We were never the “big shots”

Hutong West
Contemplating the mathematics of wavelets
1335 hrs.

The misleading promotional lead-in to an otherwise pretty good story on expats in This American Life reads:

It used to be that the American expats in China were the big shots. They had the money, the status, the know-how. But that’s changed.

That line is a big, smelly load of unadulterated bunkum. American expats in China were never the big-shots, and any who acted or thought they were soon found themselves either wrestling with terminal culture shock, alcoholic, on a plane back to the US or some combination of all three.

The reason was simple: any expat, American or otherwise, who believed himself or herself to be a big-shot was worse than useless to the organization for which they worked and would rapidly wear out their welcome and usefulness.

No doubt it must be comforting to a few people to think of the first and second generations of American expats as a privileged, arrogant, cloistered lot who behaved like a bunch of swaggering weasels. There were a few. But we didn’t all have money, we didn’t all have status, and many of us who had know-how found that China was often in no position to compensate us for it.