One of the most philosophically interesting experiences in being a foreigner is that you can see how people categorise you almost physically. I have lived in France for 30 years now, but I still have a strong accent. I don’t really look foreign, so I have often had the experience, in a shop or at a party, of someone who has not heard me speak ask me something, and when I reply suddenly change attitude and expression Sometimes they look at me astounded, they stare at me as if it requires intense effort to decode what I say, their mouth moves silently repeating what I say, as if unsure that something meaningful is being produced. Usually this surprise effect vanishes after a few minutes, and their perception of me is normalised into some ready-made category or other, but even then it rarely has much to do with who I am.
But this is just a more perceptible example of what goes on all the time. I am officially an English teacher, so many people respond with tolerant amusement or by turning a deaf ear, if I express an opinion on something philosophical that is being discussed. I am just not categorised by most people as belonging to a suitable notional domain for being taken seriously philosophically. Even when people know more about my intellectual history they have trouble coming up with a suitable category to contain me, as I don’t conform to any of their stereotypes. This usually results in me being sub-categorised. For instance, I speak and write French quite well at an intellectual level, but ask me to describe my concrete surroundings and I will begin to hesitate and search for my words. And sometimes I make basic grammatical mistakes, that even a child of 8 wouldn’t make. There is a whole class of people who will unconsciously stick to the impression that my whole intellectual existence is at the level of these mistakes, and talk to me as if had a mental age of 7. The problem is that usually I cannot correct this impression myself, any effort I make to show that this is not an accurate perception is itself filtered through the same category and just confirms their initial prejudice. Very often it takes some sort of outside intervention, other people listening to me and responding to me seriously, to change the way I have been categorised.
I think this whole set of experiences exists at all levels, and that the experience of being a foreigner is merely one very visible example of a far more general phenomenon.