The Earth is permeated with a number of sacred skills that have been passed down from generation to generation. Since the beginning of time, there have been violin players who have worked to perfect dizzyingly beautiful trills, there have been monks who have honed their self-discipline to incredible levels, and there have been blacksmiths who have ground weapons tirelessly in order to give the unsheathing of a sword that wonderful “shiiiink!” sound that we all know and love. This brings us to one sacred, and often overlooked art… The Foreign Guy.
What is a Foreign Guy? Foreign Guys are the wide eyed wanderers who have traveled far away from their roots in order find new social settings and discover new perspectives. If played by a novice, the Foreign Guy can appear like a bizarre and useless tag-along… but if done with a master’s touch, the Foreign Guy can be a charming and even electrifying member of any social group.
Understanding the skills of the Foreign Guy can be vexing, so in order to help, I’ve developed the Foreign Guy Scorecard. If you find yourself in a new country, then you can check your level of Foreign Guy Game (FGG) by using this system:
Not Taking Offense +5 pts— You’re the fresh-faced newcomer in most social circles, so that means people might try to test you a bit by throwing in some cutesy comments about Americans/ (insert your home country). If you don’t take it personally, and if you can even tease them back, then you double your gains to a +10 pt. takeaway.
Allowing a tangent +10 pts— Sometimes, you’ll notice that people will go on wild tangents when speaking with you. The other day I asked a cashier what music his store was playing; he then took me on a mystical conversational journey through the joys of the band Tool. We talked about Tool, and then we talked about the comedian Bill Hicks (an inspiration for Tool) over the course of about 15 minutes. If you have some free time, then your tangent levels (TLs) should be high.
Saying a good “In My Country” Story +10 pts: Talking about your home country in a way that is interesting, funny or provocative is a great way to connect with people. Solid conversational go-to’s for me are American Football (80,000+ stadiums), how uptight some Americans are (suspensions for a child who brings a nail clipper), and why it’s untrue that gringos don’t have rhythm (Who is more American than Louis Armstrong??).
Swearing Effectively +10 pts — Swearing in your non-native tongue is generally good for a laugh, but the most important swear is the swear in your native language. Why?? Because if something is so crazy that it forces you to resort to your mother tongue, then you know it’s FUCKING cray-cray.
Eating a Native Fruit or Vegetable +10 pts: At least a few times a week I’ll pack my lunch with a Chirimoya (fruit native to South America) because I know it’s a great conversation starter (it’s also a tantalizingly delicious fruit!).
Laughing off a mistake +15 pts— You’re going to make mistakes in a non-native language, and people will assuredly tease you about your mistakes. When a Chilean teases me about my Spanish accent, he or she usually says everything in as tedious a fashion as possible while simultaneously doing the robot and pretending like I’m a deft mute (note: this has occurred less and less since I’ve gotten here). It’s all in good fun, and people will respect you for not taking things too seriously.
Being Distant -15 pts : If you find yourself aggressively on the defensive or passively clammed up, then you’ve lost. If you’re shy, then come with conversation starters. If you’re not shy, then just be yourself and talk to people.
Getting Overcharged -30 pts: It’s very important to know the tricks of taxi cab drivers, bouncers, and small store owners, so that you can prevent overcharges, or at least make an effective case for what the price should be. At the end of the day, it’s nothing egregious, but you should still always pay close attention to prices in order to keep your Foreign Guy Mojo (FGM) high.
Misunderstanding Body Language -30 pts. — Every country has its own social radius for about where you should stand while you are in conversation. From my experiences, people in the US maintain about an arms length of distance from one another. Latin Americans on the other hand are very touchy-feely, which can make even the most mundane conversations seem sexual. This can be very confusing because not ALL of them actually want to have sex with you.
Not Adjusting Party Habits -35 pts— Depending on where in the world you go, you might be encouraged to attend a party until 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning. If you hang with natives, you’re often at the will of the group’s transportation, so you could have an amazing and ecstatic night, or you may feel like you’re on a sinking ship with no life boats (it happens). Either way, the night will make for a good story, so roll the dice and stay out sometimes!
Improper Shoe Tying -50 pts (only applies for Chile): You might think it’s cool to lift your foot onto a public bench in order to tie your shoe. You might also think it’s cool to lift your foot onto a subway seat, an arcade machine, a student’s desk, a baby’s carriage etc. It might have been cool in your home country, but those are some audacious shoe tying tendencies, and they’re a surefire tipoff to every Chilean that you’re an SA (Slow Adjuster).
There are other negatives that will vary widely depending upon the country your traveling to. Rest assured, every country has two or three cultural mine fields that you won’t anticipate until 2-3 months into your stay, AFTER you’ve committed a number of follies (I was a serial Improper Shoe tier for almost half a year).
If you ever feel out of swing, then always remember to check your TLs (tangent levels) and your Foreign Guy Mojo meter. If you can you can string a few positive days together, then you’ll be having a blast before you know it. Thanks for reading— hope this provided some insight!!