Wednesday, March 01, 2006

China: their attitudes towards us foreigners 2

I know, it took me quite a while to post this, especially given that I had this post written this Christmas...But I had quite a lot of school work recently (yes, it does happen!) and internship search and interviewing are quite time consuming as well...
But now you have it: enjoy! (there is the 3rd part coming, but I haven't written it yet, so it can take a while!)

- Even given that I grew up in Latvia, where Russians and Latvians (two very different nationalities, post of Dec 28, 2005) are coexisting in a balance which is extremely difficult to understand for foreigners, I have never been that aware of nationality or race difference as in China.
In China, I am a foreigner and I will always be. Even if I lived there for decades and spoke/wrote perfect Chinese (I wish I did!), I would remain a “laowai” (foreigner). When you are in China for the first time, you get surprised by how people stare at you, especially if you happen to be blonde;-) people stop you in the street and ask to take pictures of you. If you are a girl, first words you learn are “mei nü” and “piaoliang” (pretty). It is becoming a common thing to see foreigners on Beijing streets but there are still lots of places in China where people have never seen a white person. They are especially amazed by blond babies or small kids. A German friend of mine who lived in Beijing had two little sons, both blonds. When she was taking them for a walk, all Chinese would stop and admire “little angels”, play with them. Even, and especially, men! She told me that Chinese people don’t take babies outside, they consider that before they are one or two years old, it’s somehow bad for babies’ health to take them out. True, I almost never saw very small Chinese babies in the street.

The difference between foreigners and locals is fundamental, and appears in every aspect of everyday routine:
- one good point is that Chinese, as well as Russians by the way, usually respect foreigners more than their compatriots and regard them as “superior” in some kind
- people are more friendly to you as a foreigner (especially if you are blond and a girl)
- the bad point is that the Chinese, being good business people and sales people, set a “special” price for a foreigner. The price depends on several factors, like your level of Chinese language and knowledge of local prices and also on the way you look. A friend of mine told me that I couldn’t get cheap prices at Panjiayuan (Beijing antiques market) because I was “too well dressed”… Well, that is also a difference between Russians and Americans or some Europeans: we must be well dressed, the look is crucial!

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