FEEL AT HOME
▶ How expats in China defend their adopted country and city
With more and more foreigners coming to China and starting their new lives here, many of them often find themselves in the position of defending their adopted city and country. In a previous “Two-cents” article Metropolitan
published, the author Leila Hashemi wrote about her own experience of defending China, which struck a chord with many readers.
“When expats move here, it is not like home; some can deal with that and some can’t. However, if you are living and working here, I really find it hard to sit at a table and listen to you badmouth China, its policies and its people,” Hashemi wrote in the article.
Her situation reflects many expats’ experiences in China. With dual identities, they are in the dilemma of explaining their choice of staying here to friends and families back home, and sometimes an argument is inevitable.
Clement Jean is a 22-year-old Frenchman who has been studying in Beijing for two years. As he recalls, the main stereotype European people have towards China is “Chinese are making low-quality products.”
“In some way it’s true. But in the meantime, they churn out more and more high quality products, like TV sets and cellphones,” said Jean, “Now I know [the facts]. So when now my friends ask me about things like that, I always tell them it’s totally false.” He gave us an example that if someone buys a good TV set in Europe, they won’t say it comes from China, but it turned out it did, which is very ironic.
But many expats agree that most debates about China focus on the food and local eating habits. Thomas T. Tarpeh from Liberia was bombarded with questions from his family and friends like “Do Chinese people eat frogs?” “Can you eat snakes?” and so on.
“Many people in my home country think China is still an ancient country. They think every Chinese can do kung fu. My mom once told me ‘Be careful on the street in case someone hits you!’” He gave us a bitter smile while talking about this.
Defend to make a difference
Although misconceptions exist, many expats are willing to explain the real China they see and feel to their family and friends back home, or to those who don’t know much about the country they are living in.
Filip Sebok from Slovakia thinks many Western people are still viewing China in an old way. “I think [my countrymen] just don’t know this country. They only know, for example, Beijing and Shanghai; They only know China is very big and there are many people. That’s all.”
“So when they ask me about China, I’ll show them photos and tell them my experience here.” Sebok told Metropolitan, “China is a very complicated country. It’s a dynamic country which changes very quickly, and it’s more modern than my country in many ways. Things are totally different here in just the past five years.”
Sam Sherin from India also agrees. “Everybody [in my country] knows China is a fast-developing country. Many of my friends told me that if they have the opportunity, they will come here, too. In the industries like architecture and technology, China is moving faster.”
To summarize the reason why there are many misconceptions about China, Ali Haider from Pakistan said the two main reasons may be “the communication gap” and “culture difference.”
“First, because we don’t speak good Chinese, so there can be some misunderstandings. Second, we have different cultures,” Haider said.
Valerie Sokolova from Russia was worried about her first trip to China because her father had told her that Chinese people don’t speak English. But after she came here, she found it was not a problem at all.
“I told my father that China is great. It’s so clean here, and people are friendly. On the first day I had many questions, like what should I do and where to go. Many Chinese strangers helped me on the street. It was really great!”
Accepting these differences and showing their countrymen the real China are what expats often do nowadays. Living in another country is always hard, but it also gives them an opportunity to experience a different lifestyle and be more tolerant to differences. There is one common belief they share: the more people know about China, the less misconceptions and stereotypes they will hold.
After living in China for several years, many expats find themselves falling in love with their adopted city and country.
Many expats share a common belief: the more people know about China, the less misconceptions and stereotypes there will be.