April 13, 2014, by Guest blog
China Welcomes You!
Foreigners in China are given the nickname 老外(lǎo wài) which translates as ‘wise outsider’ as a term of respect and this sums up well the general Chinese perspective of us. They see us as mysterious and interesting people and it is common to be asked questions like “where are you from?” and “why are you here?” which are normally followed by “welcome to China”. This can happen anywhere, even walking down the street you might have an elderly person stop, point at you and fire away some questions. Although many conversations end because I don’t understand what they are saying anymore they are always very polite and friendly and I get friendly waves from different people on my daily route to university, some of whom I’m not sure where I have met that is if I have met them before at all.
The strangest thing to adjust to is the kind of elevated social status given to laowai, such that every now and again people will be overly polite and friendly to you as if you were their social better. The most common phrase any obvious foreigner will hear in China is without doubt “欢迎光临!” (huānyíng guānglín – welcome) repeated again and again by shop workers everywhere warmly inviting you inside as if they are truly privileged to have a foreigner enter their store. Recently a particularly inquisitive older staff member followed me around a supermarket a couple of paces behind and when I stopped for a few moments to look at the snack section he jumped up and pointed out some seeds saying they were really tasty and I’d definitely like them, then took the opportunity to bombard me with the same old questions.
So in terms of making friends here it is so easy, at times people can be a little too keen to make friends though. I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has asked to practice English with me or be a language partner, great at first but now I have to keep turning people down and struggle to juggle my time between meeting them, other friends, doing uni work and exploring the city I live in.
Sticking out as a foreigner is also amazing for the photo opportunities (the excitement may too wear off soon), it is completely normal and ok for a complete stranger to ask for a photo with you or their giggly friend. There must be hundreds of photos of me doing a classic Chinese peace sign with complete strangers, maybe I should charge…
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