Thursday, April 5, 2018

E - Expat

My wife and I moved from America to Beijing China in September of 2016. This opened up an entirely new world to us. We became expats.


Being an expat has its definite hardships, but it's also a cool club to be in. We know people from all over the world and interact with them on a regular basis. Every expat has a fascinating story about how they ended up living in China. We have tons of Chinese friends here, but we also know people from Russia, Canada, Spain, France, Ukraine, Peru, Australia, South Africa, Jamaica, Antigua, Tasmania, Mongolia, Thailand, Brazil, Ghana, Serbia, Greece, Italy and many other places.

For the first few months after getting here, we obviously didn't have many friends yet and were trying to get to know people. After months of hearing only Chinese every time we stepped out of our apartment, it was exciting to see another Western face on the subway. There have been dozens of times I've approached someone on the street and initiated conversation (eager to speak some English) only to discover that they only speak German or French.

I have been asked many times by people back home in the States if I've made any American friends over here. And after 18 months of living here, I can honestly say "No. Not a single one."

I occasionally cross paths with another American, but I really don't meet that many. My friends are from all over the place. I don't know why none of them are American, but they aren't. And that's okay. In the States, I might have thought of someone as my Canadian friend or my British friend, but here, I'm just grateful to have a few people who I can speak my native language with. Even if it is not their native language.

However, regardless of how many friends we may make, we have chosen to live in a part of the world where we cannot pass for one of the locals. Had we moved to Germany, the Germans might think we were one of them…until we opened our mouths. However, we look distinctly different than a Chinese person.

Walking down the street, we get stared at a lot when we are not in an expat area. Children will actually point and we hear the word lǎowài (老外), which means foreigner.

There is some argument about whether this is a derogatory word, but it is clear what it means whether it is good or bad. "You are not one of us."

Not sure this applies, but I'm going with it.

In the States, the "melting pot", an Asian person is just one of the hundreds of different kinds of
people who make up the country. American prides itself on being a nation of immigrants. Therefore, almost any nationality doesn't really stand out. You can look like a person of any culture and still be distinctly American. However, in China everyone is Chinese. If you do not look Chinese, it is blatantly obvious that you are not from there. Which makes the word lǎowài very true. It is just a word that points out what is very obvious.

So then, it is up to the expat to decide just how foreign he wants to be. I may never look like a Chinese person, but I can decide if I want to learn to speak the language, embrace the culture and welcome their practices. With time, many expats really begin to change the way they think about and view the world.

In the expat community, you will find people on each end of the spectrum. Some expats totally dive into the culture of wherever they are living to become as much like the locals as possible. Others fight to stay true to exactly who they are and never give an inch. Most fall somewhere in between. Most of the time, it isn't really even a conscious choice. Each person is just who they are and are responding to their surrounding in the way that is most comfortable for them. Either way, it makes for a fascinating group of people to identify with.

6 comments:

  1. I find it remarkable that we have met so few Americans!

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    1. I find that odd.. Even stranger is how every one we DO meet seems to be from Ohio.

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  2. even though I live in a 'melting pot' place, I still feel like an expat. I think it's because it's hard to feel you belong when you don't look the same and in truth, none of us are the same. we can only hope to be accepted as ourselves.

    have a lovely day.

    my latest a-z post is:
    excuses on why I didn't blog

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    Replies
    1. That's the thing about America, everyone is very different. China is one of those places where conformity is cherished over individuality. So when someone stands out, they really stand out.

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  3. It is hard to imagine the incredible adventure you are living!

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    1. It definitely has been an adventure. I sat at home in Illinois for 40 years. I decided it was time for a change.

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Leave a comment. C'MON!!! You're already here. Leave a comment. Don't leave me hanging and wondering if any has ever seen these words. I'll rub your feet.