Special Treatment?

By Katrin Büchenbacher and Li Jieyi Source:Global Times Published: 2018/12/24 18:58:40

Foreigners in China experience both structural advantages and disadvantages


Expats report to receive extra friendly service in China, but might also pay a higher price for it. Photo: IC

If you want to get your deposit back from the bike-sharing company Ofo right now, you should be very patient. As reports about Ofo's bankruptcy have intensified, people are rushing to get their deposits of 199 yuan ($29) back. Chances are that you would be number 13 million or above in the waiting line.

But one client decided to take the fast track. After waiting for over a month after he applied for a refund without success and numerous unanswered calls to Ofo's customer service, he sent an email in English, pretending to be a US citizen living in China, Tencent news reported. The bike-sharing company not only immediately refunded him, but also sent him a letter of apology. The customer published the email conversation on China's microblog Sina Weibo, which raised one question among the 280,000 netizens who followed the hashtag #PretendToBeAForeignerToGetRefundByOfoInSeconds: Are foreigners receiving special treatment in China?

More privileges

Matthieu Taquet, a French national who had lived in China for 8 years, says yes - at least when it comes to career opportunities for a Chinese-speaking foreigner. Taquet's career in the tourism sector took off when he came to China in 2006 and got promoted to a managerial position at age 24, only to become director two years later.

"Being a foreigner in China has certainly opened some doors for me," Taquet told Metropolitan. However, the feeling of having an unfair advantage over his Chinese colleagues of the same age did not go away. Taquet's own boss would treat the foreign staff "better" than Chinese employees.

"I had many Chinese friends, and I felt it was not fair to them," he said.

Apart from better career opportunities and easier access to senior management positions, expats might also have structural advantages when it comes to salary. The wage and employee benefits for local and international staff can vary considerably. Studies conducted in countries such as China and Singapore have shown a wage gap of up to 900 percent in the development aid and corporate sector between local and expat employees that could not be explained by work experience, the Guardian reported.

Privileged treatment of expats can also jump from the workplace to everyday life. The service industry might also treat its foreign customers differently than the local guests. A dental nurse in Beijing surnamed Lü said she often takes extra good care of their expat customers.

"We do take more time explaining procedures to our foreign patients because they might not understand everything," she said.

The special attentive service is also what 19-year-old Nattanon Ruangnoy, a high school exchange student from Thailand, observed.

"Chinese are more thoughtful when it comes to us foreigners," he said. When Ruangnoy goes to a restaurant, the waiters welcome him more enthusiastically and take more time to explain the menu to him than his Chinese counterparts, he recalled.

"We come from far away, so it's only natural that they want to give a good impression of Chinese culture and the environment here," he said.

Studies have shown that expats' wages can be 900 percent more than locals' wages, despite each having similar qualifications. Photo: VCG

Unequal treatment

Although in some ways foreigners in China enjoy special treatment, they also experience inconvenience and even racism in some situations.

Taquet experienced episodes of racism during his time in China while witnessing a street fight between a Chinese and a foreign national. The public would take the Chinese's side regardless of the reason that caused the argument.

"Chinese are very patriotic," he observed.

There are structural disadvantages from being a foreigner in China. Most foreigners, regardless of how many years they have lived in China, need to renew their visa every year. The "Chinese Green Card" or permanent resident card, which gives equal rights to a foreign national compared with a Chinese citizen. It is extremely hard to get. China began to allow permanent residency in 2004, but from 2008 to 2014, only 7,356 foreigners were granted permanent residence cards. In 2018, the process has been streamlined and relaxed in order to attract more talent from abroad.

Also, tourists and non-Chinese speaking expats are more prone to scams and rip-offs compared to the locals.

Yi Zhen, a 19-year-old Australian, prefers to speak Chinese when shopping, "or they will make it more expensive," Yi said.

Yi's parents are from China, and she visits the country frequently. This time, she came to Beijing to study Chinese with her classmates. One of her friends, Christina, believes that the Chinese are more sensitive to treat international residents like the locals.

"As the world is becoming more multicultural, eventually, there will not be as much of a stigma against foreign people in China. The stigma still exists in China because it used to be more cut off from the world, but the more open it becomes, the more the stigma will disappear," she said.

Taquet is still working in the service industry after he left China four years ago. Now he works as a cabin crew member for a Middle Eastern airline and spends layovers in his former home Beijing.

"Just try to be fair," he said. "Don't give any advantages to foreigners, don't put them down, just treat them equally."


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