The Chinese Office

I’ve been doing my new job for about 5 months now and I’m mostly getting the hang of it. I have another problem though – Chinese co-workers. Our team is small, only 12 of us, including the boss and a secretary. It’s evenly split between men and women, but I’m the only foreigner. Initially, I didn’t see this as a problem, but now I hate it. Our department has another team in a different city that does the same stuff we do, and the managers are American, as well as most of the team members. Many of them started on my team in Shanghai (before I got here) and ended up begging to move to the other team. I used to think that was weird and assumed it was partly because their Chinese was bad. Now, I’m half way considering asking for a transfer too.

Reason #1: Having a Chinese manager sucks.

Our job requires that we work with a lot of third parties to try and make them do things they don’t want to do. Which means we deal with a lot of conflict, we’re bound to piss people off. This would be fine, except that every time I have an issue with someone (this one asshole in particular) he gets mad and calls my boss because he knows that she will capitulate to him because she wants to avoid conflict and he uses the “we’re Chinese, she’s a foreigner, we’re against her!” card. Even worse, she sometimes does this behind my back without communicating anything to me. How am I supposed to convince someone to do something when they know all they have to do is call my boss and it’ll be resolved? It’s impossible. The American managers on the other team all know better. When a third party calls them to complain about one of their subordinates, they either won’t engage or they tell the third party what they were told to say by their subordinate in order to back them up. I’ve tried talking to my boss about this and she always says she’ll change her approach to my face, but then doesn’t…in order to avoid conflict, I’m sure.

Reason #2: My co-workers exclude me from everything.

They have a WeChat group that I’m not part of, they go out together on weekends and don’t invite me, many of them have not accepted my WeChat friend request. We just had our annual dinner and they all went and got a table with 11 chairs…guess who wasn’t asked to sit with them? You know what? Fine. None of that would bother me because it’s not like I want to go to KTV anyway. Except for one thing. Several of them have gone to my boss to complain about me saying that I won’t take part in group activities and that I’m difficult to talk to. The best part is that my boss attends these group activities that I’m not invited to, hears the feedback, but then never thinks “maybe we should actually invite Whitey too.” How does she not make the connection to the fact that no one invites me, hence I have no chance to participate? Here’s the weird thing…it’s only the women who complain about me. I get along quite well with my male co-workers because they actually try to talk to me. I have a lot more in common with them than I do with the women. The women on my team are mostly what I would call airheads. They’re nice enough (except for when they’re gossiping about me…we’ll get to that), but they only talk about what they bought recently, what they’re going to buy next, their diets, and make-up. Not even kidding. I have nothing to add to any of that. “Oh you’re on a diet?! But you’re so skinny!” That’s all I got. I’ve tried to join in on their conversations, but I always get the feeling that I am not welcome so I give up pretty quickly. I have self-respect, so why would I sit there and try desperately to join a stupid conversation about things I don’t care about with people who don’t want to talk to me?

Reason #3: THE GOSSIP OMFG THE GOSSIP!

So did you know that I’m sleeping with one of my married co-workers? No? Me neither! I found out on Friday. I wonder how long this has been going on…my husband would be so mad if he knew…

One of my male co-workers and I get along really, really, really well. We’ll call him Bob. Bob is the only one of them who has made a genuine effort to get to know me and not make assumptions about what I’m about. We actually meet up occasionally in our down time just to chat. He’s aware of all the struggles I’m having and he does his best to try and make me feel better about it. I’m sure he sticks up for me when the others are saying unfair things. So of course, we’re banging. Because we’re all 5 years old and therefore we know it’s impossible for a man and a woman to have a relationship that isn’t about sex. *eye roll* This is another thing that my co-workers have complained to my boss about, the fact that I am sleeping with Bob. Funny how the complaints were only directed at me though, as if were it true, Bob would have no blame in the situation. But of course, I am a slutty white girl, so what else would I be doing with a man. Bob is being really cool about all of this. He found out about the rumors before I did, because they all approached him and asked what the deal was, but refused to hear his explanation. When he told me what happened, I was pretty sure the next thing he was going to say would be “I’m sorry, we can’t be friends anymore.” Instead, he came to see me in person and tell me not to worry about what others think and that time will prove them wrong. He’s made no effort to hide our friendship from anyone because we both know we’re not doing anything wrong. I think that if I didn’t have his support, I might just quit. At the very least, I would definitely be asking for a transfer to the other team immediately.

My boss told me I need to try harder to make my co-workers like me more. The thing is, I feel like they’re predisposed to not liking me no matter what I do. I don’t feel inclined to bend over backwards or to be someone I’m not to make people like me, especially when they’ve made no effort whatsoever. I’ve spent a fair amount of time with each of them, especially when I first started and they were helping me learn how to do the job. I really thought we were all getting along great. I never felt like there were awkward silences or anything like that…I’m admittedly bad at small talk, but I did what my husband always says to do – just ask them a lot of questions about themselves. I know way more about them than they know about me, I’m sure of that. Bob says that most Chinese and probably my co-workers just feel uncomfortable around foreigners, like they can’t be themselves. I can understand that because I feel that way around many Chinese too. If they just left me out of everything, but didn’t complain about me, I would be fine with that. I’m just going to start bringing food to the team meetings. Maybe I’ll take a cue from “The Help” and shit in a chocolate pie for them.

Anyway, I have this next week off to relax, so I plan on catching up on some posts that I’ve been planning. I hope everyone has a happy Spring Festival!

I Love Chinese Food!

Video

A Rebecca Black wannabe sings about her love for Chinese food. Rampant racism ensues as basically all the Asian stereotypes are used in this video. Just a little amusement on your Tuesday morning. Incidentally, I’m kind of sick of Chinese food right now.

No, I’m not an English teacher

Trip with the Germans - 75

Living in China as a white girl isn’t easy. Maybe some people love the attention that one can receive merely for being white and I’ll admit that there are some perks.  For example, it’s difficult to go to a bar or a club and not have friendly Chinese people approach you for some conversation and then offer to buy you drinks (this can be dangerous, more on that another time).  Or when you enter a store, the sales clerks will most likely be extra eager to please you because they want to make a good impression.  Some Chinese people also like to take pictures of foreigners, sometimes they’ll ask, but usually they just try to be sneaky about it, which I personally don’t appreciate at all.  Chinese people are friendly, warm, and full of compliments generally speaking, but that tendency becomes somewhat amplified when a Chinese person is eager to make friends with a foreigner for whatever reason.  Some foreigners regard all of this behavior as some kind of rock star status and really enjoy it.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t on occasion pull the “white card.”  Sometimes I pretend not to understand Chinese if it’s to my advantage not to.  Other times I exploit the Chinese fear of losing face in front of foreigners to receive better service at a hotel or a restaurant.  I know, I’m a terrible person.  Moving on.

The flip side to all of this special treatment is the racism I deal with on a daily basis.  Yes, I am a white girl and I LIVE on the receiving end of racism.  I’m not talking about the active racism that people normally think of when they think about racism, although I have on very rare occasions been spit on or called names by a Chinese person because of my blinding whiteness.  What I’m referring to is passive racism.  It’s the little stuff like eating at a restaurant and a waitress commenting “oh, you can use chopsticks!” Or constantly overhearing people talk about me and saying things like “She’s an English teacher” or “She’s Russian” or one time I overheard a guy talking to his girlfriend about how badly I was dressed and then assuring his girlfriend that there was no way I could understand him.  I looked at him and I told him that I did in fact understand him and that he was being very rude.  His response was only to laugh at me and get out of the elevator.  Another way in which passive racism asserts itself is the long held belief among Chinese people that all foreigners are rich.  This is usually embodied by their constant attempts (I’m looking at you, Beijing taxi drivers) to squeeze more RMB out of us.  While I’m on this rant, I’m just going to mention how much I hate it when a Chinese person says something to me and either I didn’t hear or I’m thinking about my response and before I can say anything, they say “You don’t understand!” and start yelling for someone who can speak English (all white people speak English, btw) or start walking away.  Now…maybe all of this sounds trivial to you, but can you imagine dealing with this every day, all day, regardless of what you’re trying to do?  You’re trying to order food and the waitress won’t come take your order because she assumes you can’t speak Chinese.  You’re lost and you want to ask for directions, but again, no one will stop to speak with you because of how you look.  I am a graduate student with several years of solid work experience and still, the only job Chinese people think I’m capable of doing in their country is teaching English.  What if we took these scenarios and had them take place in America?  Let’s say a Japanese-American is riding the subway and he overhears the following conversation:

child: “Dad, what kind of person is that?”

father: “She’s Chinese and works at a laundromat in China town”

child: “Can I go talk to her?”

father: “You’ll have to talk to her in Chinese because she can’t speak English.”

Whoa!  How racist is that??  Yet, I overhear comparable conversations about me all the time.  I wish I had a yuan for every Chinese person who assumes I’m a Russian English teacher, which unless I happen to be a Russian who speaks amazing English, that doesn’t even make sense.  Could you imagine what would happen if an Asian person walked into a Denny’s and was told to go away because the restaurant didn’t have any chopsticks?  LOL.  I imagine a lawsuit would be quick to follow.  That happened to me too, except I was turned away due to a lack of forks.

Actually, I kind of think that even the special treatment I mentioned before is a type of racism.  As far as I’m concerned, any treatment that you receive because of your race that sets you apart from everyone else is racism.  What would be awesome would be if Chinese people could just treat foreigners like equals.  Just don’t assume anything when having to deal with us…don’t assume that we’re from a certain country, don’t assume what our job is, don’t assume what languages we can/can’t speak, don’t assume that we can’t use chopsticks and don’t assume that we’re ok with paying any price that isn’t what everyone else is paying for an item or a service.  For the love of God, stop taking pictures of us like we’re zoo animals!  Just act like we’re all fellow human beings and call it good.  When I was younger I had naive dreams of becoming Chinese (some of you know what I mean), I did all that cliche crap that so many foreigners do in order to complete the transformation – tai chi, gu zheng lessons, trying to cook Chinese food in my house, learning calligraphy, etc etc before finally realizing that I will never be Chinese or regarded as such.  You know what?  That’s alright.  I’m American and there are simply some Chinese things that I will no longer force myself to do such as pretending to like bai jiu or eating chicken feet.  Nope.  Not gonna do it.  There are inherent differences between myself and Chinese people and that’s ok.  All I ask is to be given the status of an equal, not worse than or better than, just equal.