I’ve written posts on dating Chinese men, but how is it like for a a Foreign man to date Chinese woman? That’s an ankle I can’t cover my self, so today’s guest post comes from Hugh who is behind the East Asia Student. He has recently written a good series on how to learn to write Chinese, check that out after the post.
Sara often writes here about her relationship with her Chinese boyfriend and the language and cultural issues they encounter. Sara’s writings about this are particularly interesting for the rest of us because, for whatever reason, there aren’t so many relationships with a foreign girl and a Chinese guy. Thankfully that trend does seem to be changing, but currently you still see far more couples with a foreign guy and a Chinese girl.
Sara and her boyfriend are also a bit more unusual in that they have four languages in the mix (Finnish, English, Mandarin and Cantonese, I believe) whereas a lot of Chinese/foreigner couples only have two. It seems like the result is that neither of them is speaking in their native language much of the time. The “clichéd” relationship between foreigners and Chinese people seems to be quite different to that: a foreign guy and a Chinese girl, who only have two languages between them. I’m in one of those couples so I thought I’d write about being in this “cliché” relationship.
I’m generally quite a private person so this has been quite tricky for me to write! Because I didn’t want to share a lot of personal details about myself or my girlfriend, I’ve only written about this one issue of being in a stereotypical situation, but I wouldn’t want to anyone to think that it’s constantly a major issue in our life or something that we dwell on a lot! Most of the time we couldn’t care less about whether or not we’re a stereotype, but every now and then something crops up in daily life that forces us to think about it.
We live together in a huge Chinese city and generally do most things together everyday. The thing that crops up most commonly is that a lot of Chinese people see this couple consisting of a very obviously foreign guy and a Chinese girl, and seem to make an assumption that my girlfriend is not just my girlfriend but also my guide and translator! I imagine this happens to Chinese/foreigner couples regardless of gender, but I think it’s definitely wrapped up in what the stereotypical version of that relationship is in the eyes of some Chinese people.
Most people definitely assume that I speak no Chinese whatsoever. The result is that people direct questions about me to my girlfriend whilst I’m standing right there. We both find this quite awkward because I feel like I ought to step in and answer the question myself, my girlfriend doesn’t want to answer it for me, but at the same time neither of us really wants to engage with these random personal questions from strangers. Because I feel like this stereotype follows us everywhere we go, though, I really dislike speaking English with my girlfriend when we’re in public (our English and Chinese are very evenly matched, and usually we swap between them quite a lot), because I feel like I’m confirming the cliché.
Something that is related to gender is the perception from a lot of Chinese people that foreign guys are generally ‘unreliable’ (不靠谱), which I tend to feel is code for ‘sleeps around and treats girls badly’. Just knowing that perception exists is quite unpleasant, because I wonder if people make that assumption about us. In general I think people probably aren’t that judgemental (or even that interested!), and even if they are it ultimately doesn’t matter what other people think. But knowing all that isn’t the same as being able to shake off the feeling when people stare at you on the street.
What’s worse is that I know this is also a problem for my girlfriend’s family. People back home often ask how their daughter / sister is doing and if she’s got married yet (a common question in China), and my girlfriend’s family know that if they say “she’s going out with a foreign guy”, people are likely to make unpleasant assumptions. My girlfriend also encounters this herself when she goes home and meets friends from her hometown – when she says her boyfriend is a foreigner, they often try to “warn” her or express doubt that she’s making a good decision.
Again, in the end none of this really matters. What’s important is what we know about ourselves. But however much you ignore the issue of stereotypes and whether or not they apply to you, sometimes you can’t help engaging with them and adjusting your behaviour.
The thing that really strikes me about all this is that it’s my first real taste of having stereotypes applied to me, and to be honest it’s pretty mild. I wouldn’t like to claim that I now have an understanding of people whose lives are really impacted by nasty stereotypes every day, but perhaps I’ve gained a little more insight.