Do you Hate being called Foreigner or Expat?

The word ‘Foreigner’ reminds of the the band of the same name and since I’ve never lived in a country apart from this Tiny Island I didn’t realize how bad the word made people feel. Please tell me how you feel about this words and what you would prefer to be called.

Blogger at ‘Yago’ actually prefers the term ‘angmoh’ which I always felt to be derogatory. The post is a real eye-opener and I just felt compelled to reblog it. My french relative also prefers to be called angmoh rather than expat….maybe she finds it more inclusive. Even her husband calls her that affectionately and teasingly, which I used to chide him for. Another Asian friend refers to her hubby as white. Is that the correct term?

If I were to live in your country, what would I be referred to as?

Why I hate the word "foreign" I never like it when I hear people use the word 'foreign' or 'foreigner' (or buitenlander, Auslander, 外国人 – take your pick). It puts a distance between the speaker and the person he is referring to. We are all foreigners. Even to the world's largest group of nationals, the Chin … Read More

via Learn Languages :: Yago

This post makes me think about something else. As a child of about 4, I always wondered why I needed a passport to travel across the border to Malaysia. That was my first experience with geographical boundaries and my hazy realization that the world did not belong to us all. I always felt that the world should belong to all humans and be without borders. That way there would be more equitable distribution of land, but I guess that is complicated in a world full of politicians and power hungry people, starting with royalty in the olden days, who loved building empires and seeing their individual power grow.

About bookjunkie

Blogging about my daily life in Singapore helps with my mid life crisis.
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16 Responses to Do you Hate being called Foreigner or Expat?

  1. Kirsten says:

    When I was living in New Zealand I didn’t really HATE being called “foreigner” but at the same time I would much rather people didn’t call me that. I think it’s just because the term “foreigner” isn’t very descriptive or helpful at all – all it says is that you don’t belong. The only purpose of that term is to separate you from everyone else, which isn’t a very nice feeling.

    At least when they called me an “international student” or just said I was Singaporean it was somewhat descriptive and accurate to what I was. But “foreigner” is kind of just like “you’re not one of us, why ARE you here?”

    • bookjunkie says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s good to hear everyone’s perspective on this. I guess because I have never been called that term, I didn’t know how that would make someone feel. It’s also used quite a lot in the mainstream media and I guess it makes people feel alienated.

  2. Guus says:

    Come to think of it, the term ‘expat’ sounds even worse to me than ‘foreigner’. It connotes being sent here by your company for a limited period. Most expats didn’t choose to live here and many have little knowledge of interaction with Singapore outside of the expat bubble. I’m a Dutch guy who happens to have settled in Singapore. Not a random foreigner nor an expat who already knows the end date of his assignment.
    Then again, if I were really an expat, I don’t think i’d mind to be called that.

    • bookjunkie says:

      Hi Guus….nice to see you here. Yes, I quite agree. If you’ve settled in Singapore then it’s definitely a big commitment and complement to the country. I never really gave this issue much thought before, but now I will pay closer attention to it.

      I am eager to see what my fellow bloggers who have come to Singapore on short term work stints feel about this.

  3. notabilia says:

    I prefer that people here call me ‘notabilia’, i.e. my name, and see me as a real person, not as an “expat” or worse, “foreign talent.” (And many “expats” do have contacts outside the “expat bubble,”, yours truly included.)

    • bookjunkie says:

      Thanks a million for sharing your views and adding to the discussion. It’s quite an education for me and anyone else who drops by. Words definitely have strong connotations and I must try to be more careful when I use them.

  4. notabilia says:

    And to answer your question, if you lived in my country (at least parts of my country), you would be referred to as “Singaporean.”

    • bookjunkie says:

      wow that’s nice to know 🙂 What if the nationality was not known?

      • notabilia says:

        Asian? Expat is rarely used in the USA. Foreigner, occasionally. Not so much in the multicultural, New York City circles in which I roam.

        In the US, I am identified by a number of things: my geography (New Yorker of Northeasterner), my cultural background (Indian American or South Asian American), etc. It’s very, very, very complicated ;).

      • bookjunkie says:

        cool…that’s interesting. I have heard about Americans being called Northeasterners (one of the nice bosses at an office I worked at) and have been told they have a different accent. I kinda like the accent a lot. In Singapore we sometimes get identified by race too…like Chinese, Indian, Malay….and within those groups if you drill down further into smaller ethnic groupings…Cantonese, Javanese, Punjabi etc.

  5. LL says:

    I’d probably also call you Singaporean. But if I didn’t know your nationality, I would ask where you were from and just go from there. Most people answer with what they are comfortable being called (My parents are Filipino nationals, but ethnic Chinese: I just say Chinese). Well, for me anyway, I think that is the polite way to do it.

    For your relative’s hubby, I’d also probably call him white. if I’m meeting him for the first time I’d probably say Caucasian just to avoid possible offense. But in either scenario, no offense is implied. It really does depend on the person. White is more commonly used now where I’m from. There are just a select few that don’t like it – kind of like my friend’s mother who kept calling me “oriental.” I didn’t really mind. It was just a bit odd since the common term is “asian.” When I told my fellow Asian friends they took great offense, “Oriental is what you use to describe objects, not people!”

    I didn’t even know what expats were until a year ago. And I have never heard of angmoh. I am stuck in my own personal bubble, I guess =)

    Great post!

    • bookjunkie says:

      Thanks…..I guess I would prefer Asian as a collective term rather than Oriental. We don’t hear that term at all in Singapore (it seems outdated). I am quite happy to be called Asian 🙂

      • LL says:

        She is a bit older, 60 right now. She’s been saying “oriental” since I was in preschool. So that’s why I didn’t take any offense like my Asian friends. It’s funny because she always likes “orientals” and kept saying that I was her favorite of her daughter’s friends (I was the only asian friend she had). It was a bit obsessive, and she still says that to me to this day. I guess no one’s had the heart to correct her.

      • bookjunkie says:

        I guess we always look at intention. I wouldn’t be offended in this case 🙂 She sounds nice.

  6. Crystal says:

    I like Expat, but partially that *is* because of the connotation that it’s temporary. Much as I’m (mostly) enjoying my time in Singapore, it *is* a temporary thing for us, and I can’t imagine not going back to the States within the next 5-7 years. I know there are some negative connotations as well, but as an Expat who does eats Western food 90% or more of the time, goes to American movies, and who wants to follow American rules regarding diabetic pregnancy…I don’t know that I’ve earned the right to complain about them. But I also don’t feel guilty about any of that; rather it’s the right choice for me and my family.

    I also use “American.” It’s about as accurate as you can get. While yes, I’m white, and yes I’m of British and Irish heritage, my family has been in the US for many generations and we’re fully assimilated with no relatives that we’re in touch with or relation to either England or Ireland (other than my fondness for Irish dance and my extreme Anglophilia). If people know about the US, I identify as a Bostonian (or a liberal Bostonian) and for those in the know, that tells them what my political and personal feelings are on a number of topics (that I’m gay friendly, pro-choice, and a number of other positions). My husband is Indian-American, but he has no relationship to his Indian heritage (and loathes India, for the record) so “American” or “Bostonian” is what he generally identifies as, but doesn’t mind expat or foreigner either.

    In the US (at least in my circle of friends) you’d just be Singaporean. We have other foreign-born/citizen friends. You never really hear the term “expat” in the US, although I suppose it’s not an innaccurate term (or at least I haven’t).

    What’s interesting is that I read a statistic that said only about 25% of Americans have a passport. Our country is so large, and until very recently you could enter Canada and Mexico on your state issued driver’s license, so most people don’t need them. Personally, I got my passport and rode my first airplane for the same trip–when I studied abroad in France the summer of 2000. I didn’t use it again until my honeymoon in 2006 because I couldn’t afford international travel (not because I didn’t want to use it).

    • bookjunkie says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience and perspective. I am sure many readers will find it very interesting and be able to relate, as I have.

      I have been reading Naipaul and in his books he seems to have a not so positive relationship with his country of ancestral origin too. I find his brutal honesty refreshing.

      Wow, I never knew that only 25% of Americans have passports. It’s Singaporean it’s made so mandatory. I guess if I lived in the US, there would already be so many travel options within the country that I would spend years just trying to see all of America.

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