Expats explain how they deal with regional stereotypes from locals and other foreigners and how it affects their daily lives

By Yang Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/19 20:08:39

Culture differences and lack of communication cause regional stereotypes between Chinese and expats. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Adrien Niclot, a 27-year-old Frenchman who is a brand manager in a media company in Beijing, triggered discussion about stereotypes among his Chinese friends when he conducted a test to measure how they view French people.

He posted several pictures that depict French people's lifestyle including drinking wine, going out with girls and parading and picketing on the streets on WeChat moments, and left the question, "My Chinese friends, what do you think about French men?"

"I received over 50 comments within an hour. Most of the comments said that people believe the French are fickle in love, act like playboys, have multiple girlfriends and live a more laid-back day-to-day life," said Niclot. 

He decided to perform the test because of a personal experience he had. When out with one of his Chinese friends and some other Chinese people he had just met, he realized that many of them did not try to speak to him. Later he asked his Chinese friend why that happened and his friend explained that many Chinese have the belief that French people are arrogant and because he was not outgoing, he seemed like a hard person to socialize with.

He found the conclusion interesting. "These stereotypes are based on cultural differences. French people usually keep their distance from strangers to be polite. It is uncommon in French culture to ask someone too many personal questions before we become close friends. But once we form a friendship, we are very warm," he said.

Chinese are also affected by regional stereotypes. Jing Changshui from Zhengzhou, Henan Province, filed a lawsuit on August 30 against a micro-blogger named Hu Wei, who constantly posted impolite comments that insulted Henan citizens on his social media account, which triggered negative discussion among netizens. The Jinshui District People's Court in Zhengzhou announced on September 6 that they officially accepted the case, according to a Legal Daily report on September 7.

"As a citizen of Henan Province, I have a responsibility to preserve the image of my people by using legal action against behaviors that are intentionally damaging to our reputation," said Jing. He asked Hu to delete his comments and stop posting insulting remarks about Henan people. He also wanted Hu to apologize to the Henan people in order to reverse the negative effects and to rehab their reputations. In addition, Jing asked for 1,000 yuan ($150) as compensation for the mental strain of the incident, said the report.

Jing said the reason behind asking for 1,000 yuan for compensation is based on an old Chinese saying, "a promise is worth a thousand pieces of gold," which refers to a moral obligation for people to keep their promises and undertake their responsibilities, according to a September 2 Zhengzhou Evening News report.

The news triggered discussion among netizens. The Chongqing Evening News posted this story on its Sina Weibo official account earlier this month and it has attracted almost 28,000 comments. Many Web users pointed out that there are regional stereotypes from province to province in China, and even expats fall victim to stereotyping while they are working and living in China.

Experts say regional stereotyping will decrease due to the combination of increased communication and the fact that cultural interactions between China and other countries are becoming more and more frequent.

Regional stereotypes have influence on expats' social and work life in China. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Stereotypes of expats in China

Georges Hymans is a 36-year-old French who has been living in China for over 10 years. Although he has never considered himself a romantic person, he has been bothered by the fact that Chinese assume all French people are extremely romantic.

Hymans recalled the first date he had with his wife 10 years ago in Changsha, Hunan Province, when he gained enough courage to ask her out for drinks on Valentine's Day. He realized when he arrived that he had not prepared a gift for her.

"It was very crowded on the street that day and there were only a few roses left in the flower shop. I took the nicest one and rushed to meet her but found that she had received handfuls of roses from other Chinese men, which made me feel embarrassed when I handed over the single rose," said Hymans.

Austin Guidry, a 27-year-old American based in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, has experienced another type of regional stereotyping in China. Four years ago, Guidry was compelled to break up with his girlfriend at the time, due to her parents' regional stereotypes toward Americans.

"Her parents thought Americans do not take relationships seriously and I would be fickle when it came to love. They asked their daughter to end our relationship because they were worried that I may break her heart," said Guidry.

One year later, he faced the same situation when he met his current wife. "My wife's father told her that we would not be happy in the end because of our cultural differences," he said.

Based on his last experience, Guidry did not back down. He had a serious talk with his wife and explained that not all Americans have a laid-back perspective on marriage; many of them are very conservative and that he would try his best to show her parents that his heart was true. He gained their trust and proved it in the end.

Many Chinese also believe that all Russians drink a lot of vodka. However, this is far from the truth for Anastasia, a 27-year-old Russian in China. It made her feel uncomfortable when people act so surprised when she tells them she does not drink alcohol. "Many Chinese think Russians are into Vodka, which is not true. Lots of my friends and I don't like drinking alcohol at all." 

Influences of stereotypes

After being married for 10 years, Hymans realized that the cultural differences and stereotypes about romance between the French and Chinese cultures are the main things that caused friction in his personal life. 

"In French culture, romance is shown by surprising someone with a small gift, like a book or dressing up and going to a fancy restaurant every now and then. On the other hand, Chinese value gifts based on size and price. Both views have pros and cons, but unfortunately it can cause embarrassment or misunderstandings between cross-national couples," he said.

Hymans explained that this happened when picked up a small gift for his girlfriend. He did not understand why his girlfriend was upset and why she felt that he must not love her if he only brought her one small thing.

In relation to business, some regional stereotypes held by Chinese can bring about a positive outcome. Many Chinese have the belief that the French produce quality wine. This stereotype has helped Hymans' wine business.

"Some of my costumers have told me that they bought French wine before they've ever tasted it because they were told that France produces top quality wine," he said.

Guidry shares the same outlook. He said being an American makes it easier to find jobs like teaching English in China. Employers have the belief that all Americans speak fluent English so this makes them the most qualified to be an English teacher. This stereotype has helped a lot of Americans start a new life in China. 

Guidry said these stereotypes could hurt some qualified American teachers. "Just because Americans can speak fluent English does not mean that they will be a good English teacher," he said. He recalled overhearing some students complaining that their teachers were ignorant to grammar.

Breaking regional stereotypes

According to Li Na, an associate professor in Chinese language and culture at the Beijing Normal University, books, movies and TV series exaggerate foreigners' images.

"They create this idea that all British are gentlemen; all Americans like freedom and all Germans and Japanese are precise and stoic. These images are used thousands of times and impress audiences with an idea that represents an entire culture," said Li. "People use the identifying factors to try to understand an unfamiliar culture."

Li said since there are so many Chinese studying abroad and expats living and working in China, there is a better chance of communicating with each other and creating a deeper understanding. These communications will help people see that a stereotype about a certain group of people does not represent them all. This ability for better cultural understanding will help the number of stereotypes decline.

Li suggests that expats who are living and working in China should develop and expand their positive regional stereotypes.

She advises that when dealing with negative regional stereotypes, having more communication with local people to help eliminate misunderstandings and being more tolerant and educated on Chinese culture and social systems will help reduce negative outcomes from these stereotypes.

Guidry agrees. He made a video about Chinese stereotypes for expats and shared it on YouTube. It has gained comments from not only expats but locals as well and created a good line of communication.

"We communicated seriously. I think it's effective. And because of our conversations we know each other better," he said. 

Newspaper headline: Preconceived notions

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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