Quickly after arriving in China, you’ll realize many people you encounter have preconceived notions or stereotypes about Americans. One of these lesser-known (and uglier) tropes is that of the short-tempered, screaming lao wai, immortalized in countless videos of foreigners having break-downs on youku.
Upon first learning about this phenomenon I actually felt a bit of sympathy for these foreigners; We all have those days where nothing goes right. Couple that with the stress of living abroad in a foreign country and not always knowing the language or the customs and you pretty much have the ingredients for a perfect public emotional break down.
While this may be an instinctive reaction for some foreigners, such a strong and hostile display of aggression and emotion definitely goes against the grain of custom in a country where a popular idiom roughly translates to “eat your feelings” (and they don’t mean grab a doughnut). Public displays of strong emotion are rare in China and often become a spectacle, especially if you (a laowai) are already a spectacle yourself (which you, more likely than not, are).
Here are some tips to avoid inadventently becoming the next infamous youku star.
1. Accept that things are not always going to go your way – China, in so many aspects is a work in progress. Things are not always going to go smoothly or be handled with the efficiency that you might expect in the United States. The best thing that you can do in these situations is to just keep a cool head and as the Chinese say, sui da liu er, go with the flow. Also, keep things in perspective: these situations are an everyday reality for much of the Chinese population and are no less frustrating for them.
2. Be prepared – More often than not, squatties are going to not have toilet paper or soap. More often than not, a person is not going to understand your English if you don’t know the Chinese translation. A situation that could potentially become frustrating can be easily avoided if you took the extra few seconds just to put some tissues in your purse or download pleco on your phone.
3. Don’t take out your cruddy day on someone else – Bad days are a universal phenomenon and refraining from taking out your emotional stress on someone else should be a universal practice as well. Your taxi driver, bus driver or ayi doesn’t deserved to be yelled at and probably wouldn’t even understand why it is you’re yelling at them. Slow down, take a deep breath and if your day seems like it’s headed in that direction, take a few moments to yourself. No one is going to fault you for taking a few minutes to listen to some relaxing music or grab some bubble tea, but people may whip out their smart phones to record it when you have a public temper tantrum.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Alexis Cobau is a Junior at the University of Michigan, majoring in Chinese and International Studies with a concentration in International security, cooperation and norms. She is excited to be returning to China for the first time since her original foray into study abroad in Harbin, China on an NSLI-Y State Department scholarship as a rising senior in High School. This will be her sixth year studying Chinese and she can't wait to spend it exploring Beijing. When not practicing her Chinese characters and tones, Alexis enjoys reading, writing, drawing and cooking.</span></p>