Last week, I made a short trip to Yokohama Chinatown while I visited my good friend in Japan. As I was excited to eat Chinese snacks, I went on a treasure hunt to find Hong Kong sweets. I finally found a small shop in a narrow back road with mentioned pastries in the shop window and just stepped inside to get my share. When I paid for my bun, my conversation with the owner, a nice mid-forty lady from Hong Kong began. While I was quite open and answered all her questions, she began to bomb me with all different stereotypes about Europeans and Chinese. The next labels are a brief summary of our about five minute long Japanese conversation.
1. All tall, blonde (and beautiful) women are Russian
While I was looking for some coins in my wallet, she stared at me, and suddenly asked me “Roshia? Roshia?”, which means Russia in Japanese. I looked at her with a shocked face and asked her where she got the idea from that I might be Russian. While obviously shocked that I was able to speak Japanese, she apologized and said she thought I was Russian because I am tall and beautiful. I explained that I am not Russian, and that there are many tall and beautiful girls in all the other European countries too, not only in Russia*. But anyway, thanks for the nice compliment, strange lady.
*When I told my Japanese friend about my conversation, she said that many Japanese believe that tall and beautiful Russian women are prostitutes. So not nice!
2. Western women’s skin is so beautifully white and needs to be touched
Another reason why she assumed I am Russian is my pale skin. I once again had to destroy her illusions, by explaining that there are many more women with pale skin from different countries, not from Russia only. Nonetheless she wanted to take the chance to touch my ‘white’ skin. I showed her the down side of my arm which was even paler, and got some more ‘awww’s. I actually got tanned a little when I went to the beach with my friend for a few days. If she saw me four days earlier, I would have probably given her a heart attack. According to my Austrian relatives, I even look much healthier than before, not like a pale, sick patient in a hospital room. If you compare me to Mr.Panda, I am still paler than his winter skin color.
3. Western women’s hair is so beautifully fair and soft, and also needs to be touched
My hair might not be platinum blonde, but, as it is dark blonde, it is of course brighter than the average black Asian hair. While I envy them for their thick, voluminous hair, mine is thin and straight – and too soft. It is impossible to curl it or make cute, complicated plaited hairdoings, as it will not stick together at all. Nonetheless she wanted to take advantage of the situation and asked if she could touch my hair. I just got it cut and treated at the beginning of my trip, so it was extra soft and fluffy. She was so surprised and almost did not want to let go of it anymore.
4. ‘Austria’ means you are from ‘Australia’
I do not really know where that comes from, but so many people do not know about the small but beautiful state of Austria, located between Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Austria’s native name ‘Österreich’ does not sound like Australia at all, so who had the crazy idea to name it like one of the biggest islands out there? Now, we poor Austrians have to deal with being corrected where we are from every time we are asked about our nationality. And even my creative stories about rare Austrian high alpine kangaroos which one can sometimes see when one goes hiking in the Alps do not satisfy me anymore. You people out there, I know where I am from! I am from Austria, not Australia! (This is also the reason for my German accent.)
5. Hong Kongers living in Europe are rich and successful
I do not really know where this one comes from, but somehow many Chinese/Hong Kongers still believe that you have to be rich to be able to live in the European Union. Someone should finally tell them that it was easy to emigrate with an UK Overseas citizenship, at least from Hong Kong. And one does not need to be rich to be able to live here. You at least just need to be a hardworking, determined person, and it will somehow work out in the end. I know enough people who can prove her theory wrong.
6. I settled down for a ‘Chinese’ because he is rich and successful
At first, she assumed I was a gold digger for going out with a rich and successful Hong Konger who lives in Europe… when she suddenly remembered:
7. All Europeans are rich and successful too
Well, I might be richer than people from Third World countries, but as a student living from scholarship and part-time work, who is too proud to take any money from her ‘rich and successful’ Hong Konger and family, I am below average. If you could find some money which belongs to me and I do not know about, please tell me, mysterious clairvoyant.
8. A Chinese who got a ‘white’ girl has hit the jackpot
After she realized I am not a gold digger who wants to take advantage of one of her fellow countrymen, she told me how lucky he is for having the chance to be together with a beautiful ‘white girl’ such as me. Rich, successful and now even a Westerner is interested in him, he sure hit the jackpot – at least according to her.
9. I have to have at least a little bit of Chinese blood in me when I am dating an Asian guy
In the end, it sounded so unbelievable to her that a European person would actually date a ‘Chinese‘ that she assumed I must be at least half or quarter Chinese. This on the other hand would mean that one of my ancestors would have been Chinese, but it was most likely a Chinese woman rather than a man. Sorry to disappoint you, I am in love with a Hong Konger without being part Asian, because, you know, it is possible for a non-Asian person to love an Asian. And I am even more shocked that this was the second time someone assumed I am at least part Chinese.
When I was just about to get out, she asked me, if we already have children, which I answered in the negative. She was surprised, and told me to try hard, and bear at least one strong male half-Hong Kong heir for my Hong Kong family. I felt, that someone just loaded more expectations on me on which I do not want to live up (yet). I just laughed, and told her I would try hard in the future – the far away future.
And, to answer my question from the beginning, it is actually possible to integrate nine different stereotypes into one five minute long conversation – by only one single person. Far too many if you ask me.
Have you ever had a conversation so full of many different stereotypes that you just wanted to wake up because the situation seemed too unimaginable to be true?