Throw that word around in the west and you might get a few distasteful looks at best, at worst you might get someone telling you that you’re being rude and to not say such things (with a few expletives of course). But here in the middle kingdom, that’s what you are and whenever you think you’ve ‘assimilated’ you’ll get a gentle reminder that you’re not from here. One example would be quite regular and constant staring from the locals, especially the further out of the ‘modern’ centers of cities you go.
But don’t be put off! It’s never with any malice or bad-intention – they’re just a bit curious. You see, with Visas being so difficult to obtain in comparison to other Asian countries, and with a lot of bad-press in western media, China really hasn’t ever been a ‘popular’ travel destination therefore there aren’t many westerners around compared to, say, Thailand. I mean why be in a big busy city when you can be on a beach sipping cocktails right? After a while of not seeing too many foreigners around, the moment you do see a non-Chinese person, you find yourself doing the same thing – staring. Another very common occurrence is people asking to take pictures with you, just because you’re different and beautiful (or because they’re going to mock you to their friends).
Quite often you’ll have children stare at you and exclaim to their parents: 外国人 (Wai Guo Ren) or 老外 (Lao wai) which just translates to foreigner or ‘outsider’.
But thankfully this also comes with its perks.
So many times I’ve gone through China and been given preferential treatment: cutting in queues, bypassed security, or been given food by random strangers, just because I was nice enough to smile. I’ve been offered beers by people in bars just because they wanted to talk to me and people have gone out of their way to help this lost and hopeless foreigner.
Most of the time, people just want to show off their country and being nice to you is a way of them welcoming you (many will actually say ‘Welcome to China’ even after years of living here). The moral of the story here is: if you come to China, don’t assume anything is negative, give ‘em a smile and you’ll be surprised by how much you’ll get in return.