Weirdos and foreigners

Cross posted from Overcoming Bias. Comments there.

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Maybe this is old advice, or so obvious that everyone figures it out. But handy tip for if you are strange, and you want others to not think you are strange: hang out with foreigners.

To foreigners, everyone from your culture is strange. It could easily take them years to realize that some of your peculiarities are actually your peculiarities, not quaint oddities of your backward culture.

They don’t need to be actually foreign in the national sense for this, but they do need to be at least fairly unfamiliar with your culture. People from a distant generation or social set should also work.

I have tried out this advice a bit when house-sharing. Usually I find sharing houses somewhat uncomfortable. One reason is that I have fairly obsessive-compulsive kitchen-use tendencies. When I first moved to Pittsburgh I lived with two of my Chinese colleagues. Amongst the mutually alien methods of cooking, and alien foods, and alien eating arrangements, and alien hygiene protocols in general, who bats an eyelid if you happen to wash things a couple of times more than the usual American? This made things more comfortable, modulo the fact that some foreign cooking habits don’t mix well with OCD.

Of course, the foreigners you hang out with are unusually likely to be following the same strategy. If you rudely want to avoid hanging out with strange foreigners while gaining the benefits of hiding your own strangeness, you should hang out with more foreigners. That way you can compare foreigners against one another and distinguish individual strangeness from cultural strangeness. Relatedly, you should avoid hanging out with more locals at the same time.

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