Does the expat know more about Latin America than the Latin American?
It's an idea thrown in both ways.
Be it the Latin American trying to correct the expat in saying that what he said was wrong.
Or the expat who -- perhaps is a bit arrogant -- believes he is more knowledgeable about Latin America than the Latin American.
A few odd weeks ago, I remember hearing such an idea again among other times I have heard as such.
When at some random bar in Mexico City, I was talking to a friend named Blayde.
Using the logic of "as foreigners, we learn details about their culture that they don't realize because they were born with it and we learn it. We recognize shit about life down here that they don't realize."
Now, to be fair, Blayde had a Mexican friend with us who disagreed.
Recognizing that there are certain nuances we would never or are not likely to ever appreciate given we aren't local.
Not to mention that, as he put it, we foreigners are more likely to live in a bubble and not really learn much at all about Latin America when not engaging with it fully and not assimilating.
At any rate, who is right?
Like I said, I've heard similar ideas in my travels and Blayde wasn't the first one to think that we foreigners can become more knowledgeable about Latin America than Latin Americans themselves.
Having said that, I do think that some expats can become more knowledgeable than most Latin Americans (especially if the topic is about Latin America broadly and not one specific country and if said expat has spent a lot of time traveling throughout the region).
Having said that, I don't think most expats will achieve that status of being more knowledgeable of Latin America than Latin Americans themselves for various reasons.
Of course, it's also difficult to quantify who has more knowledge about what specifically.
For example, I have a Mexican neighbor that moved into my apartment not too long ago.
He is a petroleum engineering student.
If I had to guess, he probably is MUCH more knowledgeable about the petroleum industry of Mexico than I am.
He is also from Veracruz and, given I have never been to Veracruz, he likely knows MUCH more about Veracruz than I am.
Having said that, he isn't native to Mexico City and is a foreigner to this city like I am.
But I have 5 years in Mexico with most of that time in CDMX and having lived all over the place with most of my time here outside the gringo bubble while he has spent some odd months here.
Without question, I absolutely bet I could demonstrate more knowledge about Mexico City (the capital of HIS country) than he could demonstrate.
In the same way that I'm sure there's a Mexican living in Washington DC who knows WAY more about Washington DC than I do (granted, I've never been to Washington DC either but, even if I had spent a few weeks there, I can't compete with said Mexican's knowledge about the capital of MY country).
Anyway, in order to finish addressing this topic, let's bring up some various thoughts I've had on the matter.
We already discussed the importance of geography and subject matter regarding who knows more about what but let's dig a tiny bit deeper than that subject by subject.
Can Travel & Experience More
This is one of the bigger arguments for why an expat can know more about Latin America than a Latin American.
With so many people down here (not all but many) only earning 200 to 500 bucks a month, it's easy to see why so many gringos can know more when they have bigger budgets on average.
Can more easily afford to travel and see a lot more of the region when so many Latin Americans have never even seen another country in Latin America and so little of their own home country.
With that travel, not only do you see places that they don't see personally but you also gain a greater appreciation of the differences and nuances to life in one area of their home country or cultural region (Latin America) to the next.
These nuances that they would have a harder time appreciating from personal experience.
Those nuances can be details as small as how people speak like I wrote here for example.
Or whatever else!
It could be the various types of foods that your average Latin American isn't spending weeks or months trying out food item by food item.
Many of the food items said Latin American has never tried in his life even though you got endless blogs listing it as part of the "top 20 foods to try in Mexico."
Among any other detail to life to their country that said local would not appreciate as much as the expat largely due to financial constraints of one against the other.
Different Life Experiences
What I'm going to say isn't typical of just expats immigrating to Latin America but of people immigrating to ANY country that they were not born in.
If you are immigrating to another country, you are GUARANTEED to know MUCH more about certain things like legal issues (visas, residency, citizenship requirements, etc) that ALMOST no local would ever appreciate as much as you.
Simply because it's not part of their life.
However, the local also has his own life experiences that VERY few expats could appreciate.
For example, what it's like going through the public education system of said country.
Or whatever really!
There are certain things that the locals will have MUCH greater appreciation of and certain things that expats will have MUCH greater appreciation of also.
The Greater Interest of the Foreign Immigrant
As an expat (or immigrant?) to a new country, it's not uncommon for you to "dig deeper" into the culture than a typical local of your age would.
For example, your average millennial American has not heard of and does not give a fuck about bands or movies or whatever that is 20 to 30 years made before he was born.
That doesn't mean that no young folks of the US like that shit.
But a majority (over 50%) do not unless it is something HUGE like Pink Floyd, the Beatles, etc.
It's the same in any other country though.
The thing is though that, as a foreign immigrant (or expat?), some of us are more likely to "dig below the surface" out of curiosity to consume older content from the new country we moved to.
We spent the blood, sweat and tears to move to your country and we have an interest in learning MORE about it and some of the older cultural shit that comes with said country.
Granted, most expats are not like that but you do have some who are.
In that case, they might be more conscious of cultural elements to the country that many younger locals would be less likely to have.
As I said, so many expats do live in "the bubble."
They might be more knowledgable than your average Latin American about life in "the bubble" of their city but not much else.
A lot (if not a majority) of expats live in said bubble.
If you do, I'm going to doubt strongly that you will ever know more than the average Latin American about Latin America.
Finally, it should be said too that some Latin Americans also live in a bubble.
Primarily those of an upper class section of society that would shit themselves at ever even stepping foot in a middle class neighborhood that isn't Polanco or, as you can see here, treating a visit to the metro like a visit to the zoo.
Whitexican da clases sobre cómo usar el metro y se vuelve viral en TikTok
Granted, this group makes up a fairly small percentage of Latin Americans to be fair.
Spanish or Portuguese?
Most immigrants are not 100% fluent in the language of the new country they moved to.
Even if they learned the language well, there will usually be new phrases or words that they never heard before.
Even in English, there are phrases Zoomers say that I have no idea what they mean.
And, to this day after a decade of learning Spanish, there are still phrases I learn over time that I never heard before.
Granted, many might be from other Latin American countries.
Still, that all goes to show two things.
For one, the expat with no native Spanish or Portuguese skills can't even say that he knows the local language as well as a local (at least not in practice).
Granted, some expats might say that the writing skills of locals down here is so shit that a gringo who had to learn it as a second language is more conscious of the grammar rules and respects them more than the uneducated section of society that demonstrates that they do not know the grammar of their own language as well.
I won't argue against that. I see what they mean.
But I'm not sure I 100% agree with it because most locals (unless they were born and raised in a non-Spanish speaking rural community of Latin America) have a better understanding of Spanish than the expat who knows Spanish as a non-native language.
And, with that understanding, the local can better understand certain contexts also in conversation that sometimes can go over the head of the foreigner (even if said foreigner has learned the language for years).
But, with all that said, the foreigner who has traveled a lot can also appreciate regional differences in how Spanish is spoken better than the local in any random Latin American country that never had the funds to live such a lifestyle (though said local can appreciate the differences in Spanish speaking with the internet to be fair).
Panties Not in a Twist?
This is another detail you see in people of any country.
Though I would argue people of certain nationalities are more sensitive to this than others.
The detail being anyway the sensitivity to a foreigner criticism that most foreigners agree with.
When a local Latin American shits himself in anger at such a critique (no matter how fair it is or how many people agree with it), he is showing that he can't be objective on the matter.
And, like I said, you got people like this in any country.
The point being that your inability to be more objective shows that your opinion on your own country is more flawed.
It shows how a foreigner can be more knowledgeable about some aspects of your country than you can be.
For example, about everyone knows that most of Colombian food tastes like shit.
But, having said that, there are some food items within Colombian cuisine that tastes alright or good.
The expat -- especially if with limited exposure to Colombia -- might not be aware of those tastier Colombian food options as the Colombian himself (though the Colombian might not either if he didn't dedicate the cash or time to some of the better cuisine options of his country that his mom or grandma didn't know how to make).
And, having said that, the greater tendency to anger and bias against any critique of your own culture's food can make you as a local to be more closed minded and ignorant to any assessment of your food.
And it's not just with food but with anything else of their country.
Like the Mexican who claims that there is only classism but no racism in their country and seems to be ignorant of such a reality.
Among other examples one could bring up.
The Superficiality of Travel
To keep it simple, being an expat who travels around Latin America can expose you to more of Latin America than the average Latin American could EVER experience personally.
But, if you are the type to only spend a few weeks or months in one place to the next, then your knowledge is going to usually be more superficial.
Let's not get carried away.
You might know more of "the broad strokes" when it comes to Latin America as a region and that might be more than your average Latin American with a poor or middle class income (or even those of the upper class who would rather travel to NYC or Paris than throughout their own region of Latin America) but those are still "the broad strokes" and not overly nuanced in terms of the details you have learned through your travels.
No Shits Given
This is similar to the "bubble" argument but I figured I'd make it as its own point.
To keep it simple, some expats genuinely do not give a shit to know more about Latin America or the Latin American country they live in.
Obviously, such an expat is not likely to know more than the local on much (outside of maybe visa and residency issues when moving to their country for example).
But that's all I got to say for now.
If you were to move to a new country with different cultural practices, you will probably won't have that "natural" understanding of them like a local would when you first arrive.
But, over the years, you will learn them and be more conscious of them than a local.
It's a question anyhow of if being a foreigner can make you "more knowledgeable" of these practices but I think it again depends on how much "inside the bubble" said gringo lives.
After all, you will likely notice details or nuances about these cultural practices and can more easily compare them even to other countries in Latin America while a Latin American, who might know said practices more naturally, doesn't always have all those nuances understood or has given much thought to them.
Anything to Add?
For now, that's all I got to say.
What is the final verdict?
Well, I think your average Latin American will always have an easier time picking up on very nuanced social details and other things very specific to the culture that your average gringo would have a harder time seeing.
And also plenty of gringos do NOT spend time getting to know a vast majority of Latin American countries and, even within whatever country they choose to live in, many do NOT leave their "gringo bubble."
In either case of above, they wouldn't know more about Latin America than the average Latin American.
Having said that, just like in the US or any other country, plenty of people don't know shit about their respective country or broader region it is part of.
I guarantee you that some foreigners can absolutely demonstrate that they know WAY more about the country than the local Latin American.
And especially some foreigners can absolutely demonstrate that about Latin America more broadly as a region if they have been to most countries with plenty of years down here and have often been outside of the bubble.
So, in some cases, I do think some gringos can be more knowledgeable about Latin America or specific Latin American countries than the locals.
I don't think it's typical but I also don't think it's incredibly rare as you do have gringo immigrants that have over a decade or more of living here beyond just the gringo bubble.
I'd argue that the vast majority are not like that though.
But it's not so rare that it never happens either and these gringos do exist.
Of course, in the real world, it's not always very socially intelligent for said gringo to basically "own" the Latin American and prove how uneducated a local can be on his own country like I wrote about here.
Even if you do know more than the average local (but not all locals), it's not usually beneficial to demonstrate that knowledge.
Despite some locals bitching at how we don't assimilate enough, there are certain issues with demonstrating that you know too much for various reasons.
Be it any of the following reasons (including others perhaps):
- You stepping outside of their mental box of how you should just be a temporary visitor that only serves to spend money as a tourist or help them practice English versus actually being a permanent immigrant.
- Making them feel insecure and stupid about how little they know of their own country or region (which you find in any country).
- Coming across as trying to "go full Latino."
- Sometimes it is better to pretend that you don't understand Spanish or Portuguese depending on the social situation.
And whatever else!
Having said that, sometimes though the local does appreciate if we know something like Spanish (especially if you meet them outside of the touristy areas where locals tend to almost come across as grateful for learning their language).
So, depending on the social context, sometimes it is better to demonstrate knowledge of Latin America and sometimes it's better to pretend to be the gringo with limited knowledge.
Anyway, that's all I got to say.
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Thanks for reading.