4 Things You Should Never Say to a Western Woman in China You Just Met | Speaking of China

29 Responses

  1. cathy
    cathy September 22, 2014 at 6:45 am | | Reply

    What’s fascinating is that this isn’t limited to any one culture. I lived in West Africa for a bit, and your 4 points happened to me all the time. Human nature and curiousity has a way of transcending culture I think. In any case, I’m glad to be back in the USA, because I hated how guarded and cold I became since I could never get used to the constant attention.

  2. Cassandra
    Cassandra September 22, 2014 at 8:18 am | | Reply

    Asking for someone’s number you just met is rude, but calling out hello, asking to be your friend, and telling someone they are beautiful are just really the only ways people have to communicate sometimes when there is a language barrier. As a visitor to someone else’s country it’s good to also exercise a lot of patience especially when being looked up to and adored which definitely doesn’t happen in every country Americans visit.

  3. ordinary malaysian
    ordinary malaysian September 22, 2014 at 8:53 am | | Reply

    Haha, while you are still considered a celebrity better enjoy the attention! Just learn to relax a little. It is not everyday that you will be complimented; once you become familiar to the Chinese and are no longer just exotic looking, you are going to miss the attention! Stars work so desperately hard to be noticed and remain in the public eye. You lucky gals don’t have to do anything, just being the 老外 is all there is to the magic! Except of course, the phone number! And the disembodied ‘hello’ from a distance – those could be disconcerting, agree. Otherwise, just smile and strut like a princess – that you are are, for all we know, to the Chinese! Ten years down the road, you might no longer even be noticed! Now is the time to soak in all the attention, and I mean it in a positive way! So, cheerio to all you all princesses!

    1. Jen
      Jen September 23, 2014 at 12:25 am | | Reply

      Nope. Unwanted attention from strangers isn’t a compliment. Your attitude makes other men think it’s okay to go on bothering women in public.

    2. SBC
      SBC September 23, 2014 at 4:52 pm | | Reply

      I have to disagree with Ordinary Malaysian. Culture changes how men interact with women, but disrespect looks pretty standard everywhere. What Jocelyn describes here are many times a result of not curiosity but blatant stereotyping. I understand before 2000’s in rural china (or even now). But I have encountered (either as a recipient or a bystander) such behaviour even in this day and age (sometimes by intl students on top university campuses). In that context, such ignorance is intolerable and absolutely unforgivable. Educated, connected gen Y individuals have no excuse to act stupid (and lets not kid ourselves; people who engage in any of the behaviours Jecelyn describes, neither flatter themselves, nor others. But if they happen to be well travelled and educated, it just makes them seem incredibly stupid).

  4. Constance - Foreign Sanctuary
    Constance - Foreign Sanctuary September 22, 2014 at 11:26 am | | Reply

    I often get the ‘Hello! How are you?’ in Taiwan by random people. Usually, if I respond, they don’t know what to say next because that is the extent of their English ability and thus, the conversation quickly ends.

    In Taiwan, I feel my white skin gets the most attention – by men and women alike. I have very fair skin which quickly burns and never tans. In Taiwan, it is beautiful but I remember when we were having our church wedding in Canada, my sister suggested that I do tanning sessions so I could have a little color. Of course, I didn’t. I guess it just goes to show that the concept of beauty is different everywhere you go.

  5. Nicki
    Nicki September 22, 2014 at 8:36 pm | | Reply

    I’d like to agree with all of those and add: don’t grab ahold of me! I was sitting next to the window at night on a nearly abandoned bus when a man got on, looked around at all the empty seats, and came and sat right next to me, blocking me in against the window. After sitting there silently for a few tense stops he suddenly reached out, grabbed my arm, and loudly said “hello! Welcome to china!” I shrieked a bit in terror and he realized his mistake, apologized, and moved to another seat. I don’t think he meant to be weird, he just wanted to meet me, but it was in an inappropriate way! I think a good guideline for guys is to treat us the way they would want their sister or mother to be treated by men.

    Also, to ordinary Malaysian who commented above, I just want to say, no. I don’t want to be a princess or famous or exotic. Personally I’m married and am not looking for any attention. It seems many other western women also feel the same way. Please don’t tell us how we should feel. Thanks.

  6. JAL
    JAL September 22, 2014 at 9:04 pm | | Reply

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who finds certain “hellos” creepy. Sometimes they sound like Chucky. (the demented doll from the horror movies)

  7. Teya
    Teya September 22, 2014 at 10:29 pm | | Reply

    My father-in-law (Chinese) is visiting in the US now, and twice he has told random strangers (the cashier at Kohl’s and a server from Applebee’s) that their beards are beautiful. He is limited in English, so he just repeats very beautiful a few times. The men did not know how to respond to that comment.

  8. chinaelevatorstories
    chinaelevatorstories September 23, 2014 at 12:13 am | | Reply

    Standing right next to the woman’s train bed and staring at her is another thing you shouldn’t do (and once you know she speaks Chinese, asking her if you can be friends). Uhm, no?

  9. JAL
    JAL September 23, 2014 at 1:01 am | | Reply

    While we are on the topic of comments from random men, could someone who’s spent more time in China PLEASE tell me what that “tsk” sound means? If I knew what it meant, it would bother me less. My husband doesn’t hear it, but I know I’m not hallucinating! He tends to be more oblivious to annoying things in the streets. It sounds like a tsk, or maybe a tut. It’s only men, usually middle aged, who do it.

    1. D-Maybe
      D-Maybe September 23, 2014 at 6:59 am | | Reply

      I would say it’s the rough equivalent of “pfftt” for English-speakers.

  10. David
    David September 23, 2014 at 1:16 am | | Reply

    Hollywood Movie star? In a city in North India, three white women were working on an international organization project. They were transferred to Vietnam or Malaysia, I am not sure…this was back in 1999. They were replaced by an Indian woman living in the US, an African and a Chinese…literally a riot broke out…they wanted the three white women back.

    As far as all other issues mentions…strange… I thought many Asian men will rarely ask a white woman out for a coffee or tea…let alone ask for a phone number.

  11. Gerald
    Gerald September 23, 2014 at 10:46 am | | Reply

    It’s pretty much all going right back to the “background difference” I see a lot:
    To many of us Westerners, the thing you do not talk about is how someone looks, because that’s personal.
    To Chinese, the simplest and most obvious topic to talk about is how someone looks, because that’s, well, obvious.

    Funny thing about the “creepy Hello”… I felt it mainly bothered me because so much of it was something of an experiment to see if the laowai would react to it – with no chance of any sensible follow-up, and often even just dared to utter once one had already passed the person in question.
    Reading your analogy with cat-calls, I wonder if that isn’t just the thing that makes it so odd for a guy.
    Then again, I was wolf-whistled after by a girl in Latvia…

  12. Ri
    Ri September 23, 2014 at 2:29 pm | | Reply

    When I’m in the countryside I don’t really mind the random hellos. They usually come from school kids, so I’m not so fussed. In Tokyo it really bothers me thoughーpartly due to custom and partly because it feels quite threatening to be suddenly approached by people you don’t know, especially at night. You don’t really know their motives, or if they’re drunk they might react badly if you ignore/say something they’re not expecting. :/

  13. Nicki
    Nicki September 23, 2014 at 5:00 pm | | Reply

    I thought of another one – don’t ask if Western women are very “open” with a suggestive leer. For one thing that word does not have the same connotation, at least for me in American English. Secondly… Ew!

  14. Marta
    Marta September 23, 2014 at 5:47 pm | | Reply

    I think I’m pretty lucky, I haven’t had the “can I have your phone number” in a loooong time, and every time someone tells me I’m beautiful it’s always a woman! My hellos are also mostly from kids.

  15. Bree
    Bree September 24, 2014 at 12:38 am | | Reply

    Ugh, the creepy hellos. Usually it seems they just want to get a reaction so they can laugh with their friends. In other words, yes it’s basically a catcall.

    For the intrusive things like asking my phone number or to be my friend, it mostly only bugs me when people bother me in the middle of something. More than once I’ve had guys come up and tap me on the shoulder when I’m jogging and listening to music to start in with the “Where are you from? Do you like China?” stuff. Also reading in coffee shops. It makes me feel like they think that foreigners are just there for their personal entertainment – come chat us up any time you want some English practice!

  16. Mary
    Mary September 24, 2014 at 4:05 am | | Reply

    The “can I have your phone number” question led to the addition of (not one, but three) “don’t answer” IDs in my mobile contact list.

    When I was a novice in China I thought they were just trying to be friends and I obliged, but 33 phone calls in one day later I knew they were crazy. If there is one thing I have to say about Chinese men, it’s this: They are persistent!

    1. D-Maybe
      D-Maybe September 24, 2014 at 7:45 am | | Reply

      Haha… “Crazy” is probably a little harsh. But I know what you’re talking about… The persistent men are really just inexperienced and awkward with foreigners. It’s worth noting that it’s not unusual for Chinese people to send multiple messages or make multiple phone calls to their boyfriends/girlfriends in one day — in fact, it is often expected.

      1. R Zhao
        R Zhao September 24, 2014 at 8:43 am | | Reply

        I would argue 33 phone calls from someone is crazy and inappropriate behavior. It is not “multiple phone calls;” it is dozens! I don’t think people get a pass for being Chinese and awkward with foreigners. Frankly, that’s insulting. My husband is Chinese as are many of my friends and they all have enough common sense to realize that calling someone that many times is totally not okay. But I do agree that Chinese men can be a lot more persistent than what I’m accustomed to in my home country.

        1. D-Maybe
          D-Maybe September 24, 2014 at 9:12 am | | Reply

          33 phone calls is probably at the high end of the range but this sort of thing does happen with Chinese couples — and I stress couples, not friends and acquaintances. The concept of “clingy” or “stalking” for the Chinese is different and often non-existent and Chinese people are often not aware that their action amounts to harassment, especially when they’re attempting courtship. There are in fact Chinese women who expect their boyfriends to be constantly available for them.

    2. Marta
      Marta September 24, 2014 at 8:34 am | | Reply

      Oh my! My record is just 5 or 6 haha. It seems some Chinese men don’t understand indirects! If I don’t pick the phone it’s because I don’t want to talk to you! But to be fair, the most annoying guys I ever gave my phone number to were a guy from Xinjiang and another from Angola. So it’s not only Chinese men who can’t handle foreigners 😀

      1. Marta
        Marta September 24, 2014 at 8:35 am | | Reply

        sorry! this was supposed to be a reply to Mary’s comment!

    3. TLAG
      TLAG October 18, 2014 at 2:39 am | | Reply

      Sounds like he likes you very much!!!

  17. Den Jin
    Den Jin September 24, 2014 at 5:41 pm | | Reply

    I’m sure this is really helpful to us Chinese men. Tracing back three years ago before I came to the states, i could totally greet those aliens on the street. For christ’s sake foreigners were too rare to those of us who live in the rural areas. Therefore I would guess this happens for a reason. It would be no surprise for y’all from the west to see people with different color, from different cultural background on a regular basis.

    On the side note, instead of getting the digits by directly asking ” Can I have your phone number?”, i notice something like ” hey by the way would you like to exchange contact info?” would really do the trick without appearing rude. It delivers a subtle message that ” hey I’d like to get to know you but it’s up to you to decide if there is a chance”. And that puts us on the same pedestal that anyone could step down.

    Kind of realize it is a matter of learning process, about absorbing the more western/polite manner to define oneself.


  18. David
    David September 25, 2014 at 2:06 am | | Reply

    “It would be no surprise for y’all from the west to see people with different color, from different cultural background on a regular basis.”

    Not exactly. Not outside the big cities and their suburbs. I know folks in New Hampshire who voted for Obama but rarely see black people, around the town of Dixiville Notch near the Quebec border.

  19. Sean
    Sean October 15, 2014 at 5:18 pm | | Reply

    When do Chinese guys become so outgoing?
    This is so not me.And I thought the 4 points were white guys’ icon.lol

  20. Grace
    Grace October 15, 2014 at 10:47 pm | | Reply

    The fifth thing you never say: You or your family is probably racist and you will never date a non-white male.

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