The Arrogance of the Third Culture Kid – Part Two

Pakistan - Lower Bazaar MurreeThe response to “The Arrogance of the Third Culture Kid – Part One” was overwhelming. It struck a chord in many of us and Cecily’s vulnerability allowed us to see ourselves in her story – different passport countries but similar narratives. Today Cecily brings us Part Two of her post on The Arrogance of the Third Culture Kid. If you missed Part One take a look here.


You can be arrogant about different things. The rich and wealthy are often considered arrogant by people less well off. Smart people can be arrogant about their brains, sporty people about their brawn. I watch Survivor (my fave show) where the arrogant contestant is a staple of the cast line up every year. In one particular season the good-looking girl was the arrogant one. She created groups and excluded others depending on their ‘hotness’ and ‘cuteness’.

No matter what area of life arrogance shows up in, it’s always an attitude of superiority. Arrogance seeks to diminish the personhood of another based on not matching up to certain criteria, usually determined by the arrogant person. It’s one person saying to another, “You’re not good enough because you don’t tick my boxes.”

I had a lot of boxes when I was a young adult.

The things I valued included being smart, educated, globally-aware with a broad outlook on life, well-travelled, interested in social justice, opinionated, hard-working, straightforward, sensible, clear about your goals, kind, funny and a good conversationalist.

All of those things were fine in themselves. In fact, they were better than fine. They were good, worthwhile, valuable, necessary and community-changing. The problem was that if other people didn’t match up to my standards, I dismissed, disregarded, disdained, disrespected and even despised them. My version of being human was better than theirs. Of course, I hid it – or I tried to. But you can’t stop arrogance leaking out the cracks.

As a third culture kid I put on arrogance as a protection. It was hard to fit nowhere and always be on the outside of every group. I didn’t know the rules of the culture I was supposed to belong to and I didn’t have the group knowledge that my peers took for granted. I didn’t like feeling like I was second best; an oddity; that girl with the funny accent.

It hurt. A lot.

So I created my own identity where I didn’t have to be worse than everybody else. In my version of the world, I was better, for a whole variety of reasons.

It wasn’t until later, when I was older, that I realized that this didn’t really work so well. For a start I was lonely. With every strong wind I wobbled precariously on the pedestal of my own making. And when I did finally fall off, it was hard to accept that I wasn’t perfect, and even harder to accept that I needed help.

Shedding my TCK arrogance meant taking a new look at the lives of the people I was living among. They weren’t second best, small, trivial or stagnant, like I had always thought. They were just lives. They were just people.

I also had to take a look at myself and ask the question: what am I trying to protect myself from? Grief, yes. Hurt, certainly. But most of all, the idea that I am second best. Having a truer perception of myself in relation to others and God helped me be brave to feel the grief, experience the hurt, and know that I am loved, just as surely as others are too.

For a while I felt invisible in my new identity.

It felt as though without the armor of superiority, no-one could see me. But it wasn’t true. People could always see me. The difference was that now I could relate to them. I didn’t have to get rid of the boxes I ticked for myself, but I could now value other people’s boxes just as much.

Maybe not all TCKs are like me and put on arrogance as protection. Even so, there is still often a perception that we are know-it-alls and show-offs, often simply because we have different knowledge to the people around us.

I remember as a little girl on furlough in Australia expressing surprise at the size of the garlic bulbs in the supermarket. “That’s a lot bigger than in Pakistan,” I said to my cousin, who promptly turned up her nose at me.

“Well, in Australia, that’s how big garlic is,” she said sniffily. I could see she was upset but I had no idea what I had said.

I only understood it later in life when I met an exchange student at uni.
“Back home we do this,” she said. “In the US we do that.” I found it boring at first. And then I found it insulting. “I have such great times with my really great friends back home,” she said. “I really miss them.”

“If it’s so great, why don’t you go back there,” was my immediate thought. “Aren’t we good enough for you?” And all of a sudden I realized why my cousin had been upset about the garlic. All she had heard from me was “Pakistan this and Pakistan that” and she was tired of it. Didn’t her experience count for something too? Couldn’t I just start living where I was?

Children blurt out what’s on their minds, but as TCK adults we have a choice; we can constantly talk about our past experiences and places we’ve been and risk being thought arrogant and difficult to get on with. Or we can live more fully where we are, embrace what’s around us and be aware that when we bring other knowledge and experience to the conversation we need to do it with respect for the people we are with and the culture we are in.

Cecily Paterson blogs at She is the author of an award-winning memoir, Love, Tears & Autism, and recently published her first teen novel, Invisible, available free as an e-book at iTunes and and cheap at

Home – Cecily. Mostly.

For more essays on third culture kids take a look at Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging available here: 

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‘Flush-Free Niacin’ for Cultural Blunders

I flushed and laughed nervously with Robynn through this post – It’s perfect for those who have experienced the slow flush that goes from head to toe when we realize we’ve made a cultural blunder.


niacin-flush-free-16222_1Lowell takes Niacin to manage his triglycerides. (although we recently heard a report on NPR that disavowed the effects of this overused medication)…still he takes Niacin. On the bottle it reads, “Niacin Flush free. Inositol hexanicotinate. 500 mg. Dietary supplement.” It’s the ‘flush free’ that intrigues me. I’ve often thought that I’d like to take something like that to help me not flush or blush when I’m faced with cultural blunders. Even now 5 ½ years into this culture I still make mistakes.

I still feel that interior flush creeping out onto my face.

A year ago I had such a moment (I find myself blushing at the memory). We had some friends who were back from Indonesia. Their first three years in Indonesia had not gone as they had expected. There were so many disappointments. The culture shock they experienced was deep and poignant. Leaving the stillness of the Kansas Kanza prairie for the chaos and crowds of the urban tropics must have been intense. Micah and Sara invited us to come have tea. Perhaps we could help them debrief and process some of the shock of it all, some of the trauma.

As we were leaving our house I had this horrible panic set in. We had nothing to bring with us. I should have baked something. I should have picked up some flowers or some sweets. In a moment of desperation I suggested we could stop at a small grocery store around the corner from our house. They had fresh stoneground bread on Tuesdays. We could pick up some bread. You can never go wrong with bread. Although we were running late we still swung by the grocer. Lowell ran in and purchased a lovely loaf of fresh bread, jumped back in the car and we were on our way.

After some quiet in the car as we settled into our drive across town and out into the country where Micah and Sara were staying, Lowell asked a question, “Why did you feel the need to bring something?”

Even as he said it I knew immediately I was confused.  I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I had had a cultural-out-of-country experience. I was perplexed and I was embarrassed. I began to blush and flush. I flustered and blustered. “One of the countries we’ve lived in you’re supposed to bring something sweet the first time you visit.”

Lowell looked at me tenderly, he shook his head, “I don’t think that’s here.” I was mortified. “But you can never go wrong with bread” he said gently.

We arrived at our young friend’s house with our loaf of culturally awkward bread.

And the awkward bread dominoes all started to fall. Micah saw the bread and immediately wondered if we thought they had invited us for a meal and we were to bring the bread.

“Did? You? Eat?” he stammered nervously, his eyes looking around the kitchen to see what they could possibly rustle up. The wheels in Sara’s head also began to whirl. You could see it on her face. She even crossed over to the fridge and opened the door, hoping I’m sure, for some inspiration.

Lowell, seeing Micah’s fear and Sara’s anxiety, immediately jumped in to reassure them, “Oh no, we just brought you some bread for you to enjoy later.”

I wish there was a Niacin-type medicine I could take for these type of blunders, a medicine that would erase the awkward blush on my face, the uncertainty in my heart. It would need to be time-released. Something I could take in the morning but it would last all day.

I never know when I’m going to trip myself up. I’m always taken off guard when the cultures I’ve experienced tangle up inside!

But until such a miracle drug is created for the culturally confused, I guess, you can never go wrong with bread!

What about you? Where have your cultural blunders made you wish for a flush-free drug?