Before moving to China, I spent a ridiculous amount of time learning Chinese. I’m talking thousands of hours over a three year period. I’m far from fluent (this language is damn hard!) but I can get by. And I can usually understand what people around me are saying.
Despite the fact that there are something like 120,000 foreigners living in Beijing, many of whom speak Chinese, people here often assume I can’t understand them. And then they assume that this gives them the right to talk about me right in front of my face.
But China, I can understand you.
These conversations are usually pretty tame, and often even flattering: the most frequent conversation that I overhear is about Charlotte, which typically goes like this:
“Oh, look at that foreign child over there”
“Ooh, she’s really pretty. Look at that long blonde hair.”
“Let’s take a picture of her!”
But once in awhile, I overhear some not so nice things. Like at the airport the other day, a young couple was talking about Charlotte:
“What a pretty little foreign girl”
“Yeah, she’s really pretty. Huh, she doesn’t look like her mother.”
I know, I know, it’s not that bad, it’s not like they were calling me a foreign imperialist devil or anything like that. What irked me most about this conversation was not that they bruised my ego, but the fact that they were standing right next to me, talking about me as if I were deaf or stupid, and they felt like they could say whatever they wanted about me.
And because I had really polite Chinese teachers, I had no way of telling them, in Chinese, to shove their opinions up their ass.
Which led me to draw a very important lesson from this experience: I need to learn more Chinese swear words.