How to become friends with foreigners: A brief synopsis

Befriending foreigners in Asia: The top 3 “pickup lines”:

1)   “Can I be friends with you?”

…followed shortly thereafter by…

2)   “You are very beautiful/ handsome. Can I have your email address?”

…and of course…

3)   “I think that we can be friends, and maybe, you can teach me English!”

Top three things that you shouldn’t say when trying to befriend a foreigner:

1)   “Can I be friends with you?”

2)   “You are very beautiful/ handsome. Can I have your email address?”

3)   “I think that we can be friends, and maybe, you can teach me English!”

Any forms of the above statements/ questions or other statements such as: “I want to make friends with you” / “Are your eyes real?” /  “On the weekends I like to play soccer and I can run really far” / “I want to take you shopping” / “I like looking at you,” are sometimes flattering, but can often make the person feel a tad uncomfortable.

All of these things have been said to me at one point or another in the past three years while in various parts of Asia, mainly Taiwan and China. While it can be funny and harmless initially, it gets old pretty fast when you hear the same thing over and over again in different forms. I sometimes completely ignore people that I can see approaching me out of the corner of my eye – I can’t help it.

Last summer, a guy followed me from the subway out onto the streets of Taipei – literally ran after me in hopes of asking me for my email address and if we could practice English together. I was kind of freaked out – I wondered how long had he been watching/ following me? I gave him a fake address…

I’ve actually been kind of surprised by the attention that I get in Asia since I am mixed. In the U.S., I always I thought I looked more Asian than Caucasian. But here, people can tell that I’m not “one of them,” which makes me wonder where I belong?!

On the first day of teaching last year a student approached me and asked, “Excuse me, Miss, are you a half-blood?”

For some reason I heard ‘half-black.’ That wasn’t correct: “I’m sorry, what?”

“Are you a half-blood?”

Harry Potter suddenly popped into my head.

“Um…yes,” (if that’s how you want to put it), “My Dad is Chinese and my Mom is American.”

“OOOhhh AAAhhh,” in unison.

A bunch of students also told me they hoped they could “be my friend” asked me for my mobile number. “I don’t give my number to students – I’m sorry! The best way to reach me is by email.” Standard go-to.

It’s hard to tell whether or not these lines are acceptable when they are directly translated back into Chinese – is it just a a lost-in-translation situation? Maybe it’s overexcitement. I don’t really know…

Every time someone says one of these things to me, I still feel caught off guard. The best/ easiest thing to do is play along and give the person the benefit of the doubt. They mean well and aren’t trying to creep you out. Not intentionally, at least.


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