Life between the ivory tower and a cardboard box

I am a Third Culture Kid: My Top 10 Pet Peeves (Part 1)

Argh!Let’s not lie. Everybody has a secret list of things that annoy the hell out of them, many of which are related to the things they are passionate about. Some of my book-worm friends hate it when people fold the corners of the pages. Other friends hate it when fellow movie-goers feel the need to give running commentary while the film is playing. I personally do not enjoy getting CDs that don’t have the clear strip on the side. They’re petty and illogical, but they’re there. They don’t necessarily make us bad people, but they make up the character and idiosyncrasies of every individual.

Naturally, I have pet peeves that are related to my experiences as a TCK. Because all of them are deeply connected to the experience of travel and living in multiple places, I realize that they come in danger of sounding snobby and elitist, especially to those who have not had as much experience with traveling. However, I’m not here to make some ground-breaking insight or social analysis. I may even be guilty of committing some of these myself. I just write to talk about my perspective for others to learn about. If it makes you re-examine some of your previous beliefs and knowledge, then more power to you. If not, here’s hoping you get a good laugh out of it.

And without further ado, here are my Top 10 TCK-Related Pet Peeves.

  1. Mispronunciation. I find it absolutely jarring when I hear someone mispronounce a word that I know. This applies to both native-speakers and non-native speakers who try to inject foreign words in their vocabulary. I can’t emphasize enough the number of times I felt like driving a pencil through my eye every time I heard President George W. Bush or my high school Theory of Knowledge teacher say “nuke-you-ler” in public. Where did that extra syllable come from? Similarly, I get a sudden fit of rashes when I hear people here in the Philippines mispronounce commonly used English words like “category” (kah-TEH-go-REE) or when my principal in first grade tried to tell us that you can also say it “Wed-NES-day”. My inner Anthro major tries to remind me that pronunciation is culturally relative, just like how I used to say “CON-tribute” and “DIS-tribute” before I moved to the U.S. and changed it to “con-TRI-bute” and “dis-TRI-bute”. I will try to remember that the next time I feel like cutting a bitch when I hear someone say “EYE-raq”.
    • Does not apply to: People genuinely trying to learn another language.
  2. When entire continents are one big country. I have lost count of the number of people I met who would nonchalantly describe their overseas adventures “in Africa”, “in Central America”, or “in Europe”. As if that really tells me anything. In case no one got the memo, each of those places have many countries, with their diverse set of languages, traditions, and histories. Lumping them all together by referring to their continents or regions gives others the impression that all of its countries are exactly the same and indiscernible. Anyone who really made the most of their experience abroad and didn’t spend all of it with the expat community or getting drunk the entire time will probably have an easier time telling India and Thailand apart.
  3. Stupid stereotypes. I’m not just talking about racism, although that is a big one, too. I’m talking about the preconceived notions people project about a place based on inflated representations from the media — things like believing that everyone in the Caribbean is a pot-smoking, reggae-listening, Jah-worshipping, dreadlock-sporting rasta, or that everyone in the Middle East is an Islamic extremist who hates the U.S. The worst part is when people sincerely ask me how I could live in or have friends from such places. “Gosh, Erin,” they would say, “are your Black friends gangsters?” Or, “Wow, the Caribbean!” they would exclaim, “Did you leave by the beach? Were you friends with those rasta dudes? Yah, mon, I love Bob Marley!” And so on. I would say something about how people are just people and do not serve as caricatures of the cultures you think they represent. But that would be too much work.
  4. “Why do you speak English so well?” This is an idiotic question, usually asked by native English speakers in places where English is the national language. People who think about posing this question might as well ask, “Why do you use your brain?” Basically, you lay bare your assumption that anyone who appears to be a foreigner can’t be a native English speaker or appear competent when in foreign situations. Asking me this question is an insult to my intelligence and is an annoyance considering I’ve spoken English my entire life. Don’t ever think about asking this question to anyone, or I will hunt you down and hurt you.
    • Does not apply to: Admission officers who want to know why you want to waiver your TOEFL requirement. Because the TOEFL is an expensive waste of time.
  5. “Do you know my friend?” It’s amazing how, despite the rapidly rising global population, people still think that you know his or her friend Jack just because you come from or live in the same country. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of the idea that everyone in the world is somehow connected and have found some ridiculous connections between all the people I have ever known growing up. But I encourage everyone to drop the idea that the rest of the world lives in these large, communal villages where everybody knows each other.
    • Does not apply to: Small towns. Or if you are really powerful and important and knows a lot of people.

    (to be continued)

    Read I am a Third Culture Kid: Being “The Foreigner”

6 responses

  1. Karen Anasco

    hi erin,
    i stumbled upon your site when i googled for ‘anthony bourdain, philippines’ because like you, i am also wondering why the hell hasn’t he been to our country. anyway, what a nice surprise to discover that you’re an anthro major! i was too, so i checked out your anthropology entries. it seems that all of us from this field have faced (and are still facing) some sort of ridicule about the usefulness of our degree. the most stupid one that i got was if there is a licensure exam you need to take to be officially called an anthropologist! sometimes i kid the really clueless ones that anthropology is the study of ants. gets them speechless every single time.

    the best years of my life were from my college field researches and my time with the indigenous communities. too bad i was too lazy to photodocument my experiences. it would be nice to show my kids now the things i did when i was a bit younger. i hope you also had a blast with your field training!

    i also found out that you got a job with an NGO in makati, so congratulations! in my experience, that sector is the most appreciative of our background so keep pushing in that direction. i wish you all the best and keep the anthro flame alive!


    April 10, 2008 at 8:30 pm

  2. Hi I found your blog by…I don’t remember how now..But it’s great!
    I’m a TCK too and I live in the Middle East so I love what you said about Eye-rack and the ME.


    April 27, 2008 at 6:44 pm

  3. Jennifer Gardner

    We have 2 adopted chidren from Bolivia South America. Our daughter is one month older than our son. You would not believe the people, AFTER being told that she is one month older, will ask “Are they brother and sister”? DUH

    May 9, 2008 at 2:10 am

  4. Ginger

    I’m a TCK, an American who grew up in Japan. One of my pet peeves was when I was asked if I could speak Chinese. What!? Of course, not. Japan and China are two different countries, you goofus! I think it fits your #2. They just think Asia (continent), not country (Japan).

    June 2, 2008 at 7:44 pm

  5. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Mycologically

    June 19, 2008 at 12:41 pm

  6. There was this one time at work when an elderly gentleman (customer) exclaimed, “Wow! You speak English very, very well.” I gave him a weird questioning look and he added, “Many other people… who look like you… can’t.” No, that didn’t really make it better. Many other people who look like me don’t know any language other than English.

    Know what else really ticks me off? “So, do you speak Asian?” I mean, really??

    December 15, 2008 at 8:31 pm

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