#40 Differences in how the public reacts to you when you speak Chinese, compared to other languages

Bonjour everybody! It’s been 10 months since I came to France and I’m glad to report that I’ve never had an unpleasant racist incident happen to me so far. I say “unpleasant” because I actually find the useless “nihaos” tolerable as long as the “gentlemen” saying it are more than 5 meters from me or when I’m with a friend/friends. I’ve heard stories of my Asian friends who started and had a pretty much decent conversation with these NIHAO hurlers in perfect French but I don’t think I’ll ever address them unless I was tipsy and feeling brave or extra chatty or something.

But yesterday at lunch, I was talking to my Chinese friends in Chinese in the break room while waiting to microwave our bentos. I know, it’s important to mix with the locals when you’re in that country to be really immersed in the culture yada yada but with B1.5 French and nobody to speak English with it’s nice to have a relaxed conversation in a language I’m comfortable with just during the break times. There were other French girls whom I’ve never seen on campus before in the break room with us.

I can’t remember what we were talking about but at one point our conversation turned funny and we started laughing (joke in Chinese but laughter in Universal language). And at this moment I turned for a moment to the side and caught one of the girl’s eyes and she raised her eyebrows in a condescending semi-eye rolling manner at me and quickly looked away.

Now, MAYBE she was rolling her eyes at something one of her friends said so I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt here, you red-headed (dyed) slightly chubby Caucasian girl in the break room. Or maybe you just had something in your eye, I don’t know.

But one thing I know, is that there is a general unspoken disapproval of this phenomenon of a bunch of Asian-looking people speaking Chinese in a Western country like France. I know it’s not as bad as the horror stories in the US where people tell you in your face to “SPEAK ENGLISH!!”. But one thing that pisses me off is that people don’t have the same problem when a group of Spanish-speaking people speak and laugh in loud Spanish, or loud Russian, or loud English, etc. but people always frown at the Chinese.

I know this because I’ve gone out with English-speaking friends, Japanese-speaking friends, and Chinese-speaking friends in France and the treatment we get in public places varies subtly. Nobody gives a fuck when you speak English. People generally seem intrigued when you speak Japanese. But with Chinese, it’s either ①the same with English where people don’t seem to give a fuck because there are plenty of Chinese in Grenoble, ②NIHAO! or ③Subtle eye-rolling.

I hope I’m just too self-conscious and thinking too much (most of the time, this is the case), but it is true that Chinese people don’t get a lot of respect when they go out in groups in a country that is not China. When I was in Taiwan on a family trip and speaking rather loudly in Cantonese on the train station platform for a total of 1 short minute, the Taiwanese family next to us gave us dagger stares because they assumed we were mainland Chinese. And of course, even Chinese Malaysians / Singaporeans / HKers / Taiwanese like to avoid from being identified as Chinese.

Why is this? Because once people assume you’re from China and you open your mouth to speak in your mother tongue and in most instances the only language you know, you would be the victims of all kinds of stereotypical and unfavourable generalisations against you no matter how nice a person you are or how impressive your life resume is. You’re just a “Chinese outsider who never tries to assimilate in the local culture and choose to stay with your other loud Chinese friends”. I had a classmate from Syria in my French class who, at our first meeting, downright told me and my Chinese friend in class, “You Chinese people like to stay together and not venture out to do anything else.” Granted, he could’ve been an extreme example because throughout the course of the French class we found out that he was just generally an abrasive and inconsiderate, extremely chatty person.

Another reason why I know people think this way? Because I catch myself thinking like that too. Nowadays much less, but yes, it’s still there. I’m always cautious with Chinese speaking people like the other day, a Chinese-speaking family I think from Malaysia/Singapore tried to cut my line at security at the airport and I told them in stern polite Chinese to queue up (although in the end because they were going to be late for their flight, the staff let them cut our queue of grumpy-looking people who have been waiting patiently for the past 20 minutes).

Anyway, I guess the purpose of this rant post is to encourage everyone including myself to get rid of generalisations against a certain race speaking a certain language and just give them a chance. I think Chinese-speaking Overseas Chinese people like me have a unique position (and responsibility?) to spread this love because we have experienced both sides of the coin: ①We’ve had bad experiences with Chinese speaking people and we put them down with other non-Chinese or non-Chinese speaking friends and ②We’ve been the victim of this stereotypical way of thinking and we hate being grouped as a Chinese especially when we are overseas.

And for people who ARE Chinese / speak Chinese including myself, I guess it’s also important to give the eye-rolling and NIHAO-screaming people a chance. I like to think that sometimes they are just curious, or just not exposed enough to different cultures in the world to have the tact to act otherwise.

 

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#39 Reminiscing PB88: Dubrovnik (Port 10)

 

What is Peace Boat?

Dobar Dan! (Hello in Croatian)

  • Date: 2015/10/3
  • Port Name: Dubrovnik
  • Country: Croatia
  • First time there?: Second time in Croatia but first time in Dubrovnik!
  • What did I do?: Interpreted for a half day tour in the morning and got to spend the afternoon with some colleagues exploring the beautiful and ancient city walls! Although the morning tour was short, I remember it was one of the most stressful tours for me to interpret because there was an intimidating lady (whom I admire a lot) in my group and she would correct me every time I used “katakana” Japanese. For example, when I said “piru” or katakana for pill, she would tell me the correct Japanese word, 錠剤 (jyouzai), in front of everyone. In hindsight it was a good lesson for me and I learned not to be so sketchy in my interpreting. I will also forever remember words like 錠剤 (pills)、遺骨 (remains) or 遺物 (relics) などなど。

Post-stress Sheng on the city fortification. I think you had to pay to go up the wall but totally worth it! You can spend around 1 to 2 hours up here circling the old city and just taking in the view of the city and the awesome, awesome, Mediterranean Sea.

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When I visited Croatia for the first time (Split and Hvar back in 2012) , to me, it was an exotic country with impressive European architecture and stone buildings plus a really breathtaking Lake Plitvice. But I learned on this trip with Peace Boat that Croatia is actually one of the seven countries of the Ex-Yugoslavia and that Croatia fought a war of independence in the early 90s. In fact, although the old town of Dubrovnik was a UNESCO world heritage site at that time, it was the target of a siege by the Yugoslavian government and more than half of the city was destroyed by bombs. A part of the city that we see today is actually careful and loyal reconstructions done using materials as close as possible to the original materials used.

Another trivia, Dubrovnik is one of the cities that inspired the fictional city of the Ghibli Studios animated movie “Kiki’s Delivery Service”. We were playing the soundtrack of the movie while walking along the walls when we saw JIJI!! Can you see the black spot in the picture? (For those who don’t know, Jiji is the talking black pet cat of Kiki, the lead character in the movie. And please watch it if you haven’t seen it yet! Highly recommended.)

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I enjoyed this city so much I decided to recreate it for my sketch homework for school:

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Postcard for the family:

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Postcard for le bf:

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Next port: Kotor, Montenegro!

#38 Reminiscing PB88: Venice (Port 9)

Only at Port 9!! Sheet sheet sheet

What is Peace Boat?

Buon giorno! (Hello in Italian)

  • Date: 2015/10/1
  • Port Name: Venice
  • Country: Italy
  • First time there?: Yes!
  • What did I do?: Free day for all the CCs!! I guess the reason is because Venice is such a popular holiday destination, they would have plenty of Japanese speaking tour guides. So we just spent a really long day from morning till evening walking around the city as real tourists!

Customary canal pic ❤

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Pizza lunch of course

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Then of course after getting pleasantly lost in the maze of the city we came out to St. Mark’s Square! Too bad St. Mark’s Basilica was under some kinda of maintenance work. But it’s ok, maintenance of heritage sites like these are important. We weren’t on a CC tour so I’m not sure of the history behind this magnificent building, lol. What, it was a break we deserved! So we just enjoyed the Italo-Byzantine and Gothic (<- from Wikipedia) architecture and took pictures. When at a tourist site, we do as tourists do.

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Up the bell tower for more views! Look at how beautiful this is. How do people live here? Do people even live here? The swarms of tourists every single day must be quite annoying.

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And here’s the basilica from up top.

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Gondolas by the jetty. Obachan finger spotted. The gondola drivers were funny. We saw some of them taking their lunch break and when my friend who was wearing a striped shirt similar to theirs asked for a photo, they very curtly said NO. Lol sorry not sorry.

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Espresso and tiramisu break and postcard-writing.

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Postcard for the family:

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Postcard for le bf:

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Next port: Dubrovnik!