Thursday, November 10, 2005

Expat Notes

To rent or to buy?

The rule of thumb seems to be this- unless you are seriously rich, if you are in a Third World country- rent, and if you are in a First World country- buy.
Renting can be very cheap in some Third World countries. Apartments that rent for $60-70 a month are common. Motorcycles can be rented for $ 2-3 a day in some places, too. The property does not 'control' you- all the repairs are the duty of the landlord. If you do not like it, it is much easier to relocate than if you had a your own place that you would now have to rent out. What about the fact that you are " throwing your money away"? you may ask. I do not see it that way. By renting in all these unstable countries with unstable polotics and currencies I invest in something called "peace of mind".

In many Third World countries, foreigners have no right to own property, except condominiums. Even if you buy a condo, the local money can be devalued. There have been people who purchased expensive condominiums in Bangkok and when the Baht went belly up, they lost fortunes. Those who were renting, did not. Plus, there is another thing- these countries can be quite xenophobic; if some nationalist leader comes to power one day and decides to appropriate all foreign-owned property, you may be in trouble. You can also rub someone the wrong way, completely by accident, and (s)he can bribe, or simply tell some immigration or police officials to have you thrown out of the country. And they can do that. You are not a citizen. There may be an extortion attempt against you or someone may not like you because of your skin color, accent or race/nationality/religion and start harassing you. You will then wish you had the mobility that renting a place provides. Also, some locals can feel jealous about a "bloody foreigner" coming to their country and buying up their land. Few people, though, would be jealous of a renter and such a person will be much more welcome.

So, if you get in any kind of a bind where some people are seriously against you and the law is not on your side, as is often the case in such countries, you can quicly move to another apartment or leave the city or even country altogether. So, unless you are a person who is very well-connected and wealthy, or someone who is seriously contemplating becoming a citizen of that country, you are better off renting.

The locals may not understand your stubborn decision to rent and will try to convince you to buy a place. Since they are citizens of that country and you are not, they may not be able to relate to your particular legal/civil status, the delicate complications that it provides and how it motivates you to be a tenant rather than an owner. Ignore them. Just rent! In many cases,it is better even not to buy furniture but to rent furnished apartments as that makes emergency exits much easier.

In some cases, you may however wish to buy something in your spouse's name if it is very cheap. In the Philippines or in Indonesia some locals can build a house for you for $2000-8000. And it will often be a decent house, too. If you have a steady girlfriend or wife and contemplate living with her, this may be worthwhile as it will pay for itself over say, 2-10 years. However, do not go to a Second/ Third World country and plop down $100,000-200,000 of your life savings to buy a place for your new sweetheart. That is a sure road to disaster. Tales of people who went to Russia or Thailand with such money and lost it to unscrupulous, and sometimes, locally-married girlfriends, or dishonest sellers, have become oft-heard stories in expat bars all over the globe.

The best thing is to buy property in stable places such as the EU or the US or even Malaysia, and get a tenant to pay off your loan while you yourself are renting cheap places in tropical Third World paradises or buying a $2000 house for your Filipina sweetheart.

Finding Countries of "Requited" love.

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.
Comments (0) | Edit Entry | Remove Entry
Linguo Racial Complex -additional comments
Sunday, October 30, 2005 (23:15:59)
The LRC ( Linguo-Racial Complex) you speak to people in their language and they answer to you in English because you look different 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".

That 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 brown " Jose Rodriguez" who needs to "protect his culture and race" against a mythical blond John Smith- the case of the US, again. 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.
The Fallacies when Comparing Countries .

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 statemnts 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 inferiour 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 prostutues in Bangkok. He shouts back "There are prostitutes everwhere!"

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 Riyadh will suffer from the scourge of prostitution, and that both Tokyo and Johannesburg will have criminals. However, they will vary from country to country in their numbers, degree, frequency of occurence, and intensity. Sure, there must be prostitutes in Saudi Arabia, but what would their numbers be? 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 volent 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.

Love thy Former 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 deseases 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 againts the Russians and do not want them in their countries but may look up to Germany inspite 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 ofthem to the sword. But many Russians adore America. While it did not conquer Russia physically, it won the Cold War. As a consequence you can now go and see all these gorgeous Russian women marrying many fat, bald and totally unattractive American men and going to live in the States with them.

I guess, it is human nature to cowtow and respect the strong and the rich, and those who beat you in battle, no matter what bad things they have done to you. So, after the revolutions and the wars, and the struggles for independence pass, the former "oppressees" are back to the business of adulating those who conquered them.

No comments: