In my first few weeks in China I was the object of curiousity for many people, or so it seemed.
It also seemed as though they all wanted to know the same thing, hence the need for a good set of flashcards so I could save my voice and answer their almost identical questions quickly and efficiently.
Most usually these questions were asked through an interpreter in a public space. The by-product of this was that a crowd invariably gathered and sometimes joined in with their own questions.
This always amazed me. Weren’t these onlookers actually actually on their way to somewhere before they came upon me sitting under the tree or on a bench trying to have a conversation with my bi-lingual friend and assorted other new people? What made them slow down, stop, assemble and join in? Is this how it for movie stars just trying to do their shopping?
It was kind of like being on a game show, but on the streets of China and in real life. Yep, in a nutshell; pretty weird.
Here are the questions I was asked on an almost daily basis unless I kept moving. Some of them were comment which were actually easier to deal with as I didn’t have to reply.
- Where are you from?
- What do you do in China?
- How old are you?
- You have lovely eyelashes (a desirable western trait apparently)
- Where do you work?
- How much do you get paid?
- What do you think of our city?
- How long will you stay?
- What aren’t you staying longer?
- You have a lovely eye. (which one? The left one? The right one? Who knew?)
- Are you married?
- Where is your husband?
- Do you want a Chinese husband?
- Do you have a child?
- Will you come to my house so my grandfather / grandmother / aunty / uncle / baby / dog can see you?
Then came the comments and questions about race which were really strange.
- Why is your skin not white?
- Is your skin white?
- Your skin is getting whiter.
Now, after a few years here, I guess I no longer give off the essence of a brand new arrival as the questions are fired at me far less and they tend to be different in tone, although occasionally some of the gems from above still surface.
In case you’re wondering, my answers were bland and without detail. I just couldn’t tell complete strangers my life story, knowing that it would be fodder for their dinnertime conversation in addition to being none of their business.
Now I understand that in accordance with Chinese culture, questions and comments which we would consider to be very personal in the west are simply regarded as ways of getting to know you. However, I still think that some of them border on plain nosiness and are a little bit rude.
I’ve learned to deflect unwanted by changing the subject or turning the questions around with a quick; ‘what about you?’ Surprisingly the same people who are quick to ask don’t always want to answer questions about themselves.