Friday, July 09, 2010

Foreigner Hater

Today my counterpart said, "You are good at small talk."
To which I then replied, "Only around Chinese people."

Lately I've been jokingly told that I am a foreigner hater. Here when I use the word "foreigner," I am not talking about the host country nationals, but about us, the foreigners who are visiting China. Why would someone say, "Jen, you are a foreigner hater"? Because in my city I tend to avoid social situations where there will be a lot of foreigners. What? Why?

I think there are several reasons. One, the pool of foreigners is small and just because we are all foreigners doesn't necessarily mean that we are compatible personalities. A lot of the friendships are somehow forced just because we share a common first language. I don't like forcing friendships with foreigners. Another reason is because I am bad at small talk, so I was surprised when my counterpart made her comment.

Why do I mind forcing friendships with foreigners but not mind forcing friendships with host country nationals?

Because I am guest in this country and feel a great interest in learning about the people here, any of the people who are willing to talk to me. When I go back to the USA where the pool of Westerners is huge, I can then find the people I like and want to be friends with. Why force myself to interact with a few native English speakers? I think the difference is, making friends with host country nationals is about the country and culture. They are representatives of China. Making friends with fellow foreigners is about a connection between two personalities, two individuals.

What is the difference between small talk with Chinese people and small talk with foreigners?

Today I went to hot pot with my counterpart and with her friend, a stranger to me. I had no problem barging in and asking personal and friendly questions, but when I am around foreigners I tend to put on the silencer. I think when I am around Chinese people who are trying to improve their English, I go into teacher mode and just try to ask as many questions as possible to get them to use their language skills. With foreigners, I have to become a person, not a teacher. I have to open up and talk, have more of a personal one on one type of interaction with hopes of some type of personal connection with the real me, not the teacher me, the real me, not the censored me. After four years abroad, I have kind of forgotten the uncensored person which makes it hard for me to connect on a personal level with other foreigners. I feel like I am somehow, kind of phony, a shell of a personality. This phony diplomatic representative of Peace Corps knows how to make small talk with Chinese people. The real individual person has been lost and therefore silent around fellow foreigners.

I don't know how to really explain it. Anyone else out there know what I am talking about and maybe can explain it better?

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