Sunday, January 22, 2006

China: their attitudes towards us foreigners 1

Chinese are very curious about foreigners, they are friendly and it’s easy to establish the first contact. They are very willing to learn foreign languages (esp. English, of coarse), and are totally aware that their educational system is too academic, lacking practice of foreign languages, so they grab every opportunity to talk to the foreigners. Chinese people’s English is sometimes quite funny, they speak like books. Contrary to us, they learn most complicated phrases and very formal English. So when they use it in daily conversations, it is seldom appropriate. They also make A LOT of ridiculous mistakes when translating. You can travel around China and just collect English translations of Chinese signs. Usually, these don’t make any sense and are hilarious.

For Chinese, foreign languages are doors to the world outside China. They sincerely admire people who speak several languages. But also ignore a lot about other countries. If I speak in English to Chinese, I get get two sorts of reaction, completely opposite: one is “Wow, you are Russian, and you can speak English?! How is that possible??” or “You speak English in Russia, right?” Once again, everything is possible in China…
Then, after the first “Hi, my name is…”, making friends with Chinese isn’t that easy. First, the language barrier. You must speak the language good enough to be able to lead the conversation beyond these “standard” Q&As, usually in the following sequence:
“Hi, what’s your name? Where are you from? Oh, where is …(the name of your country) Do you study Chinese here? For how long? Where? Do you like China? What do you think of Chinese food?”
This usually takes from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on your linguistic skills or body language. Then comes an awkward moment of “I should make friends with you to learn Chinese/English, but I have absolutely nothing more to tell you, because I don’t speak your language well enough”…Anyway. Those who came to China to work/study have all been through this and have a picture of the situation. This also reflects that other feeling I sometimes had that for a Chinese, “friendship” with a foreigner is just a means to improve English. It is extremely difficult to become real friends with a Chinese person that doesn’t speak English, unless your Chinese is fluent, of course.

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