In every type of social group out there, there is always social stigma, competition and one-upmanship at play. For middle class suburbanites it may be how many varieties of organic kelp or hand made fair trade mugs you own, for your urban Chav its how many hideous, thick gold or silver chains you can dangle from your Burberry clad neck. For expats in Asia it seems to be your job. Well, when I say job, I mean there is one particular job that will incur social stigma, pity and judgement akin to a sex addict turning up to a Jehova’s witness convention. That’s right; I’m talking about teaching English.
Practically every foreigner I know in Beijing has done their stint of English teaching. For some its the door into more suitable careers, and for others it is the suitable career. Unfortunately, there is a third group of people that choose to work in education in Asia that have spread the negative stereotype of The English Teacher; they’re called LBH (Losers Back Home). They’re widely seen as people with no drive, ambition or charisma who, upon arrival in Asia, become arrogant and obnoxious (chiefly as a result of confusing hospitality with idolisation). If any of you have seen American Pie, think of Sherman. Infuriatingly some of them seem to pick up really attractive girlfriends (why, girls? Just why!), which only goes to feed their massively inflated egos. A majority of this type of person pick up teaching jobs purely because they are white. They seem to have no ability, enthusiasm or experience in the teaching world.
Anyway, I digress. What I wanted to say was that these people give everybody else in that profession a bad wrap, causing them to be embarrassed by their job. It’s most evident at the small talk stage of house parties or talking with strangers in bars. The classic small talk question “So, what do you do here?” is always lurking round the corner, and if the person asked is an English teacher, they are usually so self conscious about answering it that they will either kind of mumble that they teach English from the side of their mouth, self deprecate and say “I teach English… yeah, I know”, or say “I work in the education industry”. Luckily my own teaching stint was a part time gig whilst I was in full time education, so I escaped being lumped together with the LBH shockers. Many of my friends are not so lucky!
The other thing you’ll get judged for is your skills with the local language. Not by locals, who are generally very encouraging, but by holier-than-thou expats. I’m talking about the kind of people who speak the local language to bar staff just that little bit too loud so that everybody can hear them. I have to say, these people piss me off something rotten. It always seems to be people with extremely average Chinese trying to embarrass beginners; big-fish-small-pond syndrome, if you will. Why is it that some people just feel the need to peacock like that? I just feel embarrassed for them…