How not to be an Asshole Expat

I agree that it can be tricky. For us humans and our silly egos, Shanghai is a place that seems to allow a certain asshole-ishness to appear in even the most normal and unremarkable of people. Those who are normal, unknown humans who live a standard life, become self-deluded. Out of thin air, they conjure up a desperation to suddenly ‘be someone’, even when they are clearly not.

So allow Developing City a moment, to guide you on a few basic life rules that you should never forget.

1) Never tell people ‘who you know’

Namedropping. Namedropping is ridiculed. Have you ever noticed that before? Of course you have.

Forgetting your basic upbringing and the normal rules of non-asshole behaviour, why would you then start to need to follow the herd?

So many expats in Shanghai can have an entire evening’s worth of conversation about ‘who they know’. Yes – an entire evening’s worth.

They may stand around whichever new bar that they think they should be standing around in, discussing people who aren’t even there. These people may have done any number of standards things: opened a restaurant. Briefly appeared on television. Have a small company – and be willing to potentially employ other expats. Learned how to DJ.

These things are all ‘things’ – better than not having done anything. But saying that you ‘know’ these people and quoting their travel plans that you read on Facebook is not a good activity in order to enrich your soul and make your life worthwhile.

2) Remember that you are not in competition with 20 million other people

‘Oh no, but you are’


‘You are in competition with everyone else. This is a city of scarcity and we need to compete for jobs and space and croissants’

‘No, that’s not true. You’re just being an asshole again.’

‘Oh yes you’re right sorry. I always do that’.

So – remembering that you have your own very basic and meaningless position in life will actually help you to come to terms with the fact that not only are you not in competition with other expats, you are not even in any kind of competition or event whatsoever.

What you are instead doing, is bumbling around in a normal way. You wake up, eat a bit, do something to earn a living, talk about Shanghai and  China all the time to equally dull and meaningless people, then eat a bit more, and then maybe watch a DVD and go to bed.

If this was a competition, it would probably be known as the shittest and most ridiculous competition ever invented.

3) Adhere to your budget

This is really practical life advice here. You have an income. It will be small and fixed, because you are relatively unskilled and unimportant.

So what you need to do is live within your means.

Not only because Jesus would have definitely advocated it, had he also delved into financial advice as well as spiritual, but also because this is one important step in not being an asshole, but in being a simple, humble and basically decent person without delusions of grandeur and the soul-sucking desperation of matching lifestyles with people that you don’t even like.

So – that brunch that you can’t afford? Don’t go there cabron! Food at brunches is not usually that good because at least 50 people have coughed – precisely and with a strong, careless force – over every item at a buffet. The people who can actually afford plus-400 RMB buffets have had little or no social correction for most of their lives. Forgetting that service staff are adhering to basic training standards and just doing their job, these people genuinely start believing that they are better humans than other people. This means that they cough all over food for no reason.

So sub-point 1: you will probably contract an illness, but sub-point number 2: it is possible to experience enjoyment without spending over 400 RMB on breakfast and lunch items. Buy some bacon and eggs, make some crustless cucumber sandwiches and have a homemade hot chocolate. Spend time getting it all just right and eat it at home. You won’t be able to tell people that you had brunch in just the right establishment – but you will get a good meal and be able to comfortably pay the rent.

4) Put your ‘adventures’ in context

Yes, those little humblebragging posts on Facebook do not go un-noticed.

Although you may feel like a pioneer of new lands when compared with your pals back home – you are, in fact, not.

While drinking in a different bar in China is probably, on balance, more adventurous than drinking in the same pub in your hometown, the difference is slight.

‘Living in China’ literally means remaining in one country for an extended period of time. Taking photos of yourself ‘living it up’ and eating salads and burgers and talking to Eastern European people and Frenchmen does not, in reality, transform you into an interesting person.

‘Travelling’ literally means getting a taxi and/or Maglev to the airport, sitting on the plane farting out airplane-farts for a few hours, and then taking photos in Thailand or Hong Kong or Bali. Again, these are all easily achievable things. The unstoppable and inevitable progress of human existence has made these things possible, and you are just one of millions of people who have done the same thing – or more – than you have.

So remember that there are people – many people – both in the wider World and on your ‘friends’ list that literally and actually do not want to see photos of you cooing whimsically into the Sea of a poorly organised and humid South East Asian country.

Don’t forget these rules. Also; talk less, think more, be polite, maintain perspective.

You are a nobody and so am I. Release the pressure from your fixations and calmly accept that: and it will be good.


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Categories: Expat Life


Foreigner in Shanghai


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One Comment on “How not to be an Asshole Expat”

  1. April 15, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    There is a quote about America from “The Hour” that seems to sum up the same idea: “Being a nobody in a place where everyone thinks they can be a somebody, it’s infectious.”

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