Being a Laowai

Being a Laowai


If you are of non-Asian origins one of the first words you will hear in China is 老外lǎowài or 外国人wàiguórén, meaning “foreigner”. Although there are many foreigners living in China now, if you are not in Beijing or Shanghai most people won’t be used to seeing you all the time.What does being a Laowai mean?
Usually people will be happy to meet you. Some might be curious and ask where you are from and what you are doing in China. They will be really happy if you are able to speak in Chinese with them, even if it’s just a few words they will praise your Chinese with ‘你的中文很好.’ –“Your Chinese is really good.” even if you just said ‘你好 ‘ – “Hello“.
Many people will just bluntly stare at you, some might call out the word Laowai, or even say ‘hello’. At the beginning I tried to be friendly and greet back, but at some point it was just too much and I started to ignore it. You will feel like a star when you go to a tourist place, because many Chinese people will take the chance to get a picture not only of the scenery, but also of ‘the foreigner’. Some might ask you to take a picture together with them.

InternChina - pictures with the foreigner
InternChina – pictures with the foreigner

The first thing people usually will ask is if you are American. If you are from the US, that’s great! If you are not, explain to them where you come from and that there are some other countries in the world, it is always good to know your country’s name in Chinese ( If you have anything your country is famous for, also point that out and they might have an idea, for Germany it’s usually cars and beer. Even if you don’t like stereotypes, they are what most people know in the end. 😉

InternChina - Pictures with the Foreigner
InternChina – Pictures with the Foreigner

In addition to being photographed by random strangers, you will also be asked by some people if you want to be their model or attend their event, the so-called ‘White face event’. They just need your foreign appearance to make their customers and other people think that they are very international. You could try it for a once in a lifetime experience, but most of the times it’s better to stay away.
There will also be problems, especially in tourist places, like people trying to get more money from you, because they think you are the rich foreigner. But it gives you a chance to practice your bargaining skills with them. And compared to European prices many things in China are really cheap.
There are so many clubs in China and of course they want to attract more customers. One way of doing that is to be ‘the place where the foreigners go’. So many places will give foreigners a table and free alcohol. But careful, don’t expect to be invited all the time and don’t drink too much. ;-P
I think my face looks pretty average, but in China I have heard dozens of people say, that I am so pretty. Maybe they just want to be nice, or they are fascinated by my different looks. They especially like blonde hair, curly hair, different eye colors, tall guys and our ‘big and long noses’. Well I’m not sure if I should take people saying my nose looks pretty as a compliment. It’s always nice to hear some flattery, so be careful and don’t become conceited.

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