Skip to content

#13 Going Native

January 13, 2011

Don’t front like you don’t know what we’re talking about…

There is one thing that Expat Aid Workers like – love, actually – more than almost anything else in the entire world: sex.

They love talking about it, making jokes about it, thinking about it. They love using sexual themes as metaphors for aid work, and vice versa. And of course, they love – you know – doing it. As the Yanamamo of the Amazon River Basin are famous for saying, “Good fish gets boring. But sex is always fun.” (BTW, we seriously need a bumper sticker which reads “Expat Aid Workers do it for relief”.)

Posts and posts can (and will, on this blog) be written about the sex-lives of Expat Aid Workers. No other topic has had more permutations offered as possible guest posts, and so never fear: this very fertile ground will not go un-ploughed or un-seeded. But for the purposes of this somewhat inaugural post, we’ll focus on a perennial issue for Expat Aid Workers: “Going Native.”

* * *

As any Expat Aid Worker who’s been around for one or two deployments knows, the issue of “Going Native” lurks, omnipresent, in the background. Getting busy in the team house with the Bulgarian operations director after a long, hard day of distribution is old hat. So is a little impromptu horizontal mambo with the Brazillian program quality officer while on a multi-day field visit.

But what about going native? What about sex with locals?

Anyone can learn a language. Hell, tourists can acquire a taste for fufu or rakki. Even the volunteer teams (with their matching T-shirts) can figure out Port-au-Prince traffic. But what sets today’s Expat Aid Worker apart from the wannabes and the poseurs is that they can “go native.”

And when you think about it, it makes sense. Few things say, “I am one with the people” like nailing the hot, local office manager or getting nailed by the suave local driver. Few things can communicate to the amateurs and newbies that you are a person of the world who has been fully embedded in local culture (one with whom local people are open and receptive)  like public-yet-obviously-intimate displays of affection with a foxy/handsome local person. Preferably one 5-10 years younger than yourself.

Naturally there are some contexts where “going native” is more challenging than others, but it’s still totally worth it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a conservative, racist loser who clearly fails to recognize that the world is browning down, that the kind of deep, meaningful cross-cultural interaction you’re talking about is inherently “good” and worth any cost.

So go on. Go native. Any negative fallout (you getting fired, your lover being disowned by her family…) just proves your point. It’s just more evidence that more “going native” makes the world a better place. It proves that you’re simply more open-minded and enlightened, and less ethnocentric than most people. Everyone talks about building better relations between people of different races, ethnicities and cultures. But you’re actually doing it.

35 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2011 9:36 am

    Love it! Some EAW friends and I have come up with the saying that we’re “expanding our portfolio”!

  2. January 13, 2011 3:45 pm

    a little on the crude side for me, sorry. I liked the lower key of the previous posts a lot more. Yep, I do have a sense of irony about my work, but I am not convinced by your tone here. What is next? How to find the right prostitute? No thanks.

  3. Avril permalink
    January 14, 2011 5:03 pm

    I totally agree with your comment hg. I actually saw it from I think the writers twitter stream. Here is the tweet:
    This dude is reading #stuffexpataidworkerslike with his local girlfriend… and she’s NOT amused

    I thought this is pretty juvenile comment and unfair.

  4. January 15, 2011 4:59 am

    Pretty low grade not directly addressing mild criticism on the blog and instead posting a snarky remark on twitter.

    Kind of ironic that someone writing a satirical blog can’t handle a little criticism.

  5. January 15, 2011 8:18 am

    Points taken. Our mission statement describes us as a learning organization that is open to admitting failure.

  6. January 15, 2011 11:57 am

    You guys- really? You really don’t recognize sarcasm, even when it’s this obvious?

    JS – you and your friends sound like pervs. Stop it.

    HG, Avril, JW – lighten up.

    SGS – way to back up your blogging partner, bro.

    My suggestion for future post: #stuffexpataidworkerslike – Righteous Indignation.

  7. Christina Colbert permalink
    January 15, 2011 12:35 pm

    I love to be able to draw attention to how absurd the EAW’s life is … and how we take ourselves oh so seriously … but this topic is in bad taste. This is a serious issue in the field and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

    • January 16, 2011 11:37 am

      Christina – thank you for reading and for commenting. For the record, as RM correctly points out, this post is meant as satire. “Sarcasm”, if you will. Further, you and I would seem to agree on at least one point: this is a very, very serious issue in the aid world. I have seen few things cause more damage to lives and careers or be more generally counterproductive to the aid endeavor than indiscreet and unwise “going native” behavior by expat aid workers.

      Thus far I have not seen one single blog post, article, or even a 15-minute breakout session in a life-saving workshop that seriously addresses this topic. And as far as I can tell, this is the first article/blog post of any sort at all on the subject. Like the issue of sex in Western culture, generally, “going native” seems almost entirely tabu to discuss in the aid world… except in the context of joking or bravado.

      Perhaps this post will get that conversation started. Some might find it amusing. Some might be offended. But let’s at least talk about it.

      As for the question whether or not this post is in poor taste – well, that would be a matter of opinion. And while you’re certainly welcome to share yours, this is one instance in which we’ll have to agree to disagree.


      • Fred permalink
        March 8, 2011 7:24 am

        Really, not a 15 minute discussion, even in a code of conduct session? over dinner with friends? Not a discussion in orientation sessions for new staff? Not a booklet on risks for the individuals involved and for the organisation?

        This is a tough issue that does need discussion, at all levels, and information as to the impact of the actions of some on those with whom they are intimate and on the work they are trying to do, but to pretend that you are the first to have raised it doesn’t help.

        We do talk about this. All the time. As we talk about the other things you raise. And we need to continue to do so.

        Contribute to the discussion via your own brand of humour and encourage others to participate by all means, but I think that the more useful contribution would be to address how weak we are in the fora that do exist and to encourage us to be more honest about the details in particular places and the trends that are most worrying.

  8. Amelia permalink
    January 16, 2011 2:36 pm

    OK, wasn’t going to comment but sort of feel compelled to. I thought it was quite funny and like true satire made me wince as well as laugh at the same time. If you didn’t like the style, fair enough fellow commenters, but I have to say, the topic is not in bad taste, it’s how it is. I would welcome a lot more postings on this issue – as the ‘great untouched’ issue of the aid sphere.
    Oh, and I did go native – so I know what of I speak.

  9. Avril permalink
    January 16, 2011 5:03 pm

    Ok, as satire goes it is just badly done. You can agree to disagree on this, but the response of the writer is a bit of a Sarah Palin type attempt to explain what he meant.

    The post seems to say relationships with anyone from the developing world are second rate relationships. It is offensive, just using the term going native is pretty bad.

    The issue of abuse of power in work for sexual advantage is not really touched on. J if this was your intention to explore the issue then you did a crap job.

    Lastly tweeting behind someones back is just weird and childish. You just seem a bit too cool for school J, trying to be the class clown and happy as long as you get a reaction.

  10. Ubermarket permalink
    January 16, 2011 6:18 pm

    Wow, look at all the negativity. Hitting a bit close to home eh fellas?

  11. January 17, 2011 2:36 am

    I think the problem with the tone is that if someone doesn’t know you well, it is not entirely clear that you are indeed being sarcastic. so people that actually think that way might feel supported by this post, and others might just thing you are a perv.

  12. Incompetantcrew permalink
    January 17, 2011 2:49 am

    OK so who is writing the report on this to be sent to HQ by COB today??
    Chill people its a point of view!

  13. the token native permalink
    January 17, 2011 4:28 am

    Its just humor, people, come on. I’m a “native” and I’m in a relationship with a foreigner and seriously, this wasn’t offensive because I know my lover enough to know why we’re together. And who’s to say I’m not “going foreign” as well?
    I agree that there are issues involved when expat workers enter into relationships with those of a very different cultural background, and that it should be seriously discussed because where you might be left with a broken heart or a hangover, I could be left with a bullet in my head for being with you. But theres nothing wrong with humor. This blog is a light hearted one and thats where its appeal lies. If you want to be constructive about it, bring up this topic in your organizations, no ones stopping you.
    p.s. @ HG: The only thing that offended me was the implication that going native is one step away from finding local prostitutes. Not that safe prostitution is offensive for me at all, but you seem to think both are very low. Maybe its time you went native.

    • ADF permalink
      January 18, 2011 11:28 pm

      Couldn’t agree more, it IS just humor! Plus, it IS sometimes the elephant in the room (office)and indeed, no one talks about it, so good for J.!

      I especially liked your comment on how “this wasn’t offensive because I know my lover enough to know why we’re together. And who’s to say I’m not “going foreign” as well?”. I particularly like the irony of the “going foreign” concept, he he … :)

      I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly outcomes of foreigner/local relationships (am in one myself – won’t say on which side and which outcome just for fun!)… definitely complex, but no reason for it to cause righteous indignation when talked about!

  14. Robert permalink
    January 18, 2011 6:27 am

    It usually ends badly, like paying for an apartment or a college education, not to mention using whatever cred’ you have to get a visitor visa.

  15. Flashman permalink
    January 18, 2011 3:28 pm

    Wow. Are the commenters here indicative of the uptightness and reflexive posturing of aid workers? If so, this site has fertile soil to grow in.

    • Avril permalink
      January 18, 2011 4:18 pm

      No it’s just a reaction to crap aidworker satire and the writer being a dick making snide tweets behind someone making a legitimate comment to this crap post.

      • January 18, 2011 6:35 pm

        And…. She’s with the name-calling.

        Stay classy, Avril ;)

  16. Avril permalink
    January 18, 2011 4:46 pm

    The tweeting to his followers from the writer continues, as long as there is a reaction hey!!

    “Going Native” touched a nerve… Comments thread still going strong! #stuffexpataidworkerslike

  17. fabian permalink
    January 19, 2011 5:03 pm

    Must admit, find this type of aidworker satire a bit too introspective and getting a bit ho hum!

    Can someone convince the Inepd crew to come back and give us the real deal.

  18. Mzee permalink
    January 25, 2011 3:35 am

    Expat Aid Workers like dissing natives too! How often have you heard that it’s impossible to get a decent driver/cook/gardener these days. And all the while we worry about the ‘other’ natives who are renovating our ruin of a farm house in the south of France.

  19. jimbo permalink
    January 28, 2011 7:15 am

    Avril – your driver turned you down, didn’t he…

  20. January 28, 2011 12:10 pm

    I would like to add some negativity to the above.

    I’m angry and upset that you seem to think it’s normal practice to ‘go native’ and I haven’t yet. :(

  21. ksth permalink
    February 23, 2011 2:47 am

    I don’t get the uproar about this post, except perhaps if it is true that you never talk about this within the EAW community. As one of those OTHER categories of serial expats, I must say that I have seen some good “going native”-relationships, but more often than not they are relationships based on very unequal starting points for the two people entering into them with the predictable dependency issues following from that. If you as a (normally) white, educated, rich, and OECD-country passport carrying individual can’t see that power balance thing, I worry about you.

  22. Anon permalink
    March 1, 2011 3:01 am

    Great satire and an important topic. Those “going native” are hurt because the authenticity of their relationship is questioned. And it should. “The token native” wisely commented above: “this wasn’t offensive because I know my lover enough to know why we’re together.” If you are insecure and doubtful about your relationship, this blog post might hit the nerve. But those in secure, trust-filled relationships this post doesn’t even touch.

    We all see this all the time around us. Some of us might even feel righteously judgemental about another expat’s loose behaviour with locals, yet fall for one ourselves: “but of course, in MY case the relationship is truly genuine and I/s/he is not like the others.”

    But, as someone said above, not all of us have gone native, or even mamboed with an expat colleague. I haven’t. Why? Because I get to oneup you guys by “not being naive enough to fall for any flattery and being picky and mature enough to keep my distance from this ‘going native’ trend”. ;)

  23. ODB permalink
    November 29, 2012 4:57 pm

    Methinks the EAWs doth protest too much… It is what it is, folks… Weird that we can’t talk about this, considering how much time we all spend thinking about it. I suppose Dan Savage’s campsite rule should apply for relationships with any partner who may have more at stake than we do, local or otherwise… The flip side is probably not getting butt hurt when we figure out that, yes, being foreign with an expat salary might have something to do with why this way-more-desirable-than-our-usual-options-back-home partner picked us in the first place, even if the feelings are entirely genuine… Just a though.

  24. Dis-affecto permalink
    February 14, 2013 4:19 pm

    Hehe. This discussion just illustrates that Aid Worker community in itself is a product of Western Catholic/Protestant mentality with NO TOLERANCE for low moral behavior as defined by the Western Catholic/Protestant mentality.


  1. Tolerance « Tales From the Hood
  2. Humanitarian Bazaar | GLOBAL | Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like: The Best Sarcastic Takes on Aidland…so Far
  3. #173 Over-thought sexual angst « Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like
  4. #216 Being heard (and a public service announcement) | Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like
  5. 52 break-up lines for aid workers | WhyDev

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: