Thursday, June 11, 2009

#2 The Foreigner Effect

39 percent of San Francisco residents were born overseas. San Francisco like all great American cities has a long and colorful tradition of xenophobia, but, on balance, today’s SF foreigner is pretty well received. He usually has a winning angle or two: status as a political refugee, an adorable ineptitude with English syntax, bad-ass computational skills, skinny-and-chic Euro half-pants; something cool. He is also a potential transmission source for nightmarish diseases like SARS, Swine Flu and Bird Influenza but as long as the French Tuesdays invites keep coming everyone looks the other way.

Where the SF foreigner suffers is in the area of sex. He doesn’t get his dry-cleaner burnt down anymore, sure, but he doesn’t get female attention either so, in a way, at least as far as his DNA is concerned and unless he’s carted along a girl from back home, what’s the point?

The problem is two-fold. First of all, as socio-biologists have pointed out, expatriates are hugely disadvantaged in the competition to impress ladies. Experts Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa say, in explaining why single men go abroad with far less frequency than single women, that a man’s “attractiveness” - which depends on all these culturally specific things beyond his physical appearance - does not translate well to to other countries, where the stuff people and chicks value (e.g., throwing a football, English language skills, investment banking) are not necessarily the things he’s good at (e.g., juggling a soccer ball, Hungarian language skills, combatting vampires (we kid)).

Secondly, though girls have no special antipathy to foreigners per se they are instinctually distrustful of casual acquaintances who do not belong to their circle of friends and family. Expatriate foreigners, absent extenuating circumstances, not only fall within this zone of distrust, but exactly into its sweet spot, because they are not only literal strangers but metaphorically strange with their weird accents and unnaturally intimate double-kiss greetings. Evolutionary psychologists believe that female xenophobia is a function of sexual selection: girls are wired to be attracted to partners with known resources and community ties, because such partners are more likely to provide long-term love and care.

Paradoxically, girls LOVE foreigners when traveling abroad, where the relevant context makes everybody equally strange and therefore equally familiar. A girl on a language immersion program in Italy, for example, finds Ronaldo or Serge or Alexis or whoever urbane, exotic and charmingly bilingual. But stateside such same guys seem like random roving outsiders with lousy grammar and personal space issues. They still seem interesting but they also seem skinny, hairy, and vaguely creepy. Imagine a bar swarming with such guys. Girls do no go this bar. The bar is San Francisco.


  1. This one I have to disagree with. Asian men may have it hard, but European men, especially French and Italian ones, attract SF women like shit does flies.

  2. as a male who has done a lot of traveling, this is a brilliant thesis which i have always been somewhat aware of yet never read expressed so well.

  3. Jesus dude - xenophobia, not zenophobia.

    Plus - this is a very difference SF you're talking about. Filipino immigrants are not living in the Marina or the areas where your readers are.

    Second - dude, foreigners ALWAYS get the girls. It's basic primate behavior. Men from other tribes wander in and women want the fresh DNA. The men, on the other hand, want to beat them up.

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