Being a foreigner in China

If you ever plan going to China there is something you need to know: You will get a lot of attention! People will stare at you and talk about you standing right beside you and they won’t stop even if you catch them out. The only time that most Chinese have the chance to see a white face or a non-Chinese face is probably on TV or in the movies. Being able to see someone like that, up close and personal, is a pretty big deal for most of them. Toddlers are sometimes pointing at foreigners and yell, “外国人 (Foreigner)!” If you reply to the ashamed moms’ “oh sorry, sorry…” with a friendly “没关系(no worries)” they will have an even more surprised face expression than their kids had before. Even if you know only a tiny little bit of chinese you will have a lot of advantages in daily life: you don’t have to pay for your drinks in bars, people will not only explain the way to you but give you company to make sure you find the right way and you can easily change from being the last one in row to being the very first one without others complaining about that kind of rude behaviour.

Unfortunately there are also some disadvantages of being white and big eyed here: It can be hard to find friends, at least “true” friends. Europe is trendy, Europe is beautiful and of course everyone in Europe is rich. For some chinese students having a foreign friend is like having a fancy new Gucci bag. Even though it doesn’t go with the rest of your outfit you want the world to know that you have it. And to make sure that as many people as possible recognize your new “western accessory” you take photos and share it with headlines like “had an amazing time ❤ <3” on Wechat. That this “amazing time” in fact was nothing more than a 5 five minute small talk on the street is irrelevant. If you are looking for a real friendship based on trust, respect and common interests rather than being just a figurehead on someone elses social networks, you have to be both patient and critical. No matter how good it might feel at the beginning on the long run it will make you feel uncomfortable to be put on a pedestal just because of your origins.

Photo by Maria Hochleitner

Maybe we have to see China’s obsession with Western beauty standards and Western culture as a relict from the past when after years of being dominated by foreign powers they felt they needed to emulate the West in order to modernize. But shouldn’t a country whose economy is the second largest in the world, be confident enough to show their face to all the others out there!? It seems like especially China’s youth would give anything to be a part of “the western world” which is considered the land of milk and honey. What most people here don’t understand is that Europe is not the centre of the universe and just because our beer may taste a little bit better and our eyes are a bit bigger doesn’t mean that we are first class people. Instead of trying to imitate the western way of life, chinese people should start to be proud of who they are and what they have achieved so far. It makes me kind of sad that many young people in China are ashamed of being rooted in a cultural background that is so fascinating and unrivalled like almost nowhere else in the world.

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