“Are you Russian?” someone asked me the other day here in Hangzhou.
It felt like a total a palm-in-face moment. After all, hadn’t he read my CV, which explicitly stated I was an American, in bold letters?
But the truth is, I had heard this same question – which more often came out as a statement (“She’s Russian”) – hundreds of times here in China. I can’t tell you the many times I’ve been standing on a metro or riding the bus, and all of a sudden I catch someone whispering in Chinese that I’m Russian, never knowing that I understood their every single word.
The thing is, I do understand where this comes from. Because I’ve heard many other white foreign women married to Chinese men share similar stories of being called citizens of China’s Northerly neighbor. Given Russia’s promixity, it’s not surprising.
But yet…sometimes the conclusion isn’t flattering either. Not when some people think we’re Russian prostitutes.
Sadly, I’ve heard stories from white women in China who were stalked and even nearly raped because someone assumed they were “for hire”. My Chinese husband, who has seen how some men look at me (and not always in a good way), makes it his duty to “protect my butt” from wandering eyes.
But here’s the fascinating thing in my case – Americans have also mistaken me for being Russian. Yes, Americans.
In fact, when I was at university, I was stopped on two occasions and explicitly asked if I wasn’t from Russia.
I had to confess feeling a little strange. What was it about me that prompted them to think this? Then again, this is America, a country where news giant CNN actually ran a map showing Hong Kong as part of South America.
Come to think of it, now that’s a true palm-in-face moment.
Do you have any stories of mistaken identity?