Should we hide our foreign origins?
As an expat, I’ve asked myself many times if I should hide my foreign origins or not. I wonder about how people perceive my background and if this is going to be helpful or not. I know I am not the only one who worries about this. A few days ago, I came across an article explaining the positive effects of showing your foreign background in the workplace. I was pleased to read some good news on the topic; my expat experiences have not always been so positive. However, I really think that the decision to hide or not to hide your foreign origins is a lot more complicated than it looks. I believe that this decision may depend on the stereotypes attached to your cultural background and specific circumstances.
I lived in Canada for almost ten years, a place famed for its cultural diversity. Canadians try really hard to be tolerant of cultural differences, proud of being more cultural mosaic than melting pot. Most immigrants feel they are treated with respect most of the time. But cultural stereotypes are always present and – even in Canada – you can sometimes feel discriminated against because of them.
For example, as a hiring manager, would you prefer to hire a German or a Colombian? You would probably go for the German as they have a reputation of being extremely organized and reliable. Does that make you discriminatory? Yes. Stereotypes are part of our human condition but it does not always reflect on our true intentions. As I see it, it is possible that you had some good experiences with Germans at work. This will surely affect the way you perceive the culture as a whole and therefore an individual. It doesn’t mean you are right in your assumption, this only explains how your sterotypes are built.
The more cultural similarities you share with your new country the easiest it will for you to adapt . I am not saying that if you come from a very different culture people will reject you, in fact, at first people will be very curious about you. But curious does not always mean that they are going to invite you to their house or be your friend. Curious means that they want to learn more about you because you are new. On the other hand if you already share some cultural similarities, as in the case of Brits and Canucks, it becomes a lot easier to find common ground.
That said, I think stereotypes are very difficult to overcome, because most of the time we are not even aware of them. The same situation applies to other contexts, such as finding a place to live, finding a school for your children or getting into university. The list of my anecdotes is long and I do not belong to any visible minority, go figure. Nevertheless, I do not want this to sound as a complaint. There is still a lot to be learned in regards to multiculturalism and tolerance. But at least it is becoming research material and we talk about it openly.