How Chinese like to stereotype expatriates

By Lilly Wong Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/13 20:23:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

If you are an expat and look different from Chinese, you frequently get compliments from locals on your Chinese language, even if you barely know how to order food.

Chinese like to believe the chopsticks and Chinese language are two most difficult things to learn in the world. Therefore, do not be too flattered when you hear those compliments. It is more like the validation to their culture. Unfortunately, Chinese born overseas do not get such treatment because they are expected to behave as Chinese.

Regrettably, many Chinese regard expats as "aliens" and stereotype them due to lack of knowledge and cultural understanding. It is funny to see the word "alien" instead of "foreigner" even written on police registration paper in Beijing.

All Caucasians who look like "laowai" are American

A few years ago, I travelled with a few British friends to Suzhou city, East China's Jiangsu Province. When I asked a middle-aged local guy the direction to a nearby Chinese restaurant, he insisted I should take my friends to McDonald's.

He said I should be a great host in taking my American friends to have their favorite food, although I stressed my friends were British at least three times.

Then, he asked me to tell my "American friends" that he was pleased to know that Obama became US president. He believed China would have an even better relationship with America because it always helps Africa.

All British men are gentlemen

When I took my ex-boyfriend back to visit my family during the Spring Festival, my little cousin asked him to show how to be a gentleman because he was English. He also queried, "Do you eat other food besides fish and chips in London?"

As an Englishman, he should have been able to handle more alcohol than my Chinese relatives, but he soon got very drunk. My uncle's self-made wine was stronger than he expected. However, we could not tell until he almost blew up a car by lighting firecrackers in the street. I had to drag him home with the help of my cousin.

My cousin told me, "Your boyfriend is so polite because he says sorry all the time." An embarrassed me replied, "He perhaps does not mean it every time."

All French are romantic

My friend Ning Ning, who had thought Paris was the most romantic place in the world, recently visited the city. However, she was very disappointed as the city was dirty and she got robbed near the train station.

She wanted to take a picture with a pigeon in front of Le Louvre Museum, but the birds attacked her because she was carrying too much food. 

Ning Ning had a glamorous encounter with a handsome French guy. However, he was never happy and complained about everything. Ning Ning had to leave him without notice because she had trouble understanding his English.

All Spanish love bullfighting and practice flamenco

As some Westerners think all Chinese can fight kung fu, the Chinese ask my Spanish friend, Alba, to dance flamenco or question her about Spanish football. But she is neither interested in football nor flamenco.

Beijing taxi drivers often ask her about bullfighting. If she pretends not to understand Chinese, they make a bull sound or put their fingers on their head to make her understand that they are talking about the animal. She is very embarrassed because she thought Spain had so much more tradition than bullfighting.

Alba no longer takes a taxi alone in China.

All Australians live with kangaroos

If you ask a Chinese to name the Australian capital, the answer is "Sydney." They picture Australians wearing thongs and shorts across seasons. Everyone can surf and lives with a kangaroo in Australia. Chinese women believe all cosmetics made in Australia are natural.

Many Chinese do not understand Australia is a country of immigrants, and expect to meet only white Australians. When Xiao Ji, a student from Northeast China, just arrived in Sydney, he was astonished to see different ethnicities in the city. He asked me, "Why are there so many Indians here? How come they speak such good English with an Australian accent?" 

"Because they were born here and are Australian."

All foreigners are sexually open-minded

The idea that all foreigners are sexually open-minded and available has probably come from Western films, or because some Westerners talk more openly about sex than their salary. It is believed by the Chinese that all laowai sleep around.

Chinese men believe they can flirt with Western women, but do not consider them marriage material, especially those who have a tattoo or are dressed provocatively.

An Aussie friend, Oliver, was once approached in a bar by an old Chinese lady for a one-night stand. After he rejected her offer, she said, "Isn't that what you all foreigners do? Fxxx around?" Oliver was very upset about it for a while.

I am not writing this to show how ignorant the Chinese are. Foreign culture has always been stereotyped, like the cliché of all Chinese eating dogs.

Do not feel offended if a Chinese calls you laowai, literally "old foreigner." As a native Chinese speaker, I think it is a lovely Mandarin slang, because Chinese also call their mates this way, like "Lao Wang" or "Lao Li."

In comparison, I feel the Cantonese slang, Gwaiou, meaning devil man, is very racist. I am surprised it is currently widely used in the overseas Chinese community in many Western countries.

The author is a Beijing-based journalist. She lived in Sydney from 2014 to 2016.

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