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Small Conversations

The scene: At a local store.
Me: It’s ok if you say no, but would it be possible for me to exchange this product?
Shopkeeper: Of course! I don’t even think of you, your husband and your son as foreigners. You’re just like us Yichang people!
Me: In our hearts we feel like Yichang people, but most Yichangers think of us as foreigners.
The scene: At our local Fuji printer feeding Schäfer while waiting for prints.

Man: Where are you from? What’s your name? What’s your baby’s name? What are you doing? What are you waiting for? Can I see your photos when you get them? Where do you live? Can I have your phone number?
Me: Sure, you can have my number. (noticing: he’s pulling out a very organized list of names and numbers. Oh no! Another salesman!)
Man: Here’s my card. I sell Amway, a very FAMOUS American company. I’m sure I have lots of products that you need to buy.
Me: Thanks. (thinking: I’ve never heard of Amway in America, but I don’t have the heart to tell the bazillion Amway reps that.)

The scene: Outside a convenient store I ran into a friend, her husband and her daughter on their way to go swimming.

Me:
Hey! Are you guys going swimming?
Friend: Yes! The pool isn’t so cold now.
Me: I love your daughters hair cut.
Friend: In Chinese this is called ?? ?. (little sister head)
Me: It’s so cute!
Friend: If you go to the hair salon, you can ask them to give you a “little sister head” and they will!
Me: I think it looks better on your daughter!
Daughter: What’s on your skin?
Friend: You shouldn’t ask such questions!
Me: Oh, I don’t know the word in Chinese, but often people with my hair color have these. It’s very common in America and Europe. (note: must learn word for freckles)
Friend: My husband has arrived. We must go swimming! Bye!

It’s been a while since someone has commented on my freckles. I’ve had small children try to wipe them off thinking they are dirt. A college student offered to introduce me to a “physician” who could laser them off. One physician thought I had a rash during a pre-natal visit. Another physician scoffed at them while trying to look for my TB skin test results. They don’t bother me. I look in the mirror and don’t even see them.

All cultures have a different measure of beauty. Where some value tanning creams in the west, whitening creams are the rage in the east. Freckles and all “spots” in general are NOT beautiful to the Chinese.

The scene: Near the lotus pond by our home. Hanging out with the neighborhood Mommy’s plus a few others.

Man #1: Do you want a cigarette? (holding cigarette up to Schäfer)
Me: No thank you. It’s not so good for his health. It’s also not so good for your health.
Man #1: Correct. Correct. (still smoking)

Meanwhile, Schäfer sees a baby holding a bottle of water and tries to lean down and grab it.

Me: No, no, Schäfer. That’s big sister’s bottle. Your bottle is at home.
Mommy: Did you bring his bottle?
Me: I normally leave his bottle in the house since we are just walking a bit. (Schäfer is now extremely fussy because he wants that bottle of water)
Man #2: You NEED to feed him. He’s very hungry. (pointing to my breast several times to help me understand his meaning)
Me: I think we probably just need to keep walking. He just ate.

Being a part of the topic of breastfeeding in China is an experience in itself. When Schäfer was first born the questions came in this order: Is it a boy or girl? Is he drinking your milk? The latter question came with lots of pointing and even some grabbing as if I don’t know the word for breast milk.

5 comments to Small Conversations

  • I think I would cry every day if I lived there and all the rude comments they say to you. That must have been difficult to adjust to. But it’s funny for me to read! :-)Thanks for sharing!

  • anna

    i had the same issues with my freckles when i lived there combined with being 6 feet tall and having bright red hair. it was fun, let me tell you!

  • I love your freckles so much.

  • Actually, the comments aren’t intended to be rude at all. It’s just a collision of culture. It’s all just a moment of east meets west. And since I have those moments every time I walk out the door, I can’t possibly be offended. The intention is pure.

  • Auntie G

    i thought these conversations were just a little peek into your daily life. Thanks for sharing. I will have to send some to you sometime from my daily life. My boss sold for amway once. It is interesting when different cultures converse. I love the illiterate toothpaste part. I would have sent you some by mama. amy hasn’t sent me anything so when i get them i will send.

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