Spe­cial Treat­ment?

For­eign­ers in China ex­pe­ri­ence both struc­tural ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Ka­trin Büchen­bacher and Li Jieyi

If you want to get your de­posit back from the bike-shar­ing com­pany Ofo right now, you should be very pa­tient. As re­ports about Ofo’s bank­ruptcy have in­ten­si­fied, peo­ple are rush­ing to get their de­posits of 199 yuan ($29) back. Chances are that you would be num­ber 13 mil­lion or above in the wait­ing line.

But one client de­cided to take the fast track. Af­ter wait­ing for over a month af­ter he ap­plied for a re­fund with­out suc­cess and numer­ous unan­swered calls to Ofo’s cus­tomer ser­vice, he sent an email in English, pre­tend­ing to be a US cit­i­zen liv­ing in China, Ten­cent news re­ported. The bike-shar­ing com­pany not only im­me­di­ately re­funded him, but also sent him a let­ter of apol­ogy. The cus­tomer pub­lished the email con­ver­sa­tion on China’s mi­croblog Sina Weibo, which raised one ques­tion among the 280,000 ne­ti­zens who fol­lowed the hash­tag #Pre­tendToBeAFor­eign­erToGetRe­fundByO­foInSe­conds: Are for­eign­ers re­ceiv­ing spe­cial treat­ment in China?

More priv­i­leges

Matthieu Ta­quet, a French na­tional who had lived in China for 8 years, says yes – at least when it comes to ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties for a Chi­nese-speak­ing for­eigner. Ta­quet’s ca­reer in the tourism sec­tor took off when he came to China in 2006 and got pro­moted to a man­age­rial po­si­tion at age 24, only to be­come direc­tor two years later.

“Be­ing a for­eigner in China has cer­tainly opened some doors for me,” Ta­quet told Metropoli­tan. How­ever, the feel­ing of hav­ing an un­fair ad­van­tage over his Chi­nese col­leagues of the same age did not go away. Ta­quet’s own boss would treat the for­eign staff “bet­ter” than Chi­nese em­ploy­ees.

“I had many Chi­nese friends, and I felt it was not fair to them,” he said.

Apart from bet­ter ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties and eas­ier ac­cess to se­nior man­age­ment po­si­tions, ex­pats might also have struc­tural ad­van­tages when it comes to salary. The wage and em­ployee ben­e­fits for lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional staff can vary con­sid­er­ably. Stud­ies con­ducted in coun­tries such as China and Sin­ga­pore have shown a wage gap of up to 900 per­cent in the de­vel­op­ment aid and cor­po­rate sec­tor be­tween lo­cal and ex­pat em­ploy­ees that could not be ex­plained by work ex­pe­ri­ence, the Guardian re­ported.

Priv­i­leged treat­ment of ex­pats can also jump from the work­place to ev­ery­day life. The ser­vice in­dus­try might also treat its for­eign cus­tomers dif­fer­ently than the lo­cal guests. A den­tal nurse in Bei­jing sur­named Lü said she of­ten takes ex­tra good care of their ex­pat cus­tomers.

“We do take more time ex­plain­ing pro­ce­dures to our for­eign pa­tients be­cause they might not un­der­stand ev­ery­thing,” she said.

The spe­cial at­ten­tive ser­vice is also what 19-year-old Nat­tanon Ruang­noy, a high school ex­change stu­dent from Thai­land, ob­served.

“Chi­nese are more thought­ful when it comes to us for­eign­ers,” he said. When Ruang­noy goes to a restau­rant, the wait­ers wel­come him more en­thu­si­as­ti­cally and take more time to ex­plain the menu to him than his Chi­nese coun­ter­parts, he re­called.

“We come from far away, so it’s only nat­u­ral that they want to give a good im­pres­sion of Chi­nese cul­ture and the en­vi­ron­ment here,” he said.

Un­equal treat­ment

Although in some ways for­eign­ers in China en­joy spe­cial treat­ment, they also ex­pe­ri­ence in­con­ve­nience and even racism in some sit­u­a­tions.

Ta­quet ex­pe­ri­enced episodes of racism dur­ing his time in China while wit­ness­ing a street fight be­tween a Chi­nese and a for­eign na­tional. The pub­lic would take the Chi­nese’s side re­gard­less of the rea­son that caused the ar­gu­ment.

“Chi­nese are very pa­tri­otic,” he ob­served.

There are struc­tural dis­ad­van­tages from be­ing a for­eigner in China. Most for­eign­ers, re­gard­less of how many years they have lived in China, need to re­new their visa every year. The “Chi­nese Green Card” or per­ma­nent res­i­dent card, which gives equal rights to a for­eign na­tional com­pared with a Chi­nese cit­i­zen. It is ex­tremely hard to get. China be­gan to al­low per­ma­nent res­i­dency in 2004, but from 2008 to 2014, only 7,356 for­eign­ers were granted per­ma­nent res­i­dence cards. In 2018, the process has been stream­lined and re­laxed in or­der to at­tract more ta­lent from abroad.

Also, tourists and non-Chi­nese speak­ing ex­pats are more prone to scams and rip-offs com­pared to the lo­cals.

Yi Zhen, a 19-year-old Aus­tralian, prefers to speak Chi­nese when shop­ping, “or they will make it more ex­pen­sive,” Yi said.

Yi’s par­ents are from China, and she vis­its the coun­try fre­quently. This time, she came to Bei­jing to study Chi­nese with her class­mates. One of her friends, Christina, be­lieves that the Chi­nese are more sen­si­tive to treat in­ter­na­tional res­i­dents like the lo­cals.

“As the world is be­com­ing more mul­ti­cul­tural, even­tu­ally, there will not be as much of a stigma against for­eign peo­ple in China. The stigma still ex­ists in China be­cause it used to be more cut off from the world, but the more open it be­comes, the more the stigma will dis­ap­pear,” she said.

Ta­quet is still work­ing in the ser­vice in­dus­try af­ter he left China four years ago. Now he works as a cabin crew mem­ber for a Mid­dle Eastern air­line and spends lay­overs in his for­mer home Bei­jing.

“Just try to be fair,” he said. “Don’t give any ad­van­tages to for­eign­ers, don’t put them down, just treat them equally.”

Photo: VCG

Stud­ies have shown that ex­pats’ wages can be 900 per­cent more than lo­cals’ wages, de­spite each hav­ing sim­i­lar qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

Photo: IC

Ex­pats re­port to re­ceive ex­tra friendly ser­vice in China, but might also pay a higher price for it.

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