The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Free at last of the media bubble: The FT’s Simon Kuper on the expat life

Every once in a while, I come across an article on the expat life that is so brilliant, I cannot refrain from screaming “yes!” aloud — thereby disturbing my two dogs, who don’t like being aroused from their naps unless it’s food.

That’s how I felt when reading Simon Kuper’s “Why expats don’t get tinnitus,” which appeared in the March 25 FT Magazine.

Kuper had me with the opening sentence:

I’ve lived in Paris for nine years now, but I’m still often not sure what goes on here.

Yes, I can relate, after my nine years in England and my seven in Japan!

He then goes one to say that he doesn’t actually mind living in ignorance, if it means being immune to the daily news cycle —  who’s up and who’s down — as well as the “status dance.”

Yes, I get that, too! Particularly in Japan, where I soon reached the point of not really knowing or caring whether I was meeting VIPs (the exception being when I met Prince Charles). I could decide whether I liked a person for who they were, not for the “status hat” they were wearing. (Not sure he could have worn a hat, with those ears.)

For Kuper, living in the media bubble can be likened to having a “constant dreadful ringing sound in your ears,” or tinnitus. He says he loves his tinnitus-free life, recognizing he’s not the first expat to feel this way. (No, he’s not!) He quotes the writer James Baldwin saying he was grateful to Paris for treating him with “utter indifference,” notes that Gertrude Stein appreciated Paris for a similar reason, and acknowledges Pico Iyer for capturing the liberation-through-alienation sentiment so well in his book The Global Soul.

The only thing I can’t concur with is Kuper’s conclusion, that if the Internet could be shut down, he’d be completely cured of his tinnitus. Were it not for the Web and my Google alerts, I may never have discovered this article of his, and would be the poorer for it.

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4 responses to “Free at last of the media bubble: The FT’s Simon Kuper on the expat life

  1. Almost American April 2, 2011 at 8:44 am

    I remember having dinner in Taiwan at a very nice restaurant with one of my students and her father. I had absolutely no idea until the next morning when I showed his business card to colleagues at work that he was the Taiwanese equivalent of Donald Trump.

    • ML Awanohara April 2, 2011 at 1:06 pm

      Thanks to your comment, I’m now remembering how good I became at distinguishing between people who are true VIPs from the “I ams.” That’s when I was living in Japan as a corporate wife, and we had to host many big business types. The “I ams” were the ones who were climbing the ladder but hadn’t quite made it (perhaps never would) so would always start their sentences with “I am” or “I did” or “I met.” The really important people were usually much easier to converse with because they didn’t need to impress anyone (they’d already made it to the top) so could even take an interest in the person they were talking to.

      In other words, your student’s father may have come across as nothing special because he’s already considered so special, if that makes sense.

      • ML Awanohara April 2, 2011 at 1:08 pm

        p.s. But if you had dinner with Donald Trump and didn’t seem to know who he was, I’m sure he would have let you know — for a start, by refusing to shake your hand (he’s notoriously fearful of germs). For some reason, American big whigs are the exception. Even those who reach the top are terribly insecure and can’t laugh at themselves. Give me a British VIP over an American one any day!

      • Almost American April 2, 2011 at 10:36 pm

        I knew he was wealthy enough to own the skyscraper where we were having dinner, but he came across as just a nice guy. Your comment about how to tell the VIPS from the “I ams” makes perfect sense! When I met Queen Noor of Jordan at a school one of her children attended, she was clearly not an “I am” – much less high maintenance than many of the other parents there!

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