The funny side of expat Pakistanis


Ask anyone who runs a service business and they will no doubt have their roster of amusing client stories. But ask a Pakistani business owner about their experiences with clients who are of Pakistani descent but born abroad and you will spot a common thread of frustration; 80 per cent of these visitors will insist on seeing us ‘natives’ as the humblest of hicks, the simplest cave-dwellers that ever were. This attitude is positively impenetrable.

An American client once told me, upon inquiry during idle chit-chat, that she worked in “The Magic Kingdom” (Not Disneyland, but the magic kingdom itself apparently! Evidently her morning routine is precipitated by the ministrations of woodland creatures that make her bed, start her coffee machine and answer her emails). This same starry-eyed innocent felt free to comment with surprise on the cleanliness of my salon, the fluency of my English and the freedom that meant that I could drive myself home.

The same maddening attitude was demonstrated by a client who had been a New Yorker for a decade or so. She insisted on pulling out all of her own make-up even though I had the same brands sitting right in front of her. I wanted to show her the effect of mascara application and so I picked up an eyeshadow case and directed her to view the result in the little mirror within. She looked at me with condescension and explained that what I was holding in my hand was not in fact mascara but eyeshadow. I blinked in confusion until I realised that this woman was not even crediting me with the IQ of a toast rack. Did she think I thought this was some magic powder out of a Harry Potter novel that, with the swish of a (mascara) wand, would magically transform itself into eyelash-shaped cream? Did she really not feel me applying her mascara a few seconds earlier? No! She had simply decided that there was no way that I could understand even the absolute basics of my profession. After all, I live in Pakistan.

I have had countless experiences like this and comments ranging from, “It’s good to see that you all use good praaaducts here” to “Well, in America, we have…” Yes, thanks for the heads-up. I have never travelled. Or switched on a television. Or watched a movie. You see, we don’t get cable in the network of caves that we occupy, so I really wouldn’t know what goes on in the outside world.

Here are my top five favourite (and most common) comments from my expatriate clients:

1) “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but your services would be much more expensive than this in the US/UK!”

2) “Have you heard of MAC?” (For those who may not have paid any attention, this is the most famous make-up brand in the world. It’s like asking a dentist, “Have you heard of Oral B?”)

3) “Is this mineral water?”

4) “Yes, people are very anti-brown now in the UK, it’s tough to live in London these days. But you know, it’s true — there are just far too many immigrants.”

5) “Hey, your bathroom is so clean!”

— Bina Khan is a make-up artist, photographer, skin technician and writer. She owns a salon and photography studio in Karachi, writes for Newsline and The Express Tribune and has a widely read blog.

11 thoughts on “The funny side of expat Pakistanis

  1. Yes you are right dear, These kind of Expats also annoy me too much who are just too much show off specially from western hemisphere who will never tell you how they are making money abroad… like sweeper or dish washer will consider a prince of himself as he has dollars in his native country. I my self also born and raised abroad but I think Pakistanis are not backward at all, In what ever the field they are in they have touched the sky. I am proud of being Pakistani and dont want to disgrace somebody’s effort out of such difficult conditions.

    Just because I am an expat , doesnt mean i have perfect english….

    • not all people are the same and though there are Pakistani expat that behave exactly the way writer describes them, 80% is a bit higher percentage than I would suggest, may be 20%.
      I like to consider myself from the other 80% who think The World of Pakistan and Pakistanis livening in Pakistan. I was a young teen when I came to Canada and have lived here for past 40 years. However, I believe that Pakistanis are the most vibrant and one of the most hardworking intellectuals and I am PROUD to be one of them and I make it known wherever I go or whoever I talk to. My request to the writer is that please flip the 80% the other way around

  2. I can understand your frustration. However I see this as an overseas problem where our (I live in UK) media portray Pakistan as if you were really living in caves and Pakistan teetering on the brink, about to implode. We can only believe what we read as we do not know reality in Pakistan. Naturally our media is only interested in selling their newspapers so the more sensational the news the more they will sell. Perhaps Pakistani media can portray our country as a brighter, friendlier a more accommodating Pakistan because my mind was boggled by the progress during a recent visit in November.

  3. I am an expat living n the UK, and wouldn’t dream of being condescending to my fellow Pakstanis back home. I agree with the other post that 80% is probably way too high, after all the expats are good enough to send home around $12 billion a year! There are millions of expats who build houses, give to charities, fund schools and hospitals in Pakistan etc etc. The remaining minority is giving the rest a bad name I guess. I’ve seen an odd few shopkeepers and kebab wallas in Leeds and Birmingham who pretend to be big businessmen on their return home – which may be understandable to a certain extent, but they must think of the feelings of the native who probably feels left out of the loop. Hence their dream of immigrating abroad at any cost – until they end up in a similar kebab shop and cooking nans or washhing dishes. Nothing wrong with manual work of course, but not exactly what the aspiring immigrant was led to believe in the first place. And Tv dramas like Des Perdes, which mostly glamorises the lives of Asians living in the UK doesn’t help matters either. I remember scenes where the rich expat businessman was portrayed as commuting to his huge warehouse in a wedding limousine and living in a massive mansion which in real life was an ex town hall building! That must have stirred a few hearts in rural Pakistan, and then missed a beat or two upon arriving at a tennement flat on a cold grey day in Rab C Nesbits neighbourhood in Glasgow! A camera never lies of course, just a juxtaposition…

  4. It is a nice debate. I thought of adding 2 cents of mine. I am neither born nor brought up abroad, but I have spent two years in UK and have been living in UAE for the past years. By profession, I am a teacher and have sense of proud and elation when I introduce myself as being Pakistani national to my students who come from different parts of the world. Pakistanis are talented and hard-working people, but due to the weak structure of politics we don’t get due respect in the world. The part of the world where I am living has got the worst type of labours’ law and discriminatory system of employment. Even in this racist country, UAE, we Pakistanis have proven our worth from the taxi drivers to those who are holding executive positions. It is better late than never. Let us put aright all the flaws that we have got in our system. Let us spend more money on education than military affairs. I must say that if we change the institutional structures of our country and work with honesty and with the sense of being a responsible nation, we will be ranked in the best nations of the world. By the way, neither British nor Americans are more intelligent than us (Pakistanis), however, they are more true to their country and obligations that their state put on them.

  5. I agree with the writer. It seems like expats have forgotten their roots. I am an expat but still have a soft spot for home. I especially come across other expats who even change the way of pronoucing their name ” Kamran is pronounced Cameron with a K”…. Comon people get real and be original…

  6. The sad truth is that most Pakistanis that I have interacted with in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand are quite ashamed of admitting their country of origin. Quite frankly, its difficult to blame them. Hard working souls just trying to make a living for themselves and their families, its hard enough for them just to reach the interview stage for a job. Some even pretend to be Indians to avoid the roll of the eyes. I struggle to find out what makes Pakistanis so proud, economy is in shambles, country has been living under some form of dictatorship and feudalism for most part of their existence, trouble in almost every province of the country. Despite being on dole-outs from the rest of the world the ordinary citizens are shamefully so proud. Ask yourself this question when boarding a long haul flight, would you prefer to sit with someone carrying a Singapore passport or a Green Pakistani Passport… You know the truth !!! Despite the reply >> Boom!!!

    • It is a fact that most Pakistanis feel ashamed of their identity and would prefer covering themselves up. But the ugly side is portrayed more as ‘facts’ because of media. Most influential media outlets are having Indians on board. Even if there is an uproar of ‘ugly’ events like the Sikh massacre in Delhi, the burning of churches or the most recent Rape /Murder of a medical student, the events are just brushed aside with some other topics to divert the attention from the gory details. Media is definitely a very powerful tool in to-day’s propaganda machinery.

  7. It has more to do with the show-off attitude of Pakistanis rather than anything else. There are many things common in Indians and Pakistani immigrants in Europe and N America, however, Pakistanis believe more in style than substance. Don;t blame media for negative potrayal of Pakistan. Media simply reveals the facts.Pakistan has a very vibrant media but it can’t distort the facts. Two indian girls can quietly travel in a public transport, but , Pakstanis girls would want to be noticed and paid attention to…they will start talking in english loudly enough to get noticed…thats the difference..

  8. I think as a nation we are prone to exaggerations (80% being a perfect example). Given the nature of your business your sampling with a generous helping of forgiveness would amount to to less than a rounding error.
    That said, we expats too come across these same condescending bunch trapped in the trivial, extrapolating to the general. Our egos get so quickly inflated that we judge, and do so rather harshly. We all “hate” generalizations, but live and breath by them. While I have been no lover of the “show-off” culture that has become so prevalent, I understand it’s roots. When no one notices you, appreciates you or encourages you. You go ahead and do it for yourself, may be even over do it.

    In the end ea. of us is representative of exactly that which we are so reproachful off.

  9. hi bina,
    i work in a large publishing house in india. can you pls email me as i don’t have your mail ID.
    i want to discuss book ideas with you. thanks.

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