Is 'Foreigner' an offensive term?

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Is 'Foreigner' an offensive term?

Postby davef » Thu Jun 28, 2007 1:43 am UTC

If this isn't weighty enough for SB, I've no problem with it being moved to General.

Three very good friends of mine are not Irish - two Aussies, one Californian. The other day I was chatting to the Californian, and she said it was a cold day. (Naturally the two Aussies are always complaining about it being freezing, and we haven't been having a great summer so far.) I responded with something like 'Man, I'm sick of you foreigners always bitching about how cold it is!' but I said it with a smile on my face. She then had a go at me, asying that she finds the word 'foreigner' offensive since it implies a person with no nationality. She would prefer the term 'non-national' or 'American' obviously. She also said that my two Aussie friends dislike the word too, and are shocked that I use it.

I replied that that sounded to me like excessive PC bullshit. Foreigner, in Ireland at least, means someone who is not Irish. Nothing sinister about it. Now admittedly there's a lot of brouhaha in the media nowadays about non-nationals and asylum seekers and immigration and racism, because we have experienced unprecedented levels of immigration during the last five or six years. But to me, it's getting a bit excessive. It seems like there's this preemptive moderation or alteration of certain words, *in case* someone may take offence. I think, if you move to another country, you don't have the right to say which words are offensive to you. (I am obviously not including intentionally insulting or derogatory words and/or terms in this statement.)

I should stress that I'm not up on a high horse about this, but I'm curious to know if I'm being insensitive, or if there are subtleties that I'm missing.

What do you guys think?
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Re: Is 'Foreigner' an offensive term?

Postby Phenriz » Thu Jun 28, 2007 1:53 am UTC

davef wrote:I should stress that I'm not up on a high horse about this, but I'm curious to know if I'm being insensitive, or if there are subtleties that I'm missing.

What do you guys think?


I believe it's common practice in many countries to refer to foreigners as such. However here in the States everyone i know refers so foreigners by their nationality when statesments like that are made.

Referring to all people of other nationaliies constantly as "Foreigner" can sound slightly haughty.

If you said it to me, i'd probably respond in an somewhat arrogant manner that "I'm American and don't you forget it ya Mc"(i'm of Coyle-Irish decent myself), but it'd be in the same semi-jesting manner that you made your comment in. No real harm, no foul. It sounds to me like something i might say to my friend(s) but then we're always poking fun at each other's nationalities, so that may be a bit of an oddity.

Yeah it sounds like she was over-sensitive about it myself, but again i take effort not to associate with people that take themselves too seriously and Basically Decent shit too seriously. So maybe it'd be best not to take my advice.
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Postby tessuraea » Thu Jun 28, 2007 1:54 am UTC

I wouldn't have an issue with the word "foreigner," but then I'm from a seriously xenophobic (but nice about it) part of the US, where you can literally live your whole life in the state and still be "from away."

I'm technically from away myself, because my parents, locals, moved out of the state and had two kids, then moved back. I don't tell people that very often.

So to me, well, I don't expect people to just welcome me with open arms when I travel, and I wouldn't be offended by "foreigner" or "outsider" or "visitor" or "traveler" or much of anything along that line.

I don't want to say no one should be offended by it, though. I just know I wouldn't be.
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Re: Is 'Foreigner' an offensive term?

Postby davef » Thu Jun 28, 2007 2:04 am UTC

Phenriz wrote:I believe it's common practice in many countries to refer to foreigners as such. However here in the States everyone i know refers so foreigners by their nationality when statesments like that are made.

Referring to all people of other nationaliies constantly as "Foreigner" can sound slightly haughty.


I suppose this conversation never would have happened had they all been American or Australian. Then I'd have simply said 'I'm sick of you Aussies....'. Simpler to say '...foreigners...' though, than '...Americans and Australians...'.
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Postby Phenriz » Thu Jun 28, 2007 2:12 am UTC

yeah, although given your situation i probably would have said something similar.

I'd shrug it off and move on tbh. But if the aussies don't grow a pair and bring it up i'd keep on keeping on, simply because the californian said the aussies don't like it doesn't make it so, ya know?

and if they told her to speak up for them, i'd be pissed.
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Postby davef » Thu Jun 28, 2007 2:21 am UTC

Phenriz wrote:I'd shrug it off and move on tbh. But if the aussies don't grow a pair and bring it up i'd keep on keeping on, simply because the californian said the aussies don't like it doesn't make it so, ya know?

and if they told her to speak up for them, i'd be pissed.


I don't think they told her to tell me. They're certainly forthright enough to have mentioned it to me themselves if they wanted to. All three of them probably discussed it at some stage, because they often talk to each other about what it's like to move to a different country, and share stories about differences that they've noticed, and things that they find cute or odd or whatever. Conversations that they couldn't have as easily with me because I, naturally don't see anything as different - that's the way we've always done it!

I'm assuming that it isn't a huge deal for any of them, but it just happened to come up between me and the Californian because of what I said.
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Postby Wordmaster » Thu Jun 28, 2007 2:47 am UTC

I think your friend may be too Hot Blooded. But perhaps since she's a Long, Long Way From Home she's feeling like a Girl On The Moon. In my opinion, She's Too Tough. But perhaps her reception overseas has been Cold As Ice? It can be tough to live in Two Different Worlds, and sometimes you fear your counterparts are playing Head Games.

Also, Double Vision.

:P

I'm not sure how the word "foreigner" implies "a person with no nationality." By definition, it simply means someone from a different nation/country/group/etc.

I think the problem might arise from the connotation that the word carries; often "foreign" is taken to mean "strange," and this might be a contributing factor to your friend's reaction.

It's never bothered me, nor anyone I know. An attempt to remove it from our vocabulary smacks of excessive PC fallout, like you said (it's not intended to be offensive (usually) but there exists the possibility to offend, and so it shouldn't be used). I say the misunderstanding lies on the receiver's end, since the word in itself is not a slur.
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Postby the Cow » Thu Jun 28, 2007 3:37 am UTC

Frankly, it sounds to me that there may have been more going on that led to your friend reacting so badly to the term "foreigner". I may be reading more into your post than was intended. But I would review the circumstances of that day and the days previous to see if there may have been something else bothering your friend and that they simply used that moment to expand on some other frustration.

Sorry, if I'm completely off base.

All too often I find myself reacting to innocent statements because of an association with previous thoughts or experiences. The speaker may have little to do with the reaction, and I have to hold back the reaction to remain fair.

Here, the term foreigner has only mildly negative implications when spoken in a good natured way. I can't speak to portions of the US where immigration is a "problem".
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Postby zenten » Thu Jun 28, 2007 3:55 am UTC

To me it fits, as long as it's used appropriately. For instance, my Dad wasn't born in Canada, but he moved here when he was 5. Calling him a foreigner would be rather inappropriate. Calling me one would be doubly so. Calling a first nations person a foreigner (it happens) is just incredibly stupid.

However, calling someone who has no intention on staying in the country, and moved here recently? Not so much of a problem.

Although your example isn't totally correct, as if I was among that group I wouldn't be complaining about the cold (unless it was like -20 or something).
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Postby hyperion » Thu Jun 28, 2007 4:20 am UTC

I think that if you're so offended by the word 'foreigner' then you shouldn't be allowed to travel abroad.

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Postby ArchangelShrike » Thu Jun 28, 2007 4:28 am UTC

Here in Hawaii, "foreigner" is polite. Be happy that we call you that, because it's the lesser of two evils. Visitors, malihini, that's the most positive aspect, but when we start calling you something else, it's time for fighting.

Seriously, if you are offended because you're called a foreigner, get out and go home. It shouldn't matter, it's completely accurate.
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Postby SecondTalon » Thu Jun 28, 2007 5:33 am UTC

I'm pretty much seconding most of what was said, I guess...

If you don't want to be called a foreigner, don't travel.
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Postby Gelsamel » Thu Jun 28, 2007 6:01 am UTC

First of all no word is offensive - only the context and behaviour is offensive. The idea that a series of sounds can be inherently offensive is ridiculous.

A discussion about 1 particular word... I don't think that warrants SB discussion. Some people don't like certain words (maybe stupidly) and other people do like them or don't mind them.

However maybe a discussion about "offensive" words in general is more suiting.
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Postby GhostWolfe » Thu Jun 28, 2007 6:23 am UTC

I think I agree with the dictionary on this one: it simply means "not from around here".

Link 1
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Not meaning to discount your friend's feelings, if they don't like the word, I can respect that, but I don't think they understand the meaning correctly.
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Postby SecondTalon » Thu Jun 28, 2007 12:27 pm UTC

Gelsamel wrote:First of all no word is offensive - only the context and behaviour is offensive. The idea that a series of sounds can be inherently offensive is ridiculous.


Inherently? I'll agree with you on that. But given that a certain culture is a part of context, the end result is that certain words are offensive on an apparent inherent level within certain societies. Foreigner is not one of these words.
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Postby davef » Thu Jun 28, 2007 3:14 pm UTC

Thanks to everyone for your input. I didn't expect this one to take off into any kind of heated debate, just wanted to throw it out there. I guess we can let it sink now...

Also - Cow, your suggestion makes some sense in the context of my Californian friend. She has been quite emotional lately (and I'm not saying that in the typical male 'Oh, FFS, she's being all emotional again..' manner), and that may have had something to do with it.
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Postby space_raptor » Thu Jun 28, 2007 3:21 pm UTC

Wordmaster is completely, 100% correct. Dude, that was sweet, and I appreciated it, even if apparently no one else did.

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Postby davef » Thu Jun 28, 2007 3:26 pm UTC

Oh, right, Foreigner the band!

Ok, now it doesn't seem so random. Well done Wordmaster :)
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Postby Jarrad » Thu Jun 28, 2007 4:37 pm UTC

I think your friend has extremely thin skin.

I mean, I know that personally, foreigner is the least of anything that my friends and I would call eachother, and this is simply because we make a habit of using all the very worst stereotypes and slurs to eachother as a joke. I might call my italian friends gunieas or wops, my catholic friends I tend to refer to as "silly, misguided, papists" my friend Mo and I once had a slur-off, which he won really very soundly after implying very articulately that because of my Greco-Scottish heritage I liked to have huge orgies that involved little boys AND sheep. I don't really know why this particular dynamic has formed among my friends and I but if I called one of them a foreigner that'd be pretty mild. I mean when my Jewish buddy Pete calls I usually answer something like "Pete, you penny-pinchin' son of a bitch, how ARE things in Heimy town?
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Postby MFHodge » Thu Jun 28, 2007 4:50 pm UTC

I disagree with the majority a bit. I know I would interpret the word as having a small amount of unwelcomeness associated with it. I know I wouldn't use it in the context that you are describing and I would be mildly offended if it was used to describe me. Not much, but a little.
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Postby Princess Marzipan » Thu Jun 28, 2007 4:52 pm UTC

Accurate word is accurate; unfounded negative connotation is unfounded.
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Postby Gelsamel » Thu Jun 28, 2007 5:09 pm UTC

It's all about context...

"Whatcha you doin' 'ere foreigner!?"

vs.

"We don't see foreigner's 'round 'ere much"

vs

"What a bunch of lovely foreigners!"

Said with appropriate tones the first would probably offend more people then the 2nd which is somewhat neutral and the last which would be received more positively.
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Postby MFHodge » Thu Jun 28, 2007 5:19 pm UTC

I suppose my comments were based on the fact that in my experience I have heard many more uses of the first example. So much so that it makes the third (polite) example seem condesending.

Maybe this is another example of regional differences. I do live in a rather "redneck" part of the world where the majority of people find immigration to be a very big problem (but that is another thread entirely :D ).
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Postby davef » Thu Jun 28, 2007 5:32 pm UTC

I suppose there are two different perspectives here.

1) My perspective. I know exactly what I mean when I say the word 'foreigner'.

2) The listener's perspective. She may interpret different meanings than I do. Maybe in California the use of the word is generally more sinister. Maybe she's more sensitive to the various connotations because she has moved to this country and *is*, therefore a foreigner/non-national/immigrant (delete as appropriate).

I just assume everybody instinctively knows what my meaning is. That applies for most words, I guess. I still don't agree with her getting so annoyed about it, but I do see her side of the coin a little better now.
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Postby arbivark » Thu Jun 28, 2007 6:15 pm UTC

We prefer to be known as baka gaigin. Auslander will suffice.
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Postby space_raptor » Thu Jun 28, 2007 6:38 pm UTC

This is a bit of a stretch, but in California maybe the most common use for the term "foreigner" is used to refer to Mexicans. Quite often it might not be meant in the friendliest way.

I call my American buddy "foreigner" all the time. It is probably not as funny as I think it is, but it is meant lightly. He has no problem with it, and he's from California too.
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Re: Is 'Foreigner' an offensive term?

Postby mqarcus » Thu Jun 28, 2007 7:54 pm UTC

I would not say "foreigner" is an offensive term. I am polish, and I live in Sweden, and there I am a foreigner. I consider nationality being a valuable thing, which should be considered as it has a lot to do with one's personality.

When I say foreigner I mean a person by blood not related to the contry/nation he is currently in.
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Postby zenten » Thu Jun 28, 2007 8:33 pm UTC

When I say foreigner I mean a person by blood not related to the contry/nation he is currently in.


What do you mean by that? From my understanding of what you said, that would mean by that definition there are like less than 1 million north americans.
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Postby Vaniver » Thu Jun 28, 2007 8:34 pm UTC

zenten wrote:
When I say foreigner I mean a person by blood not related to the contry/nation he is currently in.


What do you mean by that? For instance, by that definition there are like less than 1 million north americans.
I would imagine he means that first-generation immigrants (defining first generation as "born elsewhere") are foreigners, regardless of how long they lived in the country, rather than "your ethnic group must have been in this region when it was first recognized as an ethnic group for you to count as a native."
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Postby QuantumTroll » Thu Jun 28, 2007 8:48 pm UTC

I get called "foreigner" all the time, both as a joke and in serious conversation. Actually, I kind of like it that people remember that I'm from a different background, 'cause it explains away some of my quirks. I feel that it lets me get away with stuff.

I believe "foreigner" is a term that will stick for a long time. Technically, I'm Swedish and moving there in a month, but spending half of my life in USA and the rest in Netherlands & Belgium has probably messed up any chances of normally integrating into any national culture...
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Postby SpitValve » Thu Jun 28, 2007 9:34 pm UTC

I think of non-New Zealanders as foreigners, and will be quite happy to be referred to as a foreigner when I'm in Canada. I was "farang" in Thailand, which is basically "white westerner" which I didn't mind either - I mean, it was accurate. It's better than calling me an Aussie.

But I wouldn't like being called a forienger in the country I was born in, just because the English got there 600 years after the Maori. But if I'm not a foriegner in New Zealand, is there anywhere I'm not a foriegner?
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Postby MFHodge » Thu Jun 28, 2007 10:59 pm UTC

I'm going to revise my position a bit. The word "foreigner" should not be found offensive or used in an offensive way. There are far to many words that have had their meanings changed to include negative connotations. "Handicap" for example has a very definite meaning. People may not like the word to be applied to them for various reasons but the word does have a non-offensive definition.

My previous statements where I said that the word was a little offensive were based on the fact that I would assume that the person saying it meant it to be offensive. Clearly most people here would not use it to belittle some one and should not be forced to find another word when "foreigner" will fit in nicely.
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Postby ArchangelShrike » Thu Jun 28, 2007 11:17 pm UTC

Just keep the natives happy, SpitValve. You aren't Maori, but you aren't a foreigner or "Haole"... I can't tell what it's like in NZ, but in Hawaii most educated "natives" realize that even if there was such a thing as a reversion to the old ways, a Native Hawaiian nation split from the USA to the effect of a Native American tribal nation or such, we have to include most of the people still there. Would we exile our families for not having native blood? No. Would you want a clan of Pacific Islanders coming after you?

But this is a very different discussion from what is discussed here.

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Postby mqarcus » Thu Jun 28, 2007 11:19 pm UTC

zenten wrote:
When I say foreigner I mean a person by blood not related to the contry/nation he is currently in.


What do you mean by that? From my understanding of what you said, that would mean by that definition there are like less than 1 million north americans.


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Postby Alisto » Thu Jun 28, 2007 11:26 pm UTC

A word cannot be offensive. Intent or a statement can be. That's all there is to it.

That's not to say people can't find words offensive. However, people who do so are overly-sensitive idiots who just want attention and/or to complain about something.
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Postby SecondTalon » Fri Jun 29, 2007 2:20 am UTC

Specific words within a specific culture are offensive.
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Postby SpitValve » Fri Jun 29, 2007 3:47 am UTC

SecondTalon wrote:Specific words within a specific culture are offensive.


That's true. In NZ, "bugger" is much less offensive than in England (apparently).

It also feels ... not so much offensive as slightly rude to point out differences in race - I notice that when people describe what a person looks like they often are quite way about explicitly saying their race. They'll say it, but by tiptoeing around it...

Was completely different in Thailand. I was a farang, and there was no reason to tiptoe around something so obvious.
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Postby jwwells » Fri Jun 29, 2007 4:18 am UTC

The word "foreigner" has a disproportionate amount offensiveness in its history, but it's not inherently offensive. That said, calling a citizen or permanent resident a foreigner is offensive, even if they're first-generation. If somebody jumps through the hoops necessary to get naturalized, that's that.
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Postby mqarcus » Fri Jun 29, 2007 7:44 am UTC

jwwells wrote:That said, calling a citizen or permanent resident a foreigner is offensive, even if they're first-generation.


Uhm... You could not... uh... maybe imagine that... uh... it's up to the victim of this TERRIBLE CRIME?
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Postby davef » Fri Jun 29, 2007 5:13 pm UTC

SecondTalon wrote:Specific words within a specific culture are offensive.


In this case, I'm not aware that within my culture (Ireland) the word has any specific negative connotations. Even historically, I don't think there are any, and we've had more than our fair share of invasions over the last eighteen hundred years. (We have far more vindictive terms to describe the invaders...)

jwwells wrote:That said, calling a citizen or permanent resident a foreigner is offensive, even if they're first-generation. If somebody jumps through the hoops necessary to get naturalized, that's that.


I agree, although none of the three people in question have been naturalised. I'm the only Irish citizen among the four of us.


I must say, it feels a bit odd to be still discussing this now. I've been hanging out since with all three of the people concerned, both together and separately, and it is not an issue for any of us! There is no bad feeling, and we have completely moved on from the issue. I started this thread simply to thrash out the idea, so thanks to everyone who responded. I don't think I'll post here anymore, though.

:)
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