Look out there is a foreigner about

Look out there is a foreigner about
Foreigners are also curious about everything in China.

As foreigners here David and I have had different experiences, his have mostly been good, whilst mine……….have not always been good. Here are our respective opinions. David says:-

My wife, who is from Shandong, is constantly asking me to ask for help from local Chinese. The assistance is in the form of directions, prices in a department store and service in restaurants. The request is for help from Chinese service providers so I do not understand why I should ask rather than my wife, since my Chinese is not that good. My wife explained that it is because I am a foreigner and people would be more willing to help a foreigner compared to helping a fellow Chinese, who they would be less inclined to help, or even ignore. Why is that?

Generally speaking, I find that in China, the local citizens are very hospitable to foreigners, treating them as guests. My theory is China has only opened to foreign visitors a relatively short time ago, compared to western countries that are mainly comprised of immigrants, so everyone is literally a foreigner. However in China foreigners are the minority and in some smaller cities or rural areas, a foreigner is unique, which can lead to stares which some of us may find offensive. But think of it, if you grew up all your life with local neighbors who all have black hair and are 160 metres tall and a 190-metre, blond haired person shows up, you would stare too.

China has also gone through a long period of poverty, being the "Sick man of Asia" from the 1800's to 1900's and is now emerging as a powerhouse and world leader. Under this scenario, Chinese are proud and confident and wanting to show the world, and especially the foreigners here that they have reached this stage. Therefore they are generous with offering help and assistance to positively reinforce this image. However, there are other Chinese characteristics that need explaining.

Age and costs: How many times have your Chinese friends asked you: "How old are you? What is your salary or how much did you pay for that?" Some of us will find these questions to be too personal or even rude. My explanation is they are very competitive and always striving to compete and compare to see how well are they doing. The age question is related to this and to see where they are in respect to their stage of life. Since respect to elders is important, they need to know if you are older or younger in order to address you properly. This is very common in China, where the older person is addressed as "Little Wang, Xiao Wang 小王" if younger or "Older Wang Lao Wang 老王" if older.

Line crashers and crowding: It is getting better now, but I remember 20 years ago, line ups were unheard of in China. At least now, there are orderly lines for buses and airline counters. However you have to be on your guard, if you leave a space between you and the person in front, someone will quickly butt in. Also if you drive, cars are always forcing in front of you. Not to mention getting on or off elevators, if you are not careful, you will be left behind or at least jostled. The only excuse I can offer is, with 1.3 billion people, if you are not aggressive, "You snooze – You lose". Remember they are not doing it to insult you personally.

Look out there is a foreigner about
More and more foreigners have come to China for visit or work.

Paula says:-

I am slowly becoming convinced that I have an invisible sign on my head that tells people to abuse me and be as unhelpful as possible to me. My experiences are the total opposite to David's. People take great delight in telling me that as I am a foreigner I can't do this or can't go there. If I ask a question in a supermarket, the stock answer of the sales assistants is to shrug their shoulders and say "I don't know". I frequently get into arguments with taxi drivers because they always try to cheat me by going on detours, I am very familiar with the streets around here so most taxi journeys that I take end in conflict. I got a taxi from the airport to home which usually costs 72rmb, but today it cost 113rmb. When I politely asked the driver "Aren't we going a different way" he became angry. However when my Chinese friend told me she got cheated by a taxi driver that made me really happy. It made a big difference, because as long as everyone gets cheated, that's fine, but once I know that I have been cheated because I am a foreigner that is definitely not fine.

Not a day goes past without something happening. You probably know from experience that if you buy things from a market the price goes up, and I know I am paying more rent than my neighbours because I asked them what they are paying. I figure if they can ask me personal questions, I can also delve into their private affairs.

As David stated, in the West many countries are made up of immigrants so there is hardly a standard look, however they don't know this here. Even polite enquiries about where I am from seem to turn into arguments. I was in a shop and a woman came in and immediately asked me where I was from. I told her England. "You don't look as though you are from England", she said suspiciously and loudly whispered to the shop assistant "She's not from England". I ignored her but she insisted "You don't look like you are from England". I asked her what people from England look like. "They all have yellow hair and blue eyes, everyone knows that", she said, her eyes narrowing. "Not everyone in England has blue eyes" I said politely. She again said to the shop assistant, this time without bothering to lower her voice "She doesn't look like she is from England". By this time the shop assistant was eyeing me up, as obviously as far as she was concerned, if someone could lie about where they are from they are capable of anything. I had had enough "Exactly how many English people do you know?" I demanded. "None!" the woman admitted. Honestly! Why do I have to get into verbal battles about where I am from? No doubt after I left the shop she persisted in telling everyone that she met a lying foreigner.

On the aeroplane they announced a special reward card that could be used to buy cheap flights. I asked for a form. The Stewardess gave it to me, but when she came back to collect it, I hadn't filled it in, as it was obvious only Chinese people could apply for it, ok fair enough BUT she definitely had a smirk on her face when I returned the pen she had lent me but not the form. David finds that being a foreigner opens doors – I find that it closes them.


Radio Tianjin


About TPBS
Languages Chinese(GB) Chinese(Big5) ENGLISH
Contact us
TEL: 0086.22.23601284. EMAIL: radiotjworld@gmail.com ADD: No 143, Weijin Rd, Heping Dist., Tianjin PR China.

 ©1949-2014 Radio Tianjin (TPBS). All Rights Reserved.

Xinhua China Daily

CRI People′s Daily