Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Funny assumption or just inappropriate?

In China, it's all about being a twosome!

Yesterday and male colleague and I decided to change our lives and join a gym. We didn’t make any appointment but simply showed up at a place that we’ve heard is good. A sales girl was soon by our sides, showing us around, throwing out funny little comments that we politely laughed about. Something that will never fail to astonish me is how Chinese people react when you tell them that you’ve been doing sports all of your life. For me it’s such a natural thing, and if I ever get kids I know I’ll encourage them to try all kinds of sports until they find something they like and want to do. Chinese kids are obviously busy with their heavy load of homework.

Anyway, once we had done the compulsory tour we sat down to discuss the membership fee.

-So, you want a yearly membership… bla bla bla, the grils started, drawing figures on a piece of paper (another thing that I don’t quite understand here: what is this obsession with writing down prices on paper or typing them into a calculator. Why can’t people just tell you the price to your face? Is it because they are scared that someone else will overhear it and that it will ruin a potential haggle-fest with that person?).

-And, what about your husband? The girl eventually said, turning to my workmate.

-Eh… we are not… No no! We are not married!

-Oh, sorry, your boyfriend?

-No, no no no no!!!! Eh, hehe! We are colleagues!

-Oh… I see. I just thought you two looked like such a match!

-Eh… right. Eh….

Biiiiig meaningful smile from the sales girl making us feel ....uncomfortable? Weird? Strange? Take your pick. I don’t even know this male colleague of mine very well, he kind of just started working with us. And I’m not sure if we are ready for such jokes yet.

In China, however, it is totally OK to throw these kinds of comments around. I don’t know how many times me and my boyfriend go somewhere and we are addressed as siblings, just because we are both tall and blonde (nevermind that we don’t have the same eye colour. Not important). I wonder if this would change if we were engaged? Do people here pay attention to engagement rings the same way people do in the west? Might be worth it putting a ring on then, just to avoid any kind of confusion: like me being seen as married to my colleague or being a somewhat messed up person who’s having a love affair with my brother.

Yikes... that actually sounds real awful! Can that be used as an argument for a speedy engagement?!


Sara said...

When I'm somewhere with a white guy people always think he is my boyfriend. But when I'm with my real boyfriend (Chinese) people ask if he is my classmate. Once we were in the metro with my Finnish friends and Chinese couple asked my boyfriend if I'm his interpreter. They are always so surprised to hear that I'm his laopo, girlfriend!

Sarah said...

Well I have never been to China with a white guy before so I don't know how people would react, but I remember when I was in China with my ex boyfriend when we were traveling around on the train a few people asked me "is he your tour guide? how kind!!"

Joyce said...

Years ago, I went with a British friend who wanted a second opinion on a flat he wanted to buy.
I guess it wasn't unwarranted that the local Hong Kong agent presumed I was his gf, since buying a home is pretty personal. But it was definitely awkward to have to say, "Uh, yeah. We're not married. We're not dating."
My friend ended up making some embrassed joke like, "She's too pretty to be my girlfriend" or something.
Anyway, yeah. Pretty awkward.

The worst was when I went on a group work-related trip to Vietnam with a Japanese girl around my age, and two older white guys. And all the Vietnamese thought we were, like, young paid escorts or something.

At one point, I got heat stroke and had to sit down at a market and drink water. The women gathered around me, pointed at one of the men, and then pointed at my belly. They wanted to know if he had impregnanted me!

yan said...

Whenever my wife, who is Caucasian, and me, Chinese, travel in China, everyone assume that I am her tour guide. Even when I tell people that we're married, they are not only surprised, but I think some of them don't even believe me. They think I'm trying to protect her, or something. There's, as yet, not much acceptance of Chinese male to non-Chinese female pairs.

Stephanie C said...

I really like how you share all the detail of your life in China. It sounds quiet funny and interesting.I have always wanted to go to Shanghai. But I have never get a chance to. Or I'm just too afraid of people might think I'm an asian looking girl with poor chinese.

Stephanie C said...

I really like how you share all the detail of your life in China. It sounds quiet funny and interesting.I have always wanted to go to Shanghai. But I have never get a chance to. Or I'm just too afraid of people might think I'm an asian looking girl with poor chinese.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Cheers for sharing your stories! By reading them, I realize that I am far from the only one who's experienced this. Being called a "tour guide" when you are someone's hubby sounds quite bad, it's as bad as me and my bf being taken for siblings. Funny how people are so quick at jumping into conclusions.

黃愛玲 said...

It happens to me, as well. =o) When I am with my husband (who is from Taipei) - they think we're only friends. Asian waiters would speak in Chinese and I would speak back in Chinese. It freaks them out. xD

Joyce Lau said...

I was at a Beijing Starbucks with an American girl who is tall, pale and blonde. I'm Hong Kong Chinese, but was speaking English to her. She turned to ask the waiter something in Putonghua. This totally threw him off.

He stared in a puzzled manner at the blonde and said , "Ni shi Zhongguo ren?" And she said "Yes."
Tee hee.

yan said...

@JoyceLau Ha! The same thing happened to my wife, who is Caucasian! We were dining in a Chinese restaurant here in the U.S., I placed my order in putonghua, then she ordered her meal in putonghua as well. The waiter looked bewildered, obviously expecting her order in English, then turned to me (Chinese) and asked "ta shi Zhong Guo ren ma?" That made my wife laugh out loud.

Kathleen said...

Siblings must share eye colour? News to me!

Jonna Wibelius said...

Kathleen -they don't?!! That's news to me. Me and my brother and sisters all have the same eye colour. But maybe I am wrong.

bkbj said...

I can relate! This is something I didn't really think about until a recent trip around China with my boyfriend and a good friend from college years (both Caucasian). People assumed I was their tour guide/interpreter and subconsciously I started playing that role, which turned out to be a lot more stressful compared to my past travel experiences. At one point I was even offered "hui kou" (commission) at a restaurant for bringing them there. So it's not all bad perhaps.

Now I am studying in Sweden and am terrified of being judged as a mail-ordered bribe whenever I am out with my boyfriend. Although, who am I to judge other people's dating decisions?

Johan said...

Siblings definitely don't have to have the same eye colour.