Thursday, October 05, 2006

"Laowais" and "The Nod"

Imagine you're in college, strolling down the sidewalk to class, when you notice an acquaintance up ahead. This isn't someone you know particularly well, but you've chatted a couple times at parties, have a mutual friend, etc. You quickly run a list of questions through your brain: do you smile? say hi? as your passing? before you pass? do you make eye contact? do you just pretend not to notice the other person at all? I always found that this situation ended in both parties avoiding eye contact, pretending to be spaced out or fiddling with their cell phones, until they are just the perfect distance apart, then "noticing" and acknowledging eachother.

I constantly find myself in a similar scenario as I am walking around my neighborhood. Far from the tourist sites of Beijing, yet within close proximity to many foreigner-friendly ammenities, almost all the non-Chinese residents in my area of town are fellow expats. So when I pass another foreigner on the street, I am always wondering how I should react. Chances are the person also lives here; I don't actually know this person, but it's like we have some sort of "hey, I'm not Chinese, but I live and work in Beijing, too!" bond. I find it a bit strange to go out of my way to acknowledge the stranger simply because he/she is also not Chinese....yet I also feel unfriendly ignoring the person altogether. So, much like in college, I usually awkwardly avoid eye contact until just the right timing, "notice" the person, and subtly give them "the nod."

1 comment:

jessie said...

the nod and the half-smile/almost grimace