150,000 in my business? “What on earth is wrong with you? You are not a real American but some kind of weirdo impostor and a bum!”

Such illusory respect will sooner or later simply vanish and you will be left without any friends, rich or poor.

So, what is the solution? I don’t know. I have not come up with any except keeping a bit of a distance and remaining as mysterious as possible to the local people without getting involved in any kind of meaningful friendship unless the people are extremely well traveled and a bit educated, in other words, unless they are , too, somewhat like me. Otherwise, if you get too involved with the ignorant locals and get wrapped up in all this false respect, you are bound to get hurt sooner or later when their perception of you gets burst like the delusional bubble that it was.



KK said...

This seems to fly in the face of your earlier "Living like a millionaire" blog, Ladislav...but it does make sense.

WuMaster said...

Well often in life, one lives in paradoxes between opposing forces. In the US for example, the culture says that confidence is a good thing. But the conditioning system there conditions you to feel inadequate and insecure as well, in order to make you strive for material things to help the economy. Go figure.

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ipanema said...

i read with amusement the truth that you present in all scenarios.

the last one of the 'perceived rich American' is very common in my country. i can see it in my town where almost ignorant females - from young girls to married women - are lining up the internet cafe all chatting to most foreigners with preference to Americans. they want to live the American dream. they want the short cut. the easiest is marry them - most are retirees.

there are a few i met around town sometimes having that blank look if one cannot get money from their credit card. and the lady in tow isn't happy at all.

what with the expectations the family has on the American boyfriend/husband.

most of these ladies -even those with education - are poor.

the internet has become their source of income...their step to the ultimate American dream.

i pity these women who think this way. and i pity the foreigner who 'married' the whole family.