有一天你可能会变成外国人 / You Might Become a Foreigner One Day

有一天你可能会变成外国人

全球化以及与之相关的流动性激增带来一个副作用,就是让传统的“外国人”定义过了保质期。

如果一个欧洲人生活在中国的时间比在家乡还长,又逐渐对汉语和中国文化了如指掌,那他还算是中国的外国人吗?或许相对而言,他在故乡倒更像是外国人呢?

如果一个北京人在加拿大上学,毕业后留在那里生活工作了二十年,融入了主流社会,组建了家庭,根本就不打算回国,那她的思考和行为方式像不像外国人呢?我们怎么来定义这个标签呢?

抑或上述两个例子的主人公都已经从简单、普通的“外国人”升级为大写的“外国人”,表明他们在国外和家乡具有了双重外籍身份:事实上,无论他们走到哪儿,都成了外乡人。

如此这般,是不是一件好事呢?抑或这些人确实无法顺利融入到任何环境里去呢?

无论你走到哪儿,这类曾被简单唤作“外国人”的人都在大量地增加,而且也不再局限于在巴黎或米兰开店的温州人。新的大规模全球移民正在进行中。

在我长大的芝加哥郊区,上世纪六、七十年代去当地的购物中心逛一逛,几乎不会碰到一张亚洲面孔。同样,我小学的同学里有新搬来的欧洲移民,却没有亚洲学生。而我高中的同学,有亚洲姓氏或血统的人也不超过五人。

今天,在同一家商场里挤满了亚洲面孔。扫一眼本地学校的成绩榜,名列前茅的也多是一些亚洲名字。

某种程度上,这在美国社会并不稀奇,因为美国本身就是移民国家,也是个文化熔炉。美国历史上曾出现过多次来自各地的移民浪潮,过去20年,来自东亚国家,包括中国的移民浪潮方兴未艾。

如此说来,“外国人”一词在美国一直是相对而言的,因为除去美国土著的印第安人,所有美国人在某种程度上都是(或者曾经是)外国人。吸纳大批移民已经成为美国历史的既定模式,所以在美国,历来也不会以当“外国人”为耻。

但在除美国以外的很多地方,“外国人”的群体都在不断扩大,有的地方出现了相对较新的规模和范围,有的地方的移民来源从以前的殖民地或历史渊源国变成了新的国度。

很多国家的移民政策都会向高学历、高收入的外国人倾斜,不会偏向那些找不到高收入工作或不能为他人创造就业机会的人,这一点是可以理解的。富裕水平的提高也明显带动了跨境人员流动的增加,这种流动不仅限于求学和旅游,移民也是目的之一。

事实上,青睐富贵新移民的政策也对移民形成了某种激励,让他们立志要经过一段时间的努力变身为大写的“外国人”。

我在这儿不想讨论移民政策或国籍政策的问题,因为那是一系列可分开来看的重大命题。对此,不同国家基于各自的历史、政治、经济和安全考虑,会采取不同的处理方式。

与“外国人”有关的移民政策当然也是一个非常重要的商业问题。最简单的例子就是它关系到企业意欲聘用的人才要想获得雇主聘用国的工作签证到底会有多容易(或多困难)。

而长远的问题更有意思,也需要新的思考。这个问题与用于移民或国籍认定的外国人定义没有丝毫关联,它涉及的是人们在适应全球化新时代的过程中采取的思考方式以及人与人之间的互动方式。

在很多地方,传统模式中的外国人既不会说也不会读当地的语言文字,不熟悉当地的风俗和生活习惯,他们生活在主流社会的边缘,通常从事仆役或三等工作,经常遭人取笑,而且绝不会成为人们希望自己子女结婚的对象。

但如今,街头巷尾的外国人可能比你的高考成绩还要好,上过更好的大学,有更高的学历,还有雄厚的投资实力。即使他们不是你孩子的另一半,也可能是他们的下一任雇主。

传统的角色模式正在融合,似乎正翻开新的一章。

世界日趋缩小,企业竞争逐步加剧,拥有两种甚至更多不同文化的生活工作背景的资深人士十分短缺。

外国人由于种族或国家不同,自动被视作低人一等或高人一等的日子已经一去不复返了,我们应该为此而感到高兴。他们来自哪里、是什么肤色都无关紧要。重要的是他们是谁,他们能带来什么价值和技术,他们怎么思考。

下周的博客,我会再写一些关于“我们如何思考”的内容。

同时,请做好准备。按照新的“外国人”标准,可能你一觉醒来,发现自己已经变成了外国人,或者至少身边的某人已经是了。

You Might Become a Foreigner One Day

One side effect of globalization and the related phenomenon of greatly increased mobility is that the traditional definition of “foreigner” has passed its sell-by date.

Is a European who has lived in China longer than in his home country, becoming fluent in the language and culture in the process, still a foreigner in China, or has he become, relatively speaking, more of a foreigner in his own home town?

What about a Beijinger who did her schooling in Canada and then lived and worked in mainstream society there for another 20 years while raising a family, who has no intention of returning to China? Does she think and act like a foreigner? What do we mean by this label?

Or should both the examples cited be deemed to have graduated from being a simple, ordinary “foreigner” with a small “f” to a higher status — for example, of “Foreigner” with a big “F”, denoting achievement of the dual status of being a foreigner abroad as well as a foreigner at home: in effect, a Foreigner no matter where they go.

If so, is this a positive thing, or are these people who don’t really fit in very smoothly in any environment?

Wherever you go, the numbers of people like this — who would traditionally have simply been labeled “foreigners” — are sharply on the rise; and it’s not just people from Wenzhou who have set up shop in Paris or Milan. There is a major new global migration under way.

Where I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, the faces you would see during a walk through a local shopping mall back in the 1960s and 1970s included almost none of Asian descent. Likewise, the student body of my primary school included recent immigrants from Europe, but none from Asia. My high school had only a tiny handful of classmates with Asian surnames or heritage.

Today the same malls are full of Asian faces, and a glance at the ranks of top scoring students in local schools reveals lots of Asian surnames.

To some extent, this is no great surprise in the American context, because America is a land of immigrants, and a cultural melting pot. American history is marked by waves of immigrants from one place or another, and the past 20 years or so have seen a surge in immigrants from East Asian countries including China.

In that sense, the meaning of the term “foreigner” in America has always been relative, because apart from the native American Indians, Americans are (or were) to some extent all foreigners anyway. Absorbing large numbers of immigrants is an established pattern in American history, so there has traditionally been less of a stigma associated with being a “foreigner” there.

Outside of America, however, communities of “foreigners” are on the rise in many parts of the globe where this is either a relatively new phenomenon in scale and scope, or where the waves of immigrants are coming from new countries of origin, as opposed to former colonies or countries and regions with strong historical ties.

The immigration policies of many countries, understandably, tend to be more welcoming to better educated, wealthier foreigners than to those less likely to find gainful employment or to provide jobs for other people. There is also a clear correlation between growing affluence and rising cross-border mobility, not only for education and tourism, but for immigration purposes as well.

In effect, immigration policies favoring wealthier new arrivals tend to create incentives for immigrants to aspire over time to become “big F” Foreigners.

My point here is not to consider issues relating to immigration or nationality policies, which is a separate, important set of issues.Different countries approach these in different ways for a whole spectrum of historical, political, economic, and security reasons.

Immigration policy as relates to “foreigners” is of course also a very important issue for business. The simplest example of this relates to how easy (or difficult) it is for talented people whom a business wishes to hire to get a working visa for the country where the business wishes to employ them.

The more interesting long-term question which demands fresh new consideration does not relate to the definition of a foreigner for immigration or nationality purposes, but rather to the way people think and interact with one another in the new era of globalization we are adjusting to.

In most places, the traditional stereotype of the foreigner was someone who didn’t speak or read the local language well, was unfamiliar and clumsy with regard to local customs and lifestyle, who lived on the fringes of affluent mainstream society, often engaging in relatively menial or third-class work, sometimes the butt of jokes, and certainly not the type of person you would want your son or daughter to marry.

Nowadays, that foreigner down the street may well have better SAT scores than you did, a higher degree from a better university, and a fatter investment portfolio. They might also be your son’s or daughter’s next employer, if not spouse.

The traditional role models are getting mixed up, and it looks like this is just the beginning of a new chapter.

As companies increasingly compete in a shrinking world, they face a shortage of qualified, experienced executives who have lived and worked in at least two different cultural settings, and ideally even more than that.

The days when a foreigner was automatically perceived to be inferior or superior because of their ethnicity or place of origin are over, and we should gladly bid those days adieu. It’s not about where people are from or what color their skin is. It’s about who they are, what values and skills they bring, and how they think.

I will write more on the subject of “how we think” in next week’s post.

In the meantime, be prepared. Depending on how the new definition of “foreigner” evolves, you just might wake up one day and find that you have become one, or at least that someone close to you has.


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