Countries with homogeneous populations and foreigners in them

I’m curious about how countries with populations consisting largely of one race (eg Japan, Thailand, China, Korea(?)) view foreigners in their countries. I realize that’s a pretty broad question, but maybe it can be narrowed, or at least given a starting place, by the terminology used for foreigners. In my experience in Japan for instance, anyone who is not Japanese is a gaijin. This includes other Asians, although from what I’ve seen the Japanese are bad at telling Chinese and Koreans apart from Japanese (we call them stealth gaijin).

In another thread Siam Sam parenthetically translated farang as westerner. Before that, I had had a view of Thais using farang just as the Japanese use gaijin, but if it’s really only to refer to westerners then there’s a different sense of culture going on there. And maybe they have a different word for eastern foreigners. I don’t know.

My sense is that most cultures aren’t quite as insular as Japan. From what I’ve heard (though haven’t experienced firsthand), even native Japanese people who live abroad for several years are treated a little differently when they return.

So can people with foreign living experience weigh in on this? Is there a word to refer to foreigners in one of these countries, and to whom does it refer? How accepted are foreigners in the country? Anything else germane to my poorly-explained question?
ETA: Ah hell, this looks a lot more like a request for opinions and experiences than I had originally envisioned it. Maybe it’d be better in IMHO? Sorry about that…


Ireland might be an interesting case study for you.
10 years ago there were no black people (to the extent that one immigrant remembers a mother getting her child, pointing at him, and saying “look, it’s a black man”)
Now we have thousands of Africans, and you see at least one every day.

So Ireland went from a very homogenous country, to a very diverse country, in only about a decade.
Unfortunately no-one in Ireland could really tell you about it, since most of us disagree about every aspect of it.

China and Russia may have populations consisting overwhelmingly of one particular ethnicity, but are and always have been multi-racial/multi-cultural empires, which have largely fallen out of favour in Western Europe… There are plenty of prominent historical figures that are not of Han or Russian ethnicity, who would not be considered anything but Russian/Chinese. They are not in the same category as Japan.

My first trip to Vietnam when it was a little less touristy had people staring at this big, white dude (mostly kids, but some adults too). The local children where I stayed - after a day or two when they got over their shyness - liked to run their hands over my arms because the hair was such a novelty.

It was fun for the first few days. It got to suck after that.

In central Saigon though, there was none of that, much. Westerners are everywhere. On my last trip, a fat black woman went through customs with me - even in the international environment of the airport, she was getting stared at. I could only wonder how people were going to react to her outside - especially if she was going out of town someplace.

That’s weird. I can tell white Britons apart from white Americans at 50 paces.

This is one of the more interesting statments I have seen on the dope. I can not imagine how diversification could cause so much disagreement. Would you mind expanding on that a bit? Or anyone else who knows about it.

Spain too. While the UK and France had ample populations from their colonies, Spain never had any significant foreign immigrants. It was as homogeneous as you could imagine.

In the late 70s and 80s there was some inflow of political refugees from Chile and Argentina but they were of European ancestry and you could only tell them if they spoke. Not a big change.

Then in the 1990’s suddenly everything changed and you started seeing Morrocans, blacks, Chinese, people with native American blood from Ecuador, etc. Today more than 10% of the population is foreign born (and I believe that’s just the legal ones).

One of my friends is Filipino and looks it. But everyone in China thinks she is Chinese and she doesn’t warrant a second glance. Meanwhile, whenever I’m around here I stop traffic. I haven’t been in China long enough to really understand how we are viewed, but I do get plenty of stares and comments in the street. Here I am “waiguoren” (foreign country person) or “laowei” (old- meaning respected- or wise- foreigner.)

In Cameroon Westerners were pretty rare. Most people’s experience with a Westerner would be the odd missionary, Peace Corps volunteers and the occasional government contractor. People still remember colonization vividly and were a little suspicious. Many people believed we were spies (doing what in distant villages, I’ll never know.) Others were afraid to talk to us, fearing that we could somehow cause bad things to happen to them if they upset us.

Despite that, people were friendly and accepting once they got to know you. There was still a persistent belief that we knew everything- people would show up at my door all the time with some rock wanting to know if it was a diamond, or looking for advice on trades I obviously didn’t know a thing about, or wanting to know if I thought their impending marriage was a good thing. There was also a belief that Westerners had access to the most powerful magic. We did get a lot of privileges- generally we could expect to walk into the best clubs without paying, we sometimes were given the best seats on buses, we could often skip lines at banks and stuff. We also were able to talk to mayors, delegates and traditional leaders without a lot of formalities. This was the “instant credibility” effect.

Racial diversity was a bit baffling- African American volunteers got all kinds of wacky guesses about where they were from, and many people in my town thought blond-haired blue-eyed me was Chinese.

We also got A LOT of attention on the street. Even in my village I couldn’t walk outside without hearing a chorus of “Nassarra” (white person). It was constant and persistent. Out and about in town you never forget your race for a moment. You felt like a big white alien freak every time you went outside. Eating at restaurants, having a drink at a bar or sitting on a bus meant you were going to be the subject of staring, topic of conversation, and probably some degree of harassment. For most volunteers the constant attention was the hardest part of their service, and you really have to develop a thick skin and good sense of humor not to get upset by it.

Heh, don’t try saying that to a Catalan! I mean the problem is that race is difficult to define. All Spaniards are of the same race when compared to some group like sub-Saharan Africans. However inside Spain you’d have plenty of people arguing that there are different races.

However, regardless of whether there is or isn’t more than one race of native Spaniards, they do have a word for foreigners. The word is guiri which is funny in that it mainly refers to people from outside of Spain the nation-state. A Catalan is never a guiri, but a German almost always is.

Another funny thing. In Spanish “hacer el Sueco” (to do the Swede) means to pretend you aren’t aware of something. This is not surprisingly from Swedish tourists (in the Fraco era) not always understanding Spanish and not understanding various things that someone is trying to get across.

It’s the Union Jack waistcoats and bowler hats, right?

I’m way up in the countryside, but I actually expected to be stared at more. As it is, I pretty much only get it from little kids and from very old women. Although my students are pretty well fascinated by my arm hair. If I stand near kids in class (mostly my HS tenth graders, the youngest ones), occasionally one of them will reach out and just stroke the hair on my arm.

Yes, really.

I’ve lived in Japan for the last 11 years. My wife is Korean, but speaks perfect Japanese. No one can tell, unless they see her passport.

I find it about the least hard thing to imagine that a tectonic and super-rapid transformation of a hitherto largely homogeneous population into one with people from very different quarters of the world, with very different cultures, would cause upset, consternation, confusion.

Remember, Ireland had enough trouble over the years getting white people who look exactly alike and have inhabited the same island for 400 years to get along. They had enough trouble getting tinkers who look just like everyone else in the country not to be treated as outcasts/not to have bareknuckled fights at the crossroads (depending on your viewpoint).

Culture matters, and apparently in a historically small, sometimes insular, village-based place like Ireland, it seems to matter more.

And when Africans and Romanians or whoever first started coming in as “asylum seekers,” they weren’t exactly heading right down the pub to watch the GAA and have a pint of Caffreys. They were living on benefit, and acting a lot like strangers in a strange land. Of course they stuck out. Of course it caused comment.

A few data points: Say in 1996, I could find you a hostel in Dublin for about USD$30. A few years later, many/most of the hostels were being used as subsidized housing for immigrants. In Cork City, when last I went there, the tourist information people told us don’t bother looking for a hostel or even cheap hotel, they’ve all been put to housing asylum seekers. In Ennis town center, the first two (seeming) pubs I poked my head into looking for lunch had been converted to soup kitchens full of a bunch of young single men from . . . Somalia? Don’t know. The point is, that’s not what Ennis looked or felt like even six or seven years before that. Is it “good” or “bad?” That’s a GD (and one that some of the Irish are having). But it’s certainly “rapid change,” and as we are seeing on Wall Street, or you can see in any dislocation, rapid change makes people . . . nervous and uncertain, sometimes.

Thailand is a bit more heterogeneous than some people think. In the Northeast, there are more ethnic Lao than there are in Laos, and lots of ethnic Khmer, too. There are lots of hilltribes in the North. Ethnic Malays, who are largely Muslim, predominate in the deep South, especially the three southernmost provinces, by Malaysia; there has been a vicious insurrection raging down there for several years now. And lots and lots of ethnic Chinese, like my wife; my in-laws could not even speak Thai very well.

All of these people, though, tend to be looked down on – except for the ethnic Chinese, who represent the wealthiest segment of Thai society and are frequently looked up to even by the ethnic Thais.

Actually, “farang” is used only for white men. Black Americans, for example, are not called “farang.”

That’s how I tell a Cambridge man from an Oxford man.

In Bulgaria, all Asians were thought to be Japanese. The volunteer in my village previous to me was Korean-American, and everyone told me she was Japanese. Also, the concept of being both Asian and American seems impossible to people - Americans can only be black or white, apparently. My host mom’s host daughter after me was also Korean-American and she (my host mom, that is) and I once had a weird conversation where she insisted that Jane, the other volunteer, wasn’t American, because she was Korean! (She knew that Jane wasn’t Japanese, at least.) My host mom only believed me that Jane was American when I told her that you have to be American to be a Peace Corps Volunteer.

The African American volunteers I knew got a LOT of attention. Most of it was pretty good-natured. One guy was really, really nervous about going to Eastern Europe, but he ended up being really pleasantly surprised at how well people treated him.

On the low end of the scale, the Latino volunteers got treated horribly, because they were often assumed to be Roma. I can only imagine that anyone of Indian/Pakistani descent would be treated even worse because they could really pass for Roma, but I didn’t know any. I’m not surprised because if I knew someone of Indian-descent who was planning to be a PCV in Eastern Europe, I would probably try to dissuade them and ask for a new assignment, unless they really want to be treated like shit by everyone for two years.

The oddest “racial” interaction I observed in Bulgaria were those between the Bulgarians and Turks. About 10% of the population of Bulgaria is ethnically Turkish (it was about 40% in my municipality), and they’re pretty well-integrated into the general population, IME, and I never, ever, saw anyone say anything derogatory to someone of the opposite ethnic group to their face (which I cannot say about the Roma). On the flip side, Bulgarians HATE the Turks. BG was a part of the Ottoman Empire for 500 years (they call it “the Turkish Yoke”) and they are still really bitter and angry about it. I was in the town choir and about 90% of the songs we sang were folk songs about how we were going to fight the villainous Turks and kick them out of our beloved motherland. I have seen my ethnically Turkish students singing Bulgarian patriotic songs about fighting the Turks. Most of my students are in a folk dance troupe, and on some BG patriotic holiday thing recently, they portrayed the Turkish Yoke through dance. Here’s a picture. (I was sitting in the front row.) See those girls in the back in chains? At least one of them is ethnically Turkish! (Most of them are too old to have been my students, so I only know a few of them. It’s possible more of them are Turkish.) I wonder what she thinks of all this.

Actually, I guess all of that makes Bulgaria not an ethnically homogeneous country, but I just typed all of that and found the picture, so read it and like it.

No you wouldn’t. I have never in Spain heard the notion that Catalans are a different race (or even that French or Germans are a different race; they’re different cultures, not different races). It is impossible to tell by sight a Catalan in Madrid or a Castilian in Barcelona.

Iceland was a very homogeneous country up until ten years ago.

Then, due to a lack of workers, we got an influx of Eastern European workers, who have been treated pretty damn badly.

I wrote a bit more about it in the “Ask the Icelandic dude”-thread but they are basically second class people who are only fit to do the worst jobs no Icelanders want(ed*) to do.

*Pretty soon, everybody’s gonna be happy to just have a job. Any job.

First time I saw a black person… well, in person, was in Dublin in 1983. I was 15. The guys at the burger joint we used to hang out at were from India, but still white by the standards of us Spaniards and French; I didn’t need to make any kind of effort to refrain from staring, like I did with the black guy.

A few months back I heard a similar line to what you report, in a street market in a small town in Spain; there have been Japanese living in the area for about 20 years, black people for longer than the kid had been alive, but it still is something a kid from one of the neighboring villages might never have seen. The child was very relieved to hear that the all-black man wasn’t sick or anything, he’s like that same as the child himself is short, Grandma is old (Grandma didn’t like this part) or Daddy is strong.

The Nephew started school this year. According to Mom, his parental units were pouting because the class of 20 includes some second generation kids. I told her to remind her that if I’d married either of my American boyfriends, my Hispanic kids would be wanting to go to school with everybody else thank you much. The thing that pisses me most is that Mom is from one of the areas of Spain that have a second official language, so she had to make many of the choices re. keeping the culture vs integration that those immigrants have to make. And then, the biggest racist/culturalist/general bigot I know is… Mom’s sister.

Yeah, divided doesn’t begin to describe. And logic has very little to do with it!
sailor, three words: Jose Mari Arzallus. And there has been ample immigration, just not much that wasn’t white or at least similar enough to the locals, or mixed with them already.