How to cope with the curious Chinese

The first time I arrived in China, I was thrilled with how fast I could make Chinese friends. It seemed like no matter where I was going, I ran straight into people who wanted to take photos with me or wanted my phone number. It was so easy to get into contact with locals and I loved the attention.Smile

But then after staying for a few months, I realized that many Chinese aren’t interested in me as a person but in my origin, my different color and my English language. After this realization, I became quite depressed for a while. I started to delete all the new contacts in my phone (I couldn’t remember who they where anyway, all those weird Chinese names which all sounded the same to be), I always didn’t want to talk English to the Chinese I met anymore because I had started learning Mandarin and I didn’t want to walk around like a free English-lesson. I actually think that me not wanting to be used as English practice, made me study harder on my Mandarin to be able to talk to people anyway (I do like talking A LOT).

I call these incidents the “Foreign Friend Concept”. Many Chinese people have only seen foreigners in the TV and they’re so excited to meet one in real life that they aren’t shy to interrupt you wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Some Chinese are quite shy, but nobody minds saying “Hello” in English and they especially love to yell it out loud after you’ve just walked by (Always after you’ve passed them, probably because of the shyness).

If you’re going to China, you need to prepare for the fact that many Chinese people will come and ask for a picture with you or your number. Just give it to them and then you can always delete it later on. These people usually don’t contact you afterwards. It’s more to tell friends that they’re having an international friend. So don’t be nervous, they aren’t going to hunt you down afterwards (watching too many horror movies can make anyone paranoid).

Chinese pic

In China right now, it’s quite important to be international because of the new open market, country and economy. So buying an Iphone, speaking English and have an international friend prove that the person is cool. Yeah, it sounds a bit crazy but the country has only ‘recently’ opened up and all these new things have a great status of wealth, mostly because the Chinese products are always cheaper than the international brands and wealth is important after many years with starvation and extreme poverty.

Anyway, if you don’t have a “rock-star-day” then you can always just put music in your ears. Sometimes they still try to talk to you but I just pretend I don’t hear it. Like, if you want to climb a mountain alone and don’t feel like taking photos with tourists on your climb up being all sweaty and disgusting, this is working quite well (Yes, I did it and it’s working well with the music after I’d seen one of the photos, they’d taken with me, sweaty foreigner, yes, not a side of myself I’d like to see again).

But these are just curious people who love to hear stories from abroad, so if you have some time, take some photos with them or just say hello when they’re greeting you. It’ll make their day.

But then again, when being in the bigger cities, it’s also easy enough to find Chinese who aren’t like that as well. If the person has been abroad already, they’re more relaxed about your differences. These people can be friends for life if you try to integrate with them. Chinese love food, so invite them for lunch and have a chat about culture differences and traditions in your own country (and try in Mandarin so it’s you who can practice, free Mandarin lessons, right?)

Take a photo, practice your Mandarin and have a laugh and bring music if it’s too much (just in case).

xx lingling

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  1. Oh my god the chinese people are so curious all the time – they were looking at me at all tourist destinations but the music was totally working when I was too tired to smile 😀 travel in China is an adventure


  2. Good advice. 🙂 I can honestly say I have never been asked to take a picture with anybody. Ever. I lived here for over two years now in Shanghai. Not in Beijing, Nanjing or Hangzhou either. Does it happen to smaller towns? I do sometimes get curious looks but that’s about it and I live in a very local area (barely any foreigners living in my area – they live in much better areas, honestly). Although, the oddest part of my neighborhood is that everybody seems to think I am from Russia. :/

  3. Hi Eileen,

    Thanks for reading my blog here. It’s all new and I’m really happy to hear from you though I can’t relate to your story at all. For me, just a walk to the Summer Palace or Tiananmen Square is one big photo shoot (I don’t look like a blonde model or anything but it happens and to my friends as well) 😀
    Chinese always assume you’re from America or Russia because they know these two countries. The American Dream and the Russian Communism from before when China and Russia had very close relations (Not sure how close they are now …) are the two main things they know about the rest of the world (even in the countryside).
    Anyway, you should be happy about it. it can be a bit annoying when you’re tired and just want to be alone haha. Once, I sat in the metro and a man put his phone straight up in my face to take a photo. Awkward 🙂

    May I ask, where did you find my website?? 🙂


    xx Lena

  4. Yeah, I am fortunate that I don’t have to deal with that. My husband said that probably because I don’t look “white” enough for them to really notice me. xD Whatever that means. If that helps, I am down with it!

    I found you through speaking of china. 🙂

    1. Haha could be a good explanation 😀 my Danish Asian friends experienced the same, unless they dressed very Danishish :p
      Thanks for the answer dear 🙂 Have a nice day

  5. “all those weird Chinese names which sounded more like a sound coming from a sick cow”

    You take an interest in China but you make fun of their names? Not cool.

    1. Hi Rina! Thank you for letting me know about because it definitely is not cool at all. It’s an old article and I was even surprised by my words when I read it again just now. I will change this because it’s not nice, I totally agree! Thanks again and sorry for this.

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