Foreigner

By Bryan • china • 6 Jan 2007

I am becoming rather annoyed at being consistently being referred to as a foreigner. I’ve begun to make a conscious effort to drop adjectives which connect a person to his/her nationality, race or culture. For instance, I try to no longer say “My Chinese friend”, but rather “My friend”. If I had a girlfriend, I would refer to her as “My Girlfriend”, not “My Chinese, Australian, American (etc.) girlfriend”. When required to be more specific, I’m making an attempt to use the term “local”, as in “The local guys”, “The local government” for some examples.

One could interpret this as a feeble attempt at becoming more politically correct, but I feel that it is more of an reaction on my part to being consistently referred to as a “Foreigner” and then placed within the stereotype. I’ve been a good sport for the past several years in accepting my label as a foreigner, but recently I find myself no longer wishing to be categorized as such. Today was the first instance I made time to correct someone. I was meeting for the first time with my new Mandarin tutor (My spoken Mandarin has taken a big hit lately, and needs some repairs) and laying out a study plan along with a schedule.

Tutor: “Can you please inform me several days in advance if you have schedule changes because I’m getting tired of foreigners always canceling”

*Acceptance of the term “foreigner” in Bryan’s head finally snaps*

Bryan: “Of course. Could you please not refer to me as a foreigner? I’m a person, a student, or a teacher”.

She was literally speechless for a few seconds, as I’m sure this was the first time someone had commented against the terminology, but sharp to realize my meaning and accept my request.

Another cause of my decision was a recent discussion with my friend regarding culture, race and nationalism withing the context of Asia, the ongoing situation in the Taiwan Straits and the exclusiveness of Asian countries. A point put forward was the idea that nationalistic labels create artificial barriers, based not on culture or language (both of which can be learned) but on appearance, place of birth and map room borders. These barriers in turn cause such insignificant differences into major differences which are overvalued as glorious attributes and qualities which can only be attained by a select group of people. I feel that within Asia especially, the emphasis placed on such nationalistic traits is fostering a region of extreme mistrust, exclusivity and narcissism. One doesn’t have too look far to see this manifest itself with the current political situation shaping Asia in the 21st century.

I feel that being addressed as a “foreigner” creates a divide between me and those I live around, not to mention the baggage of the attached stereotype following one around wherever they go. To state that “I’m a foreigner and you are Chinese” places us into two distinct groups and does more to reinforce irrelevant differences than it does large similarities. I suppose that is why I like to be referred to as a student, a teacher, a traveler, a friend, a brother, or a son, rather than as a foreigner, or as a Canadian. My friend can then say, “Hey, I’m a traveler too!”. It is inclusive, it builds trust, its warmer, its friendlier.

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One Response

  1. The strange thing is, if you explain to overseas Chinese that they are now foreigners in other countries, they simply don’t understand the concept. It’s like the idea of “foreigner” as “anything not Chinese” is so deeply ingrained in the national mentality that it’s hard to get around.

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