The better my Chinese gets, the more I have started to make comments to Chinese people that I hear speak about me (and gosh, that happens quite often I have noticed?). A classic example is when I go shopping in small clothes shops in Shanghai or Suzhou. I'm often to lazy to go to the changing rooms (especially if I am trying a jacket or a sweater) so I just try it in front of the mirror in the store. Every time I do, I get curious glances (of course everybody wants to see if the blond giant can get into Chinese clothes -which I can, although the arms are unfortunately often too short- and, more importantly, how much this piece of clothing costs). Before I always thought that people were making comments about the clothes not fitting me, but lately I have realised that most people are quite... nice! They comment on my legs, about my height, about my shape, about me not being a 'very fat foreigner,' and so on. Of course, sometimes I cannot help myself and say something back to them in Chinese... and then they get the longest face before they start laughing, followed by encouraging me to by the garment.
Last Friday I went to a shop in Suzhou with a girl from my class. She goes there often and knows the shop owner (who was thrilled that she brought another lao wai) and we all started talking. More people came into the shop and heard us talking and started commenting on our Chinese (all positive). I was holding a t-shirt in my hand when one girl said: 'do you really think she can get into that?' to the owner. I felt a bit like... 'what the hell, of course I can'... so I replied: 'No problem. I am tall, not fat!' and the girl got the longest face. Then, they all switched to Suzhou dialect and gone was my moment. Very obvious what and who they were talking about, though.
Although I shouldn't say anything.. I don't know how many times I have been grateful that I can speak a language only spoken by some 9 million people, that barely any outstanders (unless they come from Scando) can understand. But you still have to be a bit careful with how your speak, because the tone of your voice can reveal quite a lot about what you are speaking about, unless you keep it very natural. I mean, even though I don't understand Suzhou-hua, the switch was very obvious and I know that they weren't talking about the weather.
I know this woman who lives in Finland, she's around... 45-50 maybe (?) and married to a Chinese man, so her Chinese is perfect. Once she was on a train and next to her sat two Chinese business men who were talking and commenting on how big-nosed all Europeans on the train were. Before she got off the train she turned to them and said:
-Haven't you considered that in Europe, people might actually make fun of how small noses you have?
Oh, I wish I could have been there to see their faces.