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Going native

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on September 03, 2007

In Reply to: Going native posted by Bob on September 03, 2007

: : I am looking for the origin of the phrase "going native". It is often used to describe anthropologists' or travellers' growing immersion in new cultures they are engaged with (and has a racist note in it). But I can't find a source and would be grateful for information

: Not an origin, but another, perhaps older, use. In the (U.S.) State Department, diplomats and other embassy personnel are rotated to differenet countries at intervals, at least partly to avoid the problem of them "going native," meaning that they become so acculturated and familiar that they begin to identify with and sympathize with the locals, to the point of not representing our own national interests. It's a delicate balance: diplomacy requires experience and understanding of the host country, but too much experience, and one can forget who's signing the pay checks.

In British English it dates from the 19th century. The British felt it very important to their collective prestige in the Colonies to maintain their identity as "sahibs", as distinct from the black or brown "natives", so much anxiety was caused if any member of the British community showed signs of "going native" in his habits, e.g. by adopting the local dress and socialising with the locals. This anxiety lasted as long as the Empire itself did; in Kenya in the 1940s my father, aged 19, used to take off his shoes to save them getting dusty when riding his motorbike across the open savannah. When this was reported to his family he was taken to task by his elders for "going barefoot in public like an African". (VSD)