You may have read on our blog before about being a foreigner in China and the way the local Chinese respond to foreigners when they see them. If you haven’t, you can read it here before continuing on.
Currently all my family live in the UK and my generation were the first to be born and raised there. The five generations before mine were actually born and raised in Vietnam, but going further back in my family history, my ancestors were from Guanxi in China.
Due to my background I get a different response to the ‘typical’ foreigner here in China and I will tell you some of my experiences I have had.
I first came to Chengdu in 2011 without the ability to converse in Mandarin. I only knew the basics such as hello and thank you. At that time, I relied on others to get around and more often than not my friend from Belgium would ask the locals for directions. That person would then turn to me to explain how to get there. They often expect that everyone who looks Chinese can speak Mandarin and is ‘the translator’. It wasn’t me who asked the question, you should direct your answer to the one who asked. My friend didn’t need any help at all, his Mandarin was (and still is) way better than mine!
During my first stay in Chengdu as a student, a few of my friends were non-Asian westerners. Whilst walking around on the university campus they were often approached by locals, sometimes these locals were looking for English teachers. Although my friends were not native English speakers they would be offered English teaching jobs on the spot because they had a foreign face. The locals would not even acknowledge I was there, even after my friend introduced me to them.
This was actually quite recent one! My friend Brigitte (also from a Chinese background – half Chinese, half German) and I had gone out to eat at a restaurant. We both find it easier to read from a menu that is on paper than on the wall so we took one of the menus at the front desk of the restaurant. As we reached out for it the owner pointed and said that’s an English menu. We actually were very pleased with this but the manager looked down at us as if to say ‘You’re Chinese, why can’t you read and speak Chinese fluently’.
When I was back in the UK and people asked me where I am from I would usually say my home town. But I do remember once when I had just started university, I gave someone this response and I was then laughed at! I found this strange as I never had this response before. My friends still laugh at this and bring it up to this day. Why can’t I say my home town? This is where I was born and where I spent most of my life growing up. When I’m in China and am asked where I am from I would say the UK. What are your opinions on this? Do I need to go that far back in my family history?
My ethnicity is Chinese and my nationality is British. If someone could please teach me how to say this in Chinese, I would be very grateful! 🙂
If you want to hear more stories about being a foreigner or Chinese foreigner in China or even experience this for yourself. Apply for an internship now!