“Is he your foreign exchange student?” When you’re a white woman who looks older than her Asian husband | Speaking of China

45 Responses

  1. R Zhao
    R Zhao October 27, 2014 at 8:23 am | | Reply

    Luckily, this never happens with my husband. He is seven years older than me so that probably helps. We might look the same age to some, but he doesn’t look younger than me.

    On a related note, I was mistaken for one of my friend’s mother. It was Black Friday last year and we were chatting with a woman waiting in line ahead of us. My friend told her she was there to buy something for her 8-year-old son. The lady turned to me and asked if I was a proud grandmother.I was really confused for a second and then I told her no, I was only 30 and nobody’s grandmother!

  2. Constance - Foreign Sanctuary
    Constance - Foreign Sanctuary October 27, 2014 at 8:50 am | | Reply

    Thanks for including a piece of my article, Jocelyn!

    ‘Yet, the older I get, the more I realize the importance of accepting myself, warts and all. After all, aging is a reality for everyone.’ – So true!! I have notice the more confident and self-assure I am, the more positive people perceive me.

    I am not sure if you saw this or not but there is a buzz now about aging now on the internet. Although I don’t really follow ‘celebrity news,’ I just happened to glance on an article posted on Yahoo the other day with a picture of Renee Zellweger. Now, I remember her from Jerry Maguire and Bridget Jones’s Diary but the woman’s picture didn’t resemble her at all. Then, I thought I must have gotten the name mixed up or something, but no – that was her after some plastic surgery.

  3. Sveta
    Sveta October 27, 2014 at 8:51 am | | Reply

    My younger sister and I went to a Starbucks few years ago. The lady there thought I was my younger sister’s mother!

  4. Grace Buchele Mineta
    Grace Buchele Mineta October 27, 2014 at 10:01 am | | Reply

    Ouch! Wow.
    That’s happened to us a couple times – my husband got ID-ed to buy a protein drink (since you have to be over 16 in the states to buy some)… when he was 26! I was still 22 and they didn’t card me.

    Everyone seems to think my husband is younger than me – even though he’s really 4-5 years older.

  5. Marta
    Marta October 27, 2014 at 10:19 am | | Reply

    Oh no!! What an embarrasing moment :/ But I’m sure the cashier was not remarking that you looked old, but that he looked young! And probably the thought of a white woman being married to an Asian was too weird for her so she didn’t even consider it 😀
    But I agree with you. Aging is part of life and I can’t understand the obsession with trying to look younger, specially when it implies surgery. I saw th Rene Zellweger pic that Constance is mentioning and she doesn’t look like herself at all anymore!

    Until now I haven’t had age-related mistakes in China, but I’ve been asked if I was pregnant… Come on, I’m not that fat!!

  6. D-Maybe
    D-Maybe October 27, 2014 at 10:28 am | | Reply

    This is a brave post, Jocelyn, and Constance’s story is hilarious. Yeah, the difference in apparent age is something that AMWF couples have to contend with, and if the woman is insecure about her looks she may find herself in some mental distress.

    And it’s interesting that white men in WMAF relationships don’t seem to be troubled by this issue. Maybe it’s because people are used to seeing beautiful young women on the arms of old, disgusting men regardless of the racial combination of the pairings.

    1. robert
      robert October 27, 2014 at 6:36 pm | | Reply

      My Chinese girlfriend is often taken for a teenager in Europe, and I guess I’m that “disgusting old man” in other peoples’ eye. I’m 38. And I am also younger than her 🙁

  7. Jiarui
    Jiarui October 27, 2014 at 11:53 am | | Reply

    My (Chinese) husband and I were grocery shopping when we decided to sample the wine a vendor was offering. He grinned like a schoolboy when the vendor insisted on seeing his ID. The vendor laughed when they saw my husband was 33.

  8. Ri
    Ri October 27, 2014 at 2:22 pm | | Reply

    So far I’ve been lucky enough to avoid encounters like you and Constance have mentioned, but I suspect it’s more because we’re 99% of the time in Japan. My husband’s Japanese business colleagues and customers often mistake him for being almost ten years younger than he is though… I dread to think what age they would guess me as!

    For him it seems to be a genetic thingーYJ’s maternal grandfather is often mistaken to be younger than my FIL! ^^; (I guess it’s a good thing he takes after his granddad…)

    I love your conclusion about loving yourselfーand being loved as you are. I think it’s easy to forget that people are people and flaws (perceived or real) are part of their beauty.

  9. chinaelevatorstories
    chinaelevatorstories October 27, 2014 at 8:27 pm | | Reply

    I once had an encounter that was the exact opposite of yours. A Chinese woman thought that I was way younger than my husband (he’s 6 years older, but I think she thought that he’s way older than that and that I’m younger than I really am). I’ve often been mistaken for younger in the past in China, I think it’s connected to people not being used to foreign faces and therefore not being able to see how old you really are (it has only happened to me in China, not in Austria). It hasn’t happened that much recently, but there was a time in my mid-20s when people here used to think I was 17.

    I agree with you a 100% , it’s important to accept ourselves and all our wrinkles. Just think about all the experience and knowledge you have now compared to a younger you. People constantly thinking you’re younger than you really are can be a nuisance too (because you might not be taken serious).

  10. Maria
    Maria October 27, 2014 at 9:07 pm | | Reply

    After reading this post, I actually remembered a time when I had asked a waitress in a restaurant if she were pregnant, with her to respond with a ‘no’, then swiftly walk away. I felt so embarrassed and sorry that I had asked what I had asked! 🙁 Sometimes it’s best to just not say anything, because we never really know people’s circumstances unless they are told directly to us.

  11. Mabel Kwong
    Mabel Kwong October 27, 2014 at 9:08 pm | | Reply

    Oh no, so sorry to hear about the cashier experience. That’s terrible, it sounded like you wanted the ground to open up and swallow you whole! I’m sure your husband wasn’t exactly amused with the situation at all. From the way the cashier spoke, it seemed she didn’t think to highly of inter-racial couples.

    Once I was queuing up with a bunch of Caucasian guys (in their late teens, younger than me) waiting to go into an 18+ concert venue. All of us got ID-ed!

    Aging is a part of life. The older we get and the more we embrace our “imperfections”, the more confidence we will feel. A lot of us have difficulty accepting ourselves because we feel the need to conform to how others look and behave. All of us are different and have different experiences, fact. So we really should embrace ourselves for who we are 🙂

    p/s: thanks for the mention in this post!

  12. Liana
    Liana October 27, 2014 at 9:39 pm | | Reply

    My boyfriend and I have always had the opposite problem. He is first-generation ABC, is pretty tall for an Asian guy (5’10”), and has always had a long ponytail as well as a beard. On the other hand, I’m a really short white girl (5’1 on a good day) and have kind of a round baby face. Boyfriend is only four months older than me, but when my mom first met him five years ago when we started dating, she thought he was a grad student, between five and ten years older than me! We were both 19 at the time. I started getting a lecture from her on the dangers of older men until I could interrupt and correct her.

    Also, once at the county fair, a guess your age/fortune teller guy guessed that boyfriend was 33 when he was actually 21 at the time. I do agree with the comment that foreign faces in general are harder to guess or read for some people. I think how you wear your hair and or beard also makes a huge difference! Normally it’s just funny when someone is so off with their guess about his age, though occasionally it can be embarrassing like the moment with my mom.

    When I went to China with his family no one really had any weird issues or guesses about my age but my boyfriend did get asked (right in front of me) by several aunties and female friends of his mom… Oh my son is studying/living abroad in Europe/Canada/America and says he cannot find a Chinese girlfriend, I will tell him to look for a white girlfriend like yours! How did you get a white girlfriend? Etc.

  13. Lina
    Lina October 27, 2014 at 11:21 pm | | Reply

    Do they bath in virgin’s blood or what? Why Asian men keep looking so young? You can ask Linda, that in real life if Sing has his glasses he has a face of a 12 year old. I’m 5 years younger but his whole family who didn’t know my age thought we’re the same age which made me cry, but I think it wasn’t as bad as your experience. Remember – it’s not how you look, because you look really young and your skin tone is so fresh 🙂 but it’s somehow their baby-face-forever. We will reach our 50s and 60s and they will still stay forever21 😉

  14. Sara
    Sara October 27, 2014 at 11:51 pm | | Reply

    When I was teaching at a university in Korea, I had an embarrassing moment like this. I was teaching freshmen English classes. My husband, a Chinese graduate student, and I had met in a level one Korean language class and just began dating. One day my boss approached me and said he’d seen me with my boyfriend and then asked me if he was one of my students! I quickly said no, that he was a grad student, that we had met in Korean class. My boss replied, “Oh, good. Because it would be a problem if you were dating your student.” No, really?!

    This continued the whole three years in Korea, including after we got married. I moved on to teaching in-service classes for Korean secondary school English teachers, so mostly people in their 30s-60s. Every one of them who saw me with my husband outside of class asked me if he was one of my students.


    In America, I’ve also had the experience of being in a casino where my husband was carded but I wasn’t. *sigh*

  15. Timo
    Timo October 28, 2014 at 1:18 am | | Reply

    Really interesting experiences are mentioned here!

    I have also a few stories but the main one which is always on my mind when it comes to this topic was at my wedding. (I wrote about it also as a comment on Constance’s Blog”Foreign Sanctuary”)
    At my wedding my elderly uncle (in his mid 70’s) thought that my 52 year old mother-in-law was my wife! Back then both my wife and I were 26 so you can imagine the laughter it caused, how happy my mother-in-law was by this and how very upset my wife was 🙂

  16. GartenZwerge
    GartenZwerge October 28, 2014 at 1:51 am | | Reply

    My Chinese husband is 8 years older than I am. When they were younger, the kids looked more like him. When I took them to the playground, the other parents used to ask if I was the babysitter. However, another time, someone who was barely an acquaintance asked me if my husband had married me in order to get a green card. How nice. Yet another person asked me if I was a “trophy wife.” It proves that:
    1) people have different and often strange preconceptions.
    2) people lack filters on their mouths when it comes to asking appropriate questions

  17. tae
    tae October 28, 2014 at 2:17 am | | Reply

    Im 38 asian guy but they still look for my ID. Lol thats why I will never dated a white girl near my age. She will look older than me. I have a gf now she is 22

  18. Bruce
    Bruce October 28, 2014 at 2:30 am | | Reply

    I’m in my early 40’s but people still say I’m in my 30’s ! WTH.

  19. IC
    IC October 28, 2014 at 7:10 am | | Reply

    This post definitely entertains a lot of readers at Jocelyn’s her own expense. Actually such post is quite similar to Confucius way to be self-pity and self-mockery to make other people feel better in order to reduce tension and achieve harmony. Maybe Jocelyn is picking up Oriental way of thinking over the years.

    In official ancient Han languages, an common person often refer himself as 小人 (lowest one ), an educated person called himself 鄙人(not sophisticated one); an official called himself 卑职(lowerly ranked); even emperor called himself 孤 or 寡人 (lonely one). From top to bottom, every one called himself in such inferior way to make others feel better. They tried to avoid any terms to make other feel inferior.

    In other part of world, such behavior is totally alien and counterintuitive. English culture is only exception which also has a lot of self-pity and self-mockery. Most English humor is about making fun of oneself. Humility and modesty are very unique product of mature civilization.


    Only self-actualized people do such self-mockery (Non-hostile sense of humor. This refers to the ability to laugh at oneself.) Self-actualizers are mostly elites in their societies.

  20. Christine
    Christine October 28, 2014 at 7:25 am | | Reply

    I really don’t think she was commenting on your age! Like others have suggested, I think it was a combination of the fact that he looks SO young and that AMWFs are so uncommon that it’s not people’s first thought! I understand why you’d be embarrassed, but it’s not a reflection of you!

  21. Cat
    Cat October 28, 2014 at 7:55 am | | Reply

    Haha as my Chinese fiance is balding people don’t mistake him as younger but his parents are CONVINCED I am 10 years older than I am if that’s any consolation!

  22. Judith
    Judith October 28, 2014 at 2:52 pm | | Reply

    Good article, and something very true for many of us I believe. I know I’m heading where you are now, I’m 29 and may already look the same age (or slightly older…) than my 33 year old boyfriend. I’m sure that within a few years, I will look older and he will look the same as he does now. People currently believe he is in his mid-twenties, but he could pass of for a university student just the same.

    Although none of us like being estimated older than we are (somebody asked me a few years ago if I was my aunt’s younger sister… ouch), I agree with you that getting older is just part of life. And frankly, since I recently lost a very close relative who was in his mid-twenties only, I celebrate life and every year that I grow older now, as never getting older than 25 is definetely not the better option!

  23. hopelessmisanthrope
    hopelessmisanthrope October 28, 2014 at 4:08 pm | | Reply

    This is strange. I’m constantly over judging people’s age here in China. They look OLDER to me, not younger than their age. Maybe it’s because most Chinese live hard lives, are over worked, stressed, experience a bad environment, etc.

    To me, that first pic of you two like the other pics I’ve seen, both of you look the same age.

  24. Steve
    Steve October 28, 2014 at 5:44 pm | | Reply

    Perhaps it’s not necessarily an Asian thing, but an ethnicity-you-didn’t-grow-up-with thing. I’m white, male, 34 years old. White people rarely ID me. East Indians almost always do, and Asians it’s about 50/50. I had a woman a few months ago say “let me guess, 1994″ (my reply: ” That’s the year I got my drivers license”), and another last year who refuse to sell to me, convinced that I had a fake ID. The only exception is people who, judging by their accents, were born here.

    1. D-Maybe
      D-Maybe October 28, 2014 at 8:28 pm | | Reply

      Well, it is certainly true that we tend to have more difficulty in determining the age of people from racial backgrounds that we’re not familiar with. However, there’s no denying that Asians, perhaps more than any other racial group, appear especially young for their biological age — it has to do with the neoteny that is characteristic of Asians.

      1. D-Maybe
        D-Maybe October 28, 2014 at 8:51 pm | | Reply

        *chronological age

  25. Bruce
    Bruce October 28, 2014 at 10:59 pm | | Reply

    I haven’t aged so much within 10 yrs but I look more muscular :). I always tell everybody to eat more fruits, vegetables, fibers and exercise 4-5 times a week. You need to build more muscles to increase your testosterone level and burn more fats etc. Also, you must know how to relieve stress. Maintaining a healthy life and body is extremely difficult!! I’m having a hard time too right now due to injuries and stress at the office. One customer always comes to my office once a yr and says ” you still look the same. you have changed at all” Wth man! He doesn’t know that I exercise at night and eat lots of fruits , veggies and green tea. You also need to smile and laugh a lot everyday. That’s my secret.

  26. Nemine
    Nemine October 29, 2014 at 5:58 am | | Reply

    When I was 38 one day my manager told me he had looked in my personnel file ans was surprised because he always thought I was about 25.
    I once knew an AMWF couple where there was a 15 year age gap – he was in his early 50’s an she was in her late 30’s but most people thought they were about the same age.

  27. Henry Yeh
    Henry Yeh October 29, 2014 at 2:36 pm | | Reply

    It hasn’t always been like this. Do recall that most Chinese men are chain smokers, and it wasn’t until recently did this nasty habit start to taper off. By the time they hit 30, many chain-smoking Chinese peasants look like wreaks.

  28. Mayte
    Mayte November 2, 2014 at 3:56 pm | | Reply

    I don’t think it’s so much an age thing. I don’t think you two look so far apart in age. I think what it comes down to is the expectations that you two would be together. It’s a rare occurrence to have AMWF combinations so I think they might have just been looking for a way to explain it.

    I have a friend who hosts foreign exchange students in her home every year and their family is known for it. So if the cashier talks to the family member with them in the store, they might ask the same question.

    To be fair, I have also had a similar situation here in Shanghai. I was out on a first date in a local restaurant, where the server asked if I was his boss. I didn’t understand at first as he was better dressed than I was (suit versus casual dress) and we look the same age roughly (or I think so) but there was an awkwardness when we heard this and we had to explain. He was not happy when we left and wouldn’t say much, but eventually things got better when we talked about it later.

    I think it made it much easier to convince him to engage in more PDA here. We don’t get questions like that anymore.

  29. Tom yung
    Tom yung August 28, 2016 at 11:32 am | | Reply

    I like white girlfriend

  30. Fred
    Fred September 24, 2016 at 11:49 pm | | Reply

    My mom got carded when buying a lottery ticket and she was 56 back then xD

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