Weirdos and foreigners

Maybe this is old advice, or so obvious that everyone figures it out. But handy tip for if you are strange, and you want others to not think you are strange: hang out with foreigners.

To foreigners, everyone from your culture is strange. It could easily take them years to realize that some of your peculiarities are actually your peculiarities, not quaint oddities of your backward culture.

They don’t need to be actually foreign in the national sense for this, but they do need to be at least fairly unfamiliar with your culture. People from a distant generation or social set should also work.

I have tried out this advice a bit when house-sharing. Usually I find sharing houses somewhat uncomfortable. One reason is that I have fairly obsessive-compulsive kitchen-use tendencies. When I first moved to Pittsburgh I lived with two of my Chinese colleagues. Amongst the mutually alien methods of cooking, and alien foods, and alien eating arrangements, and alien hygiene protocols in general, who bats an eyelid if you happen to wash things a couple of times more than the usual American? This made things more comfortable, modulo the fact that some foreign cooking habits don’t mix well with OCD.

Of course, the foreigners you hang out with are unusually likely to be following the same strategy. If you rudely want to avoid hanging out with strange foreigners while gaining the benefits of hiding your own strangeness, you should hang out with more foreigners. That way you can compare foreigners against one another and distinguish individual strangeness from cultural strangeness. Relatedly, you should avoid hanging out with more locals at the same time.

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  • VV

    1) What makes you think that your Chinese housemates didn’t realize your wierdness?

    2) Why do you post stuff like that?

    • Why do you post stuff like that?

      Maybe it’s obsessive-compulsive.

      Too bad readers can only vote down comments, not main posts. Seems “unfair.”

    • Sigivald

      1) What basis would they have for comparison such that they could make the judgment? Unless they were so non-foreign foreigners that they’d had long experience of Western housemates…

      2) Because she thinks it might be interesting or productive of interesting responses?

  • Zib

    Everyone will eventually find each other strange in one context or another. What’s important is finding acceptance of oneself for being unconventional, and finding friends and family that are also accepting of that strangeness.

  • suggest

    the easiest way to not have others think you’re strange is to hangout with local others who deviate from local norms in the same ways you do. foreigners with customs and expectations that differ from yours are certain to find you strange, just not in ways you’ve been acculturated to notice or worry about.

    ”not seeming strange.. for a foreigner (haha — they can’t even distinguish my strangeness!)” is a hollow victory, even as hollow victories go. maybe that’s why reading your post makes me uneasy: it’s very unusual to worry about not seeming like an oddball if you’re not also concerned with, say, ”making friends”, and you make no mention of such a desire. it’s very off-putting.

  • I live with a bunch of Indians (who primarily interact with other Indians), and they still realized very quickly that I am weird for an American.

  • Jonas

    In many segments of US culture, hanging out with a lot of foreigners is itself strange. So not really a strange to avoid being thought strange by others.

    More a strategy of fooling yourself into thinking you’re not strange. Which is valuable in its own way.

    • Jake Taubner

      Do you mind me asking what part of the US you are from or referring to? I was raised in a very diverse neighborhood and never thought that to be strange.

  • Nikki

    Unless you assume that foreigners’ observation skills are substantially inferior to yours, this strategy calls for a community made up of numerous but uniform foreigners and a handful of diverse locals. Which seems like a rather exotic community.

  • Trimegistus

    I find myself wondering:

    Why is it so important to you to be “weird” and why do you work so hard finding ways to affirm and validate your “weirdness?”

    • wallaceforman


      • Trimegistus


  • lemmycaution

    The end of Barcelona:


    You see, that’s one of the great things about getting involved with someone from a foreign country. You can’t take it personally. What’s really terrific is that when we act in ways which might objectively seem asshole-ish, or incredibly annoying, they don’t get upset at all. They don’t take it personally. They just assume it’s some national characteristic.


    Cosa de gringos.







  • Army1987

    Not sure about that. I’m under the impression that when I was in Ireland, most people didn’t attribute much of my weirdness to my being Italian.

  • Also, foreigners are much less likely to have mastered the subtle cues with which locals convey that one of their number is strange, without the social costs of saying so directly. If your foreigners share a culture, however, you’re also likely to miss some of their equivalents of the L-handshape on the forehead whilst in your presence.

  • Sigivald

    But handy tip for if you are strange, and you want others to not think you are strange: hang out with foreigners.

    I am kinda strange in various ways.

    But I don’t see why I’d want others to not think that, especially so much that I’d deliberately seek out people who are (necessarily) strange-to-me, just to avoid that.

    It’s neither something to be Made Into Core Identity nor something to be shunned and hidden.

    It just is.

    • wallaceforman

      This is wonderful far-mode idealism, but in near mode most people most of the time don’t want to seem weird.

  • Robert Koslover

    Wait a minute. If you don’t want people to think you are strange, why would you announce to everyone who sees this blog that you identify as strange? Is it that you previously didn’t want people to think you were strange (i.e, when you moved to Pittsburgh), but that have since changed your mind? Or is this even more subtle, such as you wish to be perceived as strange when posting to Overcoming Bias, but you still prefer to not be perceived as strange by your roommates?

    • wallaceforman

      People don’t find you weird if you write a blog post saying that you are weird. They find you weird if you act weird around them. Anyway blogs provide psychic distance.

    • Or is this even more subtle, such as you wish to be perceived as strange when posting to Overcoming Bias, but you still prefer to not be perceived as strange by your roommates?

      Yes, that’s it. Katja (presumptuously) assumes that readers of this blog think of themselves as strange and, consequently, will both sympathize with her devices and benefit from her observations. And many readers apparently do both. Those of us who don’t think we’re that strange (or don’t care that much about the impressions we make) resent the presumption or tire of irrelevance.

  • Phil

    Nice of everyone to be so understanding. I live in China, and this is exactly part of the reason. The point is not that Chinese people *can’t tell I’m weird*; the point is that they don’t have expectations of me that I keep disappointing.
    The problem is never that people “know” you don’t quite fit in. It’s that they *feel* it – and in return, you feel frustrated because you’re not meeting expectations. Among foreigners, there are fewer expectations.

  • Nicholas Walker

    So that’s why New York is so cosmopolitan.

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  • Gene

    A person who is wiling to emigrate to another country is a person who is wiling to sacrifice their own “comfortable assumptions” to learn new “comfortable assumptions”.

    So if you are a native and do not want to share some or all comfortable assumptions of your native land it’s logical to seek out the company of persons who already have chosen to do likewise.

    For example – I have food allergies that make more “American foods” a gastronomical and gastrointestinal horror show for me. So it is logical for me to seek the companionship of people who do not consume dairy products or wheat products. I learn about their safer foods, which are nourishing and inexpensive.

    They teach me about how they look at the world. I learn new methods of framing ideas and as I explain “how to be an American” I learn to critically examine what it is to be an American. So I grow freer while helping them to adapt to America.

    It’s not “wierdness” as much as searching for “elusive obviousness” and being able to examine them critically.