I’m a week away from finishing my first academic year as what can loosely be described as a university teacher in China. Someone told me that I should write some kind of retrospective/memoir, but that sounded like far too much work. I mean, I’m on holiday in a week. I’ve begun the wind-down and I’m feeling far too lazy for any actual writing. So, in lieu of me working, here are a few of my students’ odd comments and questions about us foreigners and our far away lands…

  • English men are all gentlemen.
  • London is always foggy.
  • Westerners can’t use chop-sticks.
  • All English people hate the Germans.
  • Everyone in England is a Christian.
  • Everyone in America owns a gun.
  • Scotland is in England.
  • Do you know David Beckham?
  • All Westerners are confident.
  • All Westerners are white.
  • All Americans are fat.
  • How do you get your skin to be so white?
  • How can I be handsome like you?
  • Ireland is in England.
  • All French people hate the English.
  • Why don’t you have blue eyes?
  • A bar of chocolate in England costs 50RMB.
  • Western women have low moral standards.
  • You wear a ring. You must be married.
  • Do all Western women have rings in their ears?
  • Do you know the Queen?
  • “In the West, people think that every child is a child of God.” – from a Chinese teacher
  • In England, a man’s best friend is his beer.
  • In England, it rains all the time.
  • Is everyone in the West left-handed?
  • The welfare system in the West works well.
  • Everyone in the West is rich.

I’m in a small town in Henan, and there aren’t all that many expats around here. So most of the above probably just goes to show you the high calibre of the previous foreign ‘experts’ that have done my job. What’s it like in the rest of China?

PS. I’m not entirely blameless. While I was teaching in Thailand, I convinced an 11 year-old that English people didn’t eat solid food, only soup. It took me weeks, but he finally bought it. I told him the truth in the end. Eventually.


  1. Pingback: Not quite so lost « Tom Bradman

  2. Interesting run of comments and ones I recognize from my time here in Shenzhen. It does seem to be more what the Chinese think about England than the West though.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Cheers. And yeah, I tend to hear quite a few of those after I’ve explained to students that I’m not actually American. Maybe that’s another one…

      All Westerners are from the States.

  3. How about

    Are all Americans racist?
    Westerners eat bread, Chinese people eat rice
    Westerners drink coffee, Chinese people drink tea
    Did you take a plane to China?

    • Nice. I have been guilty of missing bread and talking to students at length during English Corners about how you just can’t find any of the good stuff here.

  4. That is funny!
    -All blonds look like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.
    – How old are you? 30. You are soooo big!
    – Chinese: Your eyes are so big!
    Me: Your eyes are so little!
    —mutual laughter!

    Chinese people are so cute.

  5. To Continental Europeans: What? You have a language called Polish/Dutch/Danish/whatever? You mean in your country people don’t just speak English?

  6. I’ve been teaching for years in Beijing and it’s quite funny to think that all Chinese people think exactly the same in terms of stereotypes. Another one your missing is “All foreigners look the same”.

  7. The comment I can relate to the most is Chinese assume all Americans are white. In Chongqing, I get confused with an Indian from India. My reddish tan skin and dark brown hair is from my parents (father is an olive skin Spaniard, mother is a reddish skin Zapotec Indian from Mexico) have fuel a lot of speculation when I first arrived here.

  8. And when an Asian who’s born/bred/raised in a western country meets Chinese they always insist you are Korean/Japanese/Chinese/Thai. Westerners CAN look like Asians too but they have a hard time getting that for some odd reason.

  9. “All western women have loose morals…”

    My college students definately think that any western woman you meet will have sex with you if you just engage her in friendly conversation.
    An Australian friend of mine here asked a Chinese girl to join him for a friendly dinner and she gladly agreed, but when he suggested that they go to a movie together afterward she said “No way! We can go to dinner or we can go to a movie.” When he asked why one or the other but not both she repied “Because if I go to dinner AND a movie with you it means I have to sleep with you!”

    Fair enough, I still think all Chinese are secret Kung Fu masters.

    • Lol, what a story, made me laugh. I guess this is the interesting part of the culture difference.

      As a Chinese, I fully understand her thoughts. If a Chinese girl has never lived in the West for a while, the way she sees the West man and woman would be hugely influenced by the West (most likely American) movies or TV drama. What are these movies showing you, man and woman meet at the street/bookshop/train station/coffee shop, dinner and movie, then what? two seconds later, they are in bed!! I think that is where the impression of “loose morals” coming from. This won’t change easily unless the Chinese has a chance to live at West or get to know more about the West people around him/her.

      • Oh, that isn’t true? (I’m Black American). I thought that all the young people (under 30) just hooked up in the stall after a drink – seriously. So, Jerry Springer guests are faking it? Bring me up to date.

  10. There are always interesting things happened when the culture differs a lot between two countries.So if you want to do business in China, you have to know more about the market situation in China and if you do business in western countries it is the same.

  11. These are great! My students were infatuated with my arm hair… They couldn’t get over the fact that it was blonde and not black. The funny things kids notice. Eyelashes too, I’d have kids try to touch them to see if they were real. (Fake eyelashes are a big thing in Taiwan, so if yours are long, they must be fake!)

  12. If you are an American with dark skin, you’re not an American – you’re an African that lives in America. Ditto if you are of Chinese descent, but were born and raised in another country – you aren’t really FROM that country, you just live there. I just got that one yesterday – or, more accurately, a fellow foreign teacher who speaks some Mandarin told me of it.

  13. Nikki: whoever that “foreign” teacher is, he or she is, excuse my language, full of shit. The only “indigenous” people in America are the American Indians, even then they’re proven to be related to modern day Asians by RNA mitochondria analysis. Being an American is an ideal bigger than any one single person, and being an American is advanced citizenry. That said, I’m ashamed of many people in my country who’re blatantly ignorant, bigoted, or in many case all of the above. I can accept the unique Chinese POV because they really don’t know better, and with the Great Firewall and state sponsored propaganda I would hazard to say they will continue to be fairly blinded to certain viewpoints the central government wants to spread. However, any “foreign” person with full access to the global information network has absolutely no excuse to be ignorant whatsoever.

    Just my 2 cents.

    • Casualsurfer: I don’t think the foreign teacher was stating his/her opinion. He was simply stating what he’s heard from the Chinese speaking in Mandarin.

  14. English people and beer being his best friend is actually true 😀 or at least for us Slovak and Czech people :))

    One question? What is it with the left handed westerners? I get it too and I really do not know why.

  15. Interesting article..
    Can you put in my place?? A White Brazilian with green eyes, the kind of comments or questions I got from people??
    Always telling me : “但是巴西人是黑的!”
    They always put chinese vs waiguoren, we the chinese, you foreigners..
    If they study more about other countries, excluding Usa, they would understand that actually each country is different from another, and skin color has nothing to do with culture.

  16. oh my god I love this. Not all western women are “open”. I’m not entirely sure what being “open” means exactly but I think people should just assume I’m not. Also that all western men love beer and that none of us can use chopsticks… its so crazy

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