When people ask where I’ve traveled, I tell them geographically. I don’t count the places in the United States I’ve visited and I discount the Caribbean (because it’s too close, and many of the times I went I didn’t need a passport, only my birth certificate). It starts Canada, Mexico, Iceland…and then I’ll hop around Europe for a while. It ends with Japan (usually – sometimes I just get too tired and say ‘most of Asia’). I’ve lived in three different countries and have been places most people wouldn’t even think of going. Mongolia. Iceland. India. Vietnam.
I’m only 24.
The country I lived the longest in (outside of my home country of…you guessed it, the United States) was China. I taught English at a Chinese University to undergraduate, Masters and Doctorate students. I didn’t tell my ‘kids’ how old I was – most of them were older than me.
I would have to say the most interesting stories I have to tell are those after the point where I was comfortable speaking in Mandarin Chinese. There was always such a look of childlike delight on the faces of the people that I was speaking to, like they were thinking Holy crap, she knows how to communicate! She isn’t just some smelly tall foreigner!
And then I got bombarded with questions, and many times, even after I spoke to them in Chinese, they would respond in English – like they couldn’t quite comprehend that I could actually understand them…or they just wanted to practice their English.
As a foreigner in China, be prepared to be asked some very off-putting questions. The first three questions I usually was asked were:
- How old are you?
- How much do you make?
- Are you married?
From a Western perspective, these are probably three of the most taboo questions you can ask someone upon first meeting, especially a woman. All of these questions, I later realized were driven out of that same delight and curiosity I saw when my conversation partners realized that I could speak the local tongue. The money question, also, was not just curiosity, but also a matter of culture – people weren’t so cagey about how much money they made as we are in the United States.
So please, if you go to China, and someone asks how old you are or how much money you make – be a good traveler and don’t be offended. Do your research and understand a bit of the culture of the place you’re going to – educate yourself and know what to (at least somewhat) expect from the locals. And if something happens where you would be offended if you were at home, remember this is why you traveled – you aren’t at home.