The Ex-Pat Patriarchy of Asia

How to become invisible, silent and successfully fly under the radar…

Wearing my motorcycle helmet with duck tape over my mouth, on the tape it says ‘Quiet!’
Scooter helmet and once the visor is down; ’invincibility bubble’. Image courtesy of the author.

Sorry, hold up. Did you really just do that? Did you just pat me on the head? Like a cat. Like a fucking cat? What am I supposed to do with that? How am I supposed to react?

It would be inappropriate for a work colleague to do that at the best of times, but this is not a normal low key situation, it’s in the middle of an executive meeting and you have just reduced my stature to that of a cute animal. You have literally invalidated every single point I have raised, challenged, and argued so eloquently with that one swift motion.

How fucking dare you.

Do you think this is an isolated incident? Of course not; it’s pretty much a daily occurrence. Is it right? Of course not! Is it acceptable? For the most part, here, I’m afraid to say yes! After a while, you find yourself numb; you have to pick your battles.

In the meantime, let me help you to get there… to the numbness.

When I moved to Asia, Vietnam specifically, I knew there would be cultural differences, nuances, changes I needed to accept, and I was ok with that; I still am. The sticking point for me is that the issue is not with Asia, Asian people or their culture. The issues are with the ex-pat Tribe that inhabit this space. I say Tribe as it’s not fair to use this descriptor for all ex-pats, some of them continue to behave like completely normal respectable human beings, it’s the Tribe that is the issue, and it’s generally (although not always) the men of the group.

Sometimes their conduct is so cringe-worthy, I feel compelled to apologise on behalf of my fellow country people, not because I am particularly patriotic, but because I am so incredibly ashamed of their latest embarrassing debacle.

I don’t know what happens exactly, it’s almost like they cross an invisible line as they fly in, a line that marks the end of good behaviour. They abandon all logic, common sense, manners, civility, grace; basically everything their parents taught them when they were growing up.

They can usually be found with their other Tribe members in their natural habitat (British Pub) demanding more beer and a lock-in at closing time. Outside of the pub, they’ll be riding their Harley Davidson because they were too drunk to make the 3-minute walk to their luxury apartment ( you can smell the stench of stale alcohol before you can see them) modelling a gravity-defying beer gut, often with a beautiful young Asian partner riding pillion or hanging off their arm.

Oh, and don’t think they behave any differently around their partners or spouses. They don’t know how to; it’s so ingrained into the Tribes culture that they think they can do and say whatever they like; sadly, for the most part, they can, with absolutely no repercussions whatsoever.

**You should also know that a large part of this community believe they are not in any way racist; ‘how can I be racist my wife is Asian?’ when in reality they are some of the most bigoted humans I have ever come across**

As women, I think it’s fair to say that we (I generalise as I know there are exceptions) as a whole want to be treated in a dignified manner, be able to wear what we want, be listened to and have our ideas, opinions, work and so on, reviewed in a way that is fair, doesn’t cheapen us, or liken us to a cute cat, (And I am a big fan of cats) and just go about our day to day business without having to deal with this sort of offensive, derogatory behaviour.

Sadly, I have realised that if you don’t look a certain way or conform to a certain dress code, it is likely to provoke some bizarre, offensive, derogatory, patronising comments from this Tribe. On the flip side, if you do look a certain way, a way they consider appropriate for their needs, there is an entire training manual, and I would assume some heavy artillery to enable you to respond accordingly.

Typical Offenses and What You Can Do


You will say and do brilliant, amazing things, and they will go completely unnoticed unless they fuck up, and then you will be paraded as an example with your failures for all to see brought up over and over again for eternity.

Worse still, and this happens all the time, people will take the credit for the things you have said and done (if they think they are good) they will do this blatantly and unapologetically.

Sadly there is very little you can do about the one, just don’t share your brilliant ideas, or leave your job. (although you could end up somewhere even worse — better the devil, eh?)

Your opinion and change

Often I have been asked for my opinion, sometimes I have been foolish enough to give it; I have even incorporated the opinions of others to corroborate mine to help to drive positive change. The thing is, they don’t really want positive change, because that will mean — well, you know — change… Don’t be sucked into this; you’ll just end up looking like a troublemaker.

This is easy, just be quiet, don’t say anything, just repeat this mantra in your head:

‘Everything is wonderful, everything is perfect’

And smile sweetly.

This mantra is super important; you’re going to use it a lot — feel free to make it your own as long as the message is the same; you’re golden.

Do as you are told

That’s right, do as you are told, remember women are supposed to be seen but not heard, and the faster you realise that, the faster you will prove to be less of a potential threat. Don’t question it, don’t suggest better/cheaper/more efficient/environmentally friendly options. Just do it! (you know, like Nike).

Remember your mantra? Insert here:
Yep, you’re getting the hang of it now…

Patronising behaviour

The head pat was possibly the most extreme physical display of patronising behaviour, but you are also prone to the sideways head ‘I feel sorry for you’ face, and ‘aww look how cute’ face and so on. I suspect this is supposed to be endearing. It is not.

I like to visualise chopping that patting hand off, feeding it through a mincing machine, stirfrying it with some ginger and sesame oil before serving it back to them with a nice bowl of noodles.

I find this helps me immensely.

Shock at your age and accomplishments


That actually means, shit, I didn’t realise you were that old and that you might actually know what you are talking about. I was speaking to you as if you were a stupid millennial. They will then attempt to treat you a little better before falling back into the same pattern unless you suddenly age dramatically and start to dress like a tonal mushroom.

Just nod, you can always throw in a snarky:

‘Oh wow you look way older than I thought you were’

It depends on the circumstances, location and so on; remember, you don’t want to get fired. (well, you probably do if you have to deal with this shite, but on your terms and when you are ready, so save it for then)

Often followed by competing with said accomplishments

Now they have found out that you are not a child; you might know some stuff, have been to some places, done some things; this is their cue. You can look forward to a detailed itinerary of their amazing life which has been cooler/scarier/in more countries/at better jobs/with more money and so on.

You will not win this, so throw in a jaw-dropper; really, go for it, don’t hold back. Something so incredibly shocking and gruesome that they will be literally speechless:

‘Yes I went to Mexico once but my friend was shot dead then dismembered by a sicario that was working for a cartel on the outskirts of Sinaloa, did you know that cartel is famous for ripping out the beating heart of their victim and eating it as part of their initiation? I have never fully recovered from that trip’

You can now start slow stepping backwards away from them, they will have no retaliation for this. Full disclosure I made that up; I don’t know if it’s part of the initiation, sounds horrific — that’s the goal here, so awful they’ll be shocked it came out of your adorable, obedient pixie mouth.

Loud talking

This one really winds me up. It’s when someone just talks over the top of you and much louder so no one can hear you, and you eventually give up. Particularly common in the pub/boardroom, often part of competitive accomplishments.

The dream — take in a megaphone, hide it under the table, get it out when the loud talk starts. The reality — a more attainable alternative would be a nerf gun bullet to the eye ‘oops’ or a blood-curdling scream followed by:

‘sorry I thought I saw a spider/scorpian/lizard/snake’

It is extremely effective in overcoming the loud talking; they will often forget what they were banging on about too. Oh yes, I should mention they often have awful memories; I think there must be a correlation between alcohol consumption and memory loss.

Mocking your clothing/appearance

I often have my choices of clothing commented on, normally with such un-originality, it makes me wonder why they even bothered. I wrote a whole article about my dungaree (overall) wearing escapades because of these idiots.

They are just jealous. Belt under the beer gut is hardly a fashion statement, sportswear for doing no sport whatsoever, permanent sweat patch on the back, the obligatory brow mopping rag. Just know that you are a fashion ninja of absolute brilliance, you go forth and continue to conquer; don’t even dignify this with any reaction; you have already won.

Extreme drunkness and inappropriate advances

Another weird behaviour that is extremely prevalent with this Tribe is getting drunker than anyone would want to, EVER, but not as a one-off, quite regularly, daily, in fact. With this comes all sorts of other grotesque and vile conduct. Staggery advances towards unsuspecting females, groping, demanding more drink (which they are often provided with — don’t think you are ever ‘too drunk’ to get served) falling asleep in whatever establishment this might be. As mentioned before, it’s not uncommon for one of this Tribe to wobble out of the bar and get onto their motorbike to ride home, it’s also not uncommon for them to arrive by motorbike already in this state.

What can you do about this? If it’s not a work colleague and you’re not at a work event, I would advise a swift bop to the nose, followed by a push from behind. Chances are you will floor them, they will have no idea what happened, and you can make your bid for freedom. Think of it as a bit like cow tipping, except cows are gentle, kind and have those lovely big eyes, and you must never tip them; these bastards deserve to be tipped, and the principle is very similar.

Think of it as character building

You’re on your own, so you have to develop some strategies that work for you, keep you employed, out of trouble and under the radar until it’s time for you to go to wherever you want next. No, it’s not right, no I do not endorse this, yes I would love to smash this bullshit patriarchy to smithereens.

I once worked with a man who had been living in Asia since his early 20’s; he was a vile and troubled specimen. By the age of 42, the age I am now, he had numerous issues with his liver, a heart bypass, would think nothing of drinking his way through 3 bottles of red at dinner; he was on wife number 4, and 3, 2 and 1 were rinsing him for all he was worth. I regularly had to get up and leave at the explicitly vulgar nature of his conversation topics. He is a shining example of aspiring future Tribespeople.

This Tribe may make your life a little unpleasant, but it’s just temporary, and it will be nowhere near as unpleasant as theirs; they don’t know it yet.

Good luck out there!

Want more useful advice on how to stay alive, look below for all sorts of helpful information… you are so welcome!
*all sarcasm*

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