Tuesday, May 10, 2011

你是哪里人? (Where are you from?)

Recently I've been entertaining myself by asking Chinese people to guess where I'm from when they ask (I get asked a lot). I have yet to have a Chinese person guess correctly that I'm American. A couple weeks ago, I was on a bus with a Chinese friend and a Korean friend and we were chatting with these four old ladies whom we had just given our seats.

Anyway, they had heard me speak Chinese when they argued with me that I ought not give up my seat for them. They then started talking to my Chinese friend about how good my Chinese was. When one of them asked me where I was from, I told her to guess. All four women just about spontaneously said, 俄罗斯 (Russia). I laughed and told them that actually I'm American. They seemed surprised at this. The general consensus here seems to be that all Americans have blue eyes. [Shortly after arriving, Maeve and I had Chinese people tell us that we couldn't possibly both be American because we have different hair and eye colors].

After this experience of being unanimously identified as Russian, I asked my Russian classmate if I look remotely Russian. Her answer was: not at all. Aside from Russian, I've also been told French, Italian, Spanish, generic European. Recently, though, I've also been getting another more interesting answer. Several people now have told me that I look like a 新疆人 (Xinjiang person) which equates to a person of the Uyghur ethnic minority of Northwest China.

This is a famous Uyghur singer for frame of reference.

I suppose that I look a lot more like a Uyghur than a Han Chinese, but I'm not sure how much of a likeness there is. 

Also, on Saturday we went to a beach party run by a Qingdao University club/organization which was recruiting foreigners to come. I was asked a new question for the first time by this Chinese boy I was talking to. He asked me if I was an ABC, American Born Chinese. I thought this was a really strange question and I said, no, I'm an American born American (half Canadian, but I didn't need to get into that). He seemed to think that I was a Uyghur as well, or some other Chinese ethnic minority. He proceeded to tell me that my 普通话 (Mandarin) was better than his, because he speaks a dialect from Sichuan province. Then, later that night, a taxi driver asked me 你是外国人吗? (Are you a foreigner?). I was really pleased to get asked this question and when I answered that yes, I am indeed a foreigner, he complimented my Chinese. 

Moral of the story: Chinese people are really good at giving me ego boosts. I think they are so surprised by foreigners who speak decent Chinese that they don't really know what to think about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment