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Monday, April 10, 2017

Hierarchies in Foreign Communities

When I was still drinking like a fish and smoking like a chimney, I played this little game with myself.  I'd look around me and found people who drank a lot more than I did and I said to myself: "See? I'm not so bad.  That guy (or gal) over there is a real alcoholic. Me?  I'm just a professional lady who wears a suit, makeup, and high heels to work who has this little drinking problem which she is completely in control of, thank you very much."

Today, I laugh myself sick when I remember that.  Looking beyond the denial was this hierarchy I invented where those who didn't drink much were at the bottom (zero fun) and those who had been outed as alcoholics (too much fun).  I put myself in the happy middle of this hierarchy where I could sneer at the people above and below me.  Not only was that not nice but the joke (eventually) was on me.

The search for status and the creation of hierarchies are not just confined to the alcoholics like me.  We all seem to be in this constant state of positioning ourselves relative to others.   Sometimes we do it in a very sly fashion:  we talk about ourselves and imply that we are superior to another group without actually coming out and saying it because that would be so ill-bred of us.

Hierarchies are everywhere.  Humans invent them, maintain them and position themselves within them.  I take great pleasure in reading people who expose all this, and I greatly admire those who do so with a sense of humor.

For this reason I greatly enjoyed The Helpful Guide to Who Looks Down on Whom in the Japan Foreign Community.  It's not only funny but you could do the same thing with migrant/expatriate communities everywhere.  Hell, I don't think it would take more than an hour for me and some friends to do the same for the foreign community in France.  And the funniest part of all this is that we rarely position ourselves relative to the majority - the native-born citizens of the country in which we live.  I think many of us would rather not know where we are in that one lest our delusions of love, appreciation and privilege be smashed forever.

Enjoy the read.  I'm off this morning to see the last of cherry blossoms.


Ellen Lebelle said...

That's quite a flow-chart. Where are you on it? I had trouble determining if the expat spouse was only the spouse of a Japanese, or if it included the spouse of an expat?

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Ellen, Pretty amazing, isn't it? A bit tongue-in-cheek (a sharp tongue). Expat spouse would be the wife of an expat (assigned expatriate, I think, who was sent here by a company). We are also known as "trailing spouses." According to this we are looked down upon by the spouses of Japanese nationals. Also according to this chart wives of Japanese nationals look down on husbands of Japanese nationals. I thought that was odd so I asked a woman I know (her husband is Japanese) if that was correct and she thought about it for a moment and said, "yes." Who knew? :-)