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#49 being out of touch with pop culture

April 22, 2011

The full line of Expat Aid Worker fashion options (note: "J." is second from the right...)

It is very important to understand that Expat Aid Workers are always very busy. Always very busy with very important tasks, thinking about very important issues. And because of this, Expat Aid Workers have no time for trifling matters like fashion or local politics or pop culture in their home countries.

Expat Aid Workers spend their days deeply contemplating locally appropriate, sustainable solutions to the root causes of the ills of the world – which is to say, problems in other countries where there is a reasonable chance of going native, dressing like the locals, or at the very least pretending not to see other EAWs. It is part of the Expat Aid Workers’ professional ethic that she or he should commit – like taking a vow of chastity – to focusing on understanding the culture and issues of the place where she or he works, not the place that she or he is from. (e.g. Culture: where are the best deals on the not-for-tourists batiks? Or issues:  isn’t it really reverse ethnocentrism to not be allowed to get drunk in the teamhouse in Peshawar?)

And few things say “I haven’t really committed to the Expat Aid Worker professional ethic” – ergo, “I’m not a real Expat Aid Worker” – like knowing who Lady Gaga is (even though she did raise all that awesome awareness for the country that gives us Landcruisers), showing up in the field in a pair of TOMS shoes, or wandering into Starbucks in Dubai and ordering a  Barista drink. These are all dead giveaways that you’re dealing a newbie or possibly a poseur (and FYI, newbies can be forgiven, but poseurs… er, not so much).

No, the mark of true committed veterans is that they are out of touch and out of date at home. They can never stay straight on the differences between “venti” and “grande.” They have only two colors in their wardrobes: dark khaki (work) and light khaki (formal occasions). They still listen to bands like Yaz or Bon Jovi*…

So if you show up in a relief zone someplace and the cargo pants wearing crowd looks at you like you’re a dumbass when you mention, say, Twitter (real Expat Aid Workers are ‘way ‘way too busy for the frivolity of social media, except for Facebook), just exhale. Look slowly around and smile contentedly. You’ve finally found the elusive EAWs.

(*Note on music: according to Expat Aid Worker cultural norms, it is permissible to listen to/like popular music from as recently as 3 years ago, provided that a) you always make the caveat that you only know it because “they play it at all the expat dance parties”, and b) you clarify that you only own the pirated version of the CD, picked up for less than $1 in Aceh, Pristina, PaP…).

10 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2011 10:52 am

    Right, and the only movies you’ve ever seen are in-flight movies, because you don’t have time to watch movies “in the field.” Also, it gives you a chance to mention how many movies you watch on each of your incredibly long flights on crappy airlines to exotic locations.

  2. April 22, 2011 3:32 pm

    To those acid-washed-and-tapered-jeans-wearing EAWs who never left the 80s – guess what – those are back in fashion! You look like Topshop models now. (Topshop, you know, that place started by Kate Moss? Don’t make me explain who she is…)

  3. April 28, 2011 1:35 pm

    I’m looking at my dirty cargo pants, plain black polo while listening to *Smash* from The Offspring and I feel ashamed right now. :S

  4. Linda permalink
    April 29, 2011 5:13 am

    You take the piss but it’s fantastically liberating to be out of touch with pop fashion! You have to spend a bit to buy some new items of clothing every time you go home to look even vaguely native, but it’s cheaper than living under the tyranny of Topshop and 14-year-olds setting the trends. Plus you find your favourite CDs in bargain bins in airports (Erykah Badu: Worldwide Underground was the latest find). EAW and proud!!

    • Trish Henley permalink
      May 3, 2011 10:54 am

      but you are not out of touch with pop fashion – there will be plenty of pop fashion where you are especially in Africa – and man they don’t like everyone wearing khaki and harem pants – it’s seen as seriously poor dress effort.

  5. Glenstorm permalink
    June 30, 2011 12:41 pm

    Ironic that TOMS make the list here, since they’re based on the basic traditional footwear of the Argentine gaucho, that many Argentines still wear ;)

  6. Steph permalink
    September 16, 2011 10:26 am

    I thought that my friends were taking the piss when they told me that Take That had gotten back together. And that they were really popular again. Took a really long time before I was convinced it was true…


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