Just a 30-second rant.
I went to dinner two night’s ago alone (as usual these days) and a Taiwanese family was at the table next to mine. Their 6-year-old boy wouldn’t stop staring at me (the laowai death stare is far less common here than in China, of course). Suddenly, he just shouted out, “Waiguoren, waiguoren! Ta bu hui shuo Zhongwen!” His family just smiled lovingly at the apple of their eye, while I sat there feeling singularly self-conscious. I said softly, “Wo hui shuo Zhongwen” (though it’s not quite true, yet), which shut the little sucker up.
Then last weekend I had a craving for a greasy American cheeseburger, and went to the Friday’s in Ximen. (Not recommended; Ruby Tuesday’s at Warner Village is way better.) The hostess on the ground floor pointed me up the stairs, and then I heard her speak into her little microphone, telling the hostess upstairs I was coming. “Waiguoren qu lou shang,” she said. (A foreigner is coming upstairs.) It just got me thinking, why not a customer is coming upstairs? Can you imagine being in a Friday’s in America and hearing the hostess refer to you as a foreigner, or as a black man or as a Chinese man? Can you please seat this Chinese man? (Although I’ve never been to a Friday’s in the US; maybe it’s a global policy to refer to Friday’s customers who can’t speak the local language very well as “foreigners.”)
Was thinking about this all week. it feels good to get it down on “paper.”
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.