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30 March 2017


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Renzo Panda has pointed to a really significant issue when he states that expatriates in PNG are "without the degree of authentic culture that we have".

The numbers of Australians who simply know nothing about their cultural origins or why they think and do some of the things they do, is a source of endless bewilderment and annoyance to historians.

Many of these people have only the haziest idea about how and why their own cultural practices and norms came into existence.

Certain European cultural norms (especially those relating to the rights of individuals and the paramountcy of economics over everything else) were significantly internationalised through the imposition of European imperialism across much of the world during the 19th century.

As a consequence, far too many Europeans have come to believe that their way of life is inherently right and necessarily superior to anyone else's.

So, while European imperialism in a formal sense is dead and buried, its echoes remain evident within modern European neo-liberal culture.

It is therefore no surprise to me that some expatriates going to PNG conclude that the cultural differences they see are evidence of their own personal and cultural superiority.

The truth is that culture is only properly understandable if you know something about the historic, geographic and environmental context within which it emerged.

Most people, of virtually any culture, apparently do not know this. They only know their particular society's "rules" and how to apply them.

Given this background, it is inevitable that there will be some expatriates whose innate sense of cultural superiority and, frequently, access to a great deal more resources than they would normally have at home, rapidly adopt some of the more repugnant attitudes and behaviours from the colonial past.

This saddens me because, in doing so, they cause offence and upset for Papua New Guineans and damage our collective reputation along the way.

Maybe the worst effects of this can be mitigated by insisting that all intending expatriate workers undergo some cultural awareness training but I seem to recall Phil Fitzpatrick saying that this had been tried without much success.

Sadly, Papua New Guineans are apparently going to be stuck with some stupid and arrogant expatriates for some time to come.

Thank you for your thougthful and interesting comments. Two more thoughts:

1- It is more than cultural acceptance and tolerance, although this is a necessary condition for positive interactions. A strong sense of cultural identify and self helps in the interaction with others. It is not only accepting others, but also accepting yourself, your history and who you are (personality).

2- At the University, almost all non-citizens we hire are highly accomplished. They have a doctorate and teaching experience. In my own case, for example, I already had 6 years of executive experience with Board accountability before become Vice Chancellor. If recruitment is done properly, the University system requires us to hire qualified and experienced people.

3- In some aid organizations, regrettably, often people without experience are hired. Many countries have an over production of university graduates who can not find other jobs. For them the allowances give them the opportunity to save hundreds of thousands of dollars and buy a house after their PNG term.

Thank you Dr Schram - I guess it all comes down to humility and cultural acceptance of how you relate to each other.

In their own countries, most Westerners, of course without the degree of authentic culture we have, operate in isolation on a daily basis, and they compete aggressively with their colleagues for status and material gain in employment and every walk of life.

This gives them a certain degree of importance and it is a topic of discussions during social gathering and family dinners. They don't have a carefree way of living and most of them love their freedom and space

When they get an opportunity to work abroad it becomes an opportunity of finding self-importance and making up for what they cannot easily get in their countries, and that is the level of self importance.

When I see non-PNG citizens, especially Caucasians like this, I pity them and tell myself I am happy that at least PNG can offer them some feeling of self importance because when they go back to their country, their own circumstances may not allow them to enjoy such privileged feeling and treatment.

So for me, I see it as a real cultural difference, but as long as we Papua New Guineans, when working amongst them, know we are professionals and experts in our own right, there is no need to feel challenged.

Two things occur to me about this situation.

The first is that if you put relatively young expatriates into a place like PNG on short term placements they tend to take the opportunity to leave their inhibitions behind and play up, doing things they wouldn't dream of doing back in their home countries for fear of sanctions. There was a lot of this sort of bad behaviour in pre-independent PNG.

The second is that most of these expatriates are used to certain levels of behaviour and service that are not generally available in PNG, especially to Papua New Guineans. Many Papua New Guineans visiting Australia, for instance, comment on the friendly, good mannered way shop owners, bank staff and hoteliers etc. treat their customers. In contrast many business people, store owners, public servants etc. in PNG treat their own people in an offhand and perfunctory manner. If they did that to expatriates they would lose their custom. Expatriates have money and to get them to spend it one must treat them with kid gloves.

Churlish expatriates need to realise where they are and accept the local behaviours but Papua New Guineans also need to stop kowtowing to them.

It's a perception and attitude thing.

The Australians I know who have become very good friends and colleagues appear to treat people just the same: people are the same everywhere.

And those who appear to get the best out of their stay in PNG have been those who just become normal people like other Papua New Guineas.

On the post of technical jobs: Any job or position that is available should be open to competition and appointment based on merit.

And I have come across Australians with an "attitude" and Papua New Guineans with their own "attitudes."

There is nothing wrong with providing competitive packages to attract the best talent to one's organization. But this goes overboard considering mostly Papua New Guineans and PNG businesses have to pay for such extravagance!

During my tenure I found that expatriates who lived in fear invariably ruled by fear.

I am not going to comment on other organisations, but at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology we do not have a situation of excessive privilege.

We educate nationals up to doctorate, and hire them as lecturers when they are fully qualified.

Unfortunately, there continues to be a scarcity of qualified nationals, so we hire fully qualified non-citizens for teaching positions. We call them non-citizens and not expats because they do not have substantially different employment conditions.

Currently, we have about 45 non-citizens and over 150 lecturers and instructors. We all live on the same campus, and we all suffer from high crime rate, violent crime, power cuts, lack of public transport, high prices, malaria and other drawbacks of living in PNG.

In line with other countries, we give internationally mobile knowledge workers a 30% extra allowance, so that they can offset extra costs such as double taxation, storage, and other costs associated with international mobility.

This is not apartheid, not neo-colonial and simply best practice in the higher education sector and some industries.

The civility and behaviour of our staff varies widely. The average occupancy in our staff houses by nationals is 20, so we are reducing this now gradually to assure a proper living environment for a professional, middle class staff member.

I personally make sure non-citizens behave in an exemplary fashion. With a few exception over the past years, we have had not problems with that.

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