The Way We Treat Foreigners

Posted by Sofia Hrycyszyn on 5/16/2018

During my time in China, I have noticed differences in the way Chinese and American people treat foreigners. In China the word foreigner is frequently used to describe anyone who is not ethnically Chinese, while in America it’s common to see people from all sorts of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, so it’s hard to identify someone as a foreigner. From what I have seen in China, foreigners are treated with respect and people are patient with our language skills. Sometimes I feel as if Chinese people treat me as a strange object, almost like a mythological creature, and they tend to be extremely careful and quiet around me. (I’m white so I’m writing based off of what I have seen and experienced. I am aware that I probably have a slightly skewed perspective and I’m not sure what other bounders of color have experienced.) Especially outside of larger cities, foreigners are a rare occurrence and I have gotten lots of stares and have had lots of photos taken with, or sometimes without, my consent. However in America, foreigners, people that might look like foreigners, or people who speak with an accent are not always treated with respect, especially if they have minimum wage jobs or work in the service industry. While many Americans are respectful no matter what someone looks or talks like, I have friends who, born and raised in America, are occasionally asked “where are you really from?”

A few weeks ago, some of the other bounders and I went to Qingdao. There was one Chinese bounder on the trip, and whenever someone had a question for us they automatically approached her and assumed she was fluent in Chinese. These people were pleasantly surprised, and sometimes shocked, that the rest of the group had at least some Chinese language ability and were extremely patient with us. However, many people told the Chinese bounder that she was Chinese, that she couldn’t be American, that her Chinese wasn’t good enough.

In America, foreigners are treated differently than in China. It is automatically assumed that everyone speaks English, no matter what they look like. I’ve never thought to speak Chinese instead of English with someone Chinese I met in America. In contrast to what I’ve observed in China, when people can’t speak English or can only speak a little bit, some Americans can get rude and even hostile and impatient. Whenever you see a tourist or someone who’s a different race than you on the street you don’t give them a second look, you might not even notice. I’ve never asked to take a picture with someone just because they’re a different race than me.

In China, foreigners are seen as exactly that. Foreign. There are regional differences and people in big cities are less likely to ask for a photo, but for the most part foreigners aren’t expected to know the language and blend in. In America foreigners can be seen as just regular members of society demanding the same amount of respect as anyone else, but they can also be seen as people on a lower level that need to learn the language and how to fit in; it really depends on the person and where and how they were brought up.