This week’s blog is dedicated to the new members of Beijing’s expat community who may be struggling to deal with some unwanted attention from inquisitive locals.
I was at my local fruit shop (shui guo dian 水果店) picking up 2kgs of bananas (I have a banana addiction), when I had the familiar sense of someone staring at me. Normally I wouldn’t even bat an eyelid, but I couldn’t help but turn around to see who exactly was so keen on observing a foreigner’s purchasing habits. Bad decision.
I was met with a group of three men in white sports socks and black loafers (good look by the way) staring at me like I was an alien with a banana fetish. For the first time in a long time I remembered how it felt to be totally self-conscious. It seems that no matter how long you’ve been in Beijing, you never really get used to looking like the only green m&m in a packet of red ones.
After two years of ignoring stares and averting eyes, here’s my advice to those of you who are new to feeling like a lonely green m&m.
Don’t get angry (bie fa pi qi 别发脾气). It’s hard when some of the local population don’t seem to make much of an effort to be subtle about their interest, but trust me when I say getting angry will get you no where. Understand that most people are not being rude as much as they’re being curious.
Develop a thick skin. Easier said than done, right? This takes time, but also a commitment from you to accept that you’re living in a foreign country. We’re guests in Beijing, and it’s not our place to tell the locals off just because one person looked at you funny in the subway.
That said, when someone has obviously crossed the line between curious and intrusive, you are well within your rights to give them an earful, or at least a dirty look. If you really need to say something, try “I’m sorry, is something the matter?” (dui bu qi, ni you shen me shi? 对不起， 你有什么事?) This phrase is great because regardless of your level of Chinese, the person you direct it towards will get the gist. It’s enough for people to feel like they’ve crossed the line, while refraining from being rude.
Finally, feel confident. You live here too, and whether its long term or short term, you have the right to feel comfortable in your home away from home. Just walk out into that concrete jungle with your head held high and after a while you won’t even notice the occasional stare.
Remember those three guys who were so interested in me and my bananas? Turns out they were from my partner’s hometown and were just wondering where I was from. Not so scary after all.
Flicker photo by SkyWhisperer