Every time we go out for a stroll or do some shopping, people will stare at us. That is normal… or as normal as it can be here. I hate being stared at, and might never get used to it, but with my husband on my side I feel like having a little protective shield. He would step in front of people to stop them from taking pictures, or even tell them off if they make rude comments… but he cannot escape the curious questions…
Especially when we take a taxi it is impossible to escape and the second we sit down and the taxi driver spots me, he will start the “Interrogation”. And it’s always, always the same questions… always asked in a manner as if I am not even there, sitting right next to my husband…
1. Is she from America/Russia?
Somehow it seems for many Chinese people the world consists of three countries: China, Russia and the USA. So this question is very common. Rarely do I hear a neutral “Where is she from?”. They always assume I am either American or Russian. Well, in my case they are not far from the truth. My entire family is in fact Russian. But I have been told by countless friends in China that they have experienced the same, and they are not even close to be American or Russian.
I guess the only thing you can do, is answer politely, and if they have never heard your country name before, explain them where it is located, and no they don’t speak English there, because you know, not the entire world speaks English…
2. Can she speak Chinese?
Every time my husband answers this question I think “Yeah now he know, now I will be included in the conversation”… but that never happens. Even after telling them that I am quite fluent in Chinese, they will go on to ignore me, and keep on talking to my husband. Even when trying to include myself in the conversation, they would just pitifully smile at me, and keep on talking to my husband.
After almost ten years in China I think it’s no big surprise to be able to speak Chinese; especially if your other half has failed in learning any English (or German, for that matter). Unfortunately, for most Chinese people it is still somewhat of an unbelievable thing. There is no use in getting angry about it. Just lean back, smile, and enjoy being a spy in China. After all, if they all believe you don’t understand a word; they will speak freely in front of you…
3. Is she used to Chinese food?
My husband is really annoyed by this question. We are living in a small rural town, if I wouldn’t be eating Chinese food, what do I live on? Air and love? And after ten years in China isn’t it normal to being used to something?
With the variety and amount of choices in Chinese cuisines, I think it’s impossible to not find something you like eating. Of course there will always be something that we won’t like, but that goes for any other cuisine in the world (yes, I am looking at you cold Russian soup my mom used to make during summer…). And even my husband who is Chinese wouldn’t eat everything that is offered in this big country. But this question is the hardest to answer. You have a choice: Go full force and start a food debate, or simply answer xiguan le (“She’s used to it”) and move on to the next question.
4. Is she a teacher?
I know that statistically most foreigners work as teachers in China. So you cannot blame Chinese people for assuming you must be one as well. If you answer truthfully and say you are not, they will be continuing the questions until you tell them your monthly benefits and salary package. If you say you are a teacher, it’s usually end of this question round. No matter what you are really teaching, they will assume you are an English teacher anyway. It’s one of those boring questions…
5. Did you meet abroad?
Usually after the questioner has established the relationship between me and my husband, curiosity cannot be stopped. Strangely they always assume we must have met outside of China. I don’t know if it would be the same if I would be a foreign man and my husband the Chinese wife… But in our constellation, they seem to see it as impossible that we have actually met in China. After all they also don’t believe in my Chinese speaking abilities.
My husband never answers this question truthfully. He goes along with any assumption the questioner has. So far we have met in an American university while studying abroad, in Shanghai, in Russia and my all-time favourite on a visa run in Hongkong…
6. You are married? Why don’t you have children?
After they know that we are actually married, not just boy- and girlfriend (or worse his travel guide…), they want to know about Children.
Everyone who has lived in China knows that asking about your job, salary and marital status is part of polite small talk. For us it’s actually very private and of no one’s business. But especially in small cities, it’s impossible to avoid these questions. And not having children after being married for several years is seen as some kind of failure.
Every time my husband answers, ‘no’ to the children questions you can see the judging and sometimes pitiful look on the questioners face. It really is none of their business, but telling them that would be rude, and ignoring them would be rude… so a simple ‘no’ is sufficient and we just all ignore the judgemental look on their faces and move on to nicer topics…
What I find most annoying about these questions is the frequency they are asked with…
I totally get it. For everyone who meets us, it’s their first time. Curiosity takes hold of them and they just can’t restrain themselves and have to ask these questions… But for us, sometimes we have been ask the same questions ten times in a row on one day. You can imagine that it really gets tiring. In that case I am glad I don’t really have to take part in the question rounds. I am sorry for my husband though. If he is in a good mood he will make a game out of it, inventing our story new every single time… but if he’s in a bad mood… well, I am not going into detail here.
I should be wearing a T-shirt that answers all these questions or maybe we print some forms with answers to all the most commonly asked questions to hand out to curious taxi drivers, shop clerks and random strangers on the street… Would save us lots of time…
Have you ever encountered situation like this? What are the most common questions Chinese people ask you?
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