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Chinese Man Tells Me He Doesn’t Like Americans

“I don’t like Americans,” spoke a guy sitting next to me on the bus from Taizhou to Suzhou. He was a bruiser — had the flattop haircut and everything. He’d previously asked me where I was from, and when I answered that I was an American he begged to differ. He told me that he [...]

“I don’t like Americans,” spoke a guy sitting next to me on the bus from Taizhou to Suzhou.

He was a bruiser — had the flattop haircut and everything. He’d previously asked me where I was from, and when I answered that I was an American he begged to differ. He told me that he though I was from China — meaning a Chinese minority, namely a  Uyghur. When asserted a second time that I was, in fact, really from the United States of America he busted out with the xenophobic slur, and then buried his face into his newspaper to ward off any rebuttal.

I could have just let it go — he was finished making his point — but didn’t. “Why don’t you like Americans?” I asked loudly so that other people on the bus could hear.

The one offensive that Westerners have against Asians is to make it look like you may embarrass them in public. This is a face culture, and if you can direct the eyes and ears of a person’s compatriots upon them you can sometimes knock them back on their heels a little. You can’t fight people in China on your own — that’s suicide — but you can make a case to an assembled crowd and perhaps find a little support or at least an intermediary.

“Why don’t you like Americans?” I reasserted a little louder but still with a polite smile on my face, and then watched a few heads turn in the bus.

The bruiser buried his face deeper into his paper and quietly mumbled his previous sentiment a second time, “I don’t like Americans.”

I was about to ask him how many Americans he had known personally, but held back: he looked a little uneasy already, and I felt that I checked the situation enough to make any further show unnecessary.

I was not offended or angered that he told me so bluntly that he did not like people from my country. Criticizing an American for being an American is like calling a Caucasion a white cracker — it just doesn’t have much of an effect. People who are secure in their identity are often difficult to offend.

But if the tables were turned — if I said that I did not like Chinese people — I likely would have caused a riot on that bus. China is still making it’s place in the broader world, and the people of this country tend to be a little touchy about issues of nationality. I’ve been told that Chinese kids are often taught over and over again in school how other peoples oppressed them from the Qing Dynasty all the way up until early 20th century. Movies about Chinese people fighting various oppressors are also disproportionately common. When people have it driven into them over and over again that they were historically oppressed it often leads to a touch of insecurity in the present.

Many times throughout my travels in Chine some drunk guy would walk up to me in a bar and proclaim “I’m from China! I’m Chinese!” in my face while virtually pounding his chest caveman-like. I never use to know how to respond to this — Uh, good for you??? — but now I stand up and pound my chest equally caveman-like proclaim “I’m Western man” clap the guy on the shoulder in a gesture of camaraderie and then take the cigarette he’s more than likely going to offer me. Oddly, it seems to work.

This drunken display of nationalism isn’t so bad, but what I don’t like is when someone comes up to me out of nowhere and immediately starts talking about the impending war between China and the USA and how China is going to win because they have a long history or something like that. It’s my impression that this type has looked upon a few too many Mao-era posters of powerful Chinese men bombing the shit out of spindly gremlins with over-exaggerated noses fighting under the stars and stripes. When these preemptive early birds of WW3 start accosting me I feel like I have a layer of slime smeared over my body that I must immediately go and wash off. This isn’t a conversation I’m willing to have.

Deep down, that rather rude individual on the bus displayed an aspect of the Chinese character that I truly admire: this culture doesn’t bullshit. You go to Japan, Thailand, many other countries in East Asia and you have no idea what the people really think of you. They smile on the exterior but you are always left wondering how they really feel about you and your culture. In China there is no guessing: if someone doesn’t like you they tell you. If they do like you — which is more than often the case — they are overtly and genuinely gregarious. I like people who walk right up to me and ask me the questions they’re wondering about, people who grab me by the arm and say “What are you? What are you doing here?” I like people who are interested about other peoples and have no qualms about satiating this curiosity. I like Han Chinese culture because it’s blunt and straight forward, like a battering ram. It keeps me on my toes, it keeps me learning.

In China, people fill the streets with their emotions: yelling, laughing, screaming, crying, fighting, grubbling, staring, insulting, arguing, boasting, giving, scolding, loving. A walk down the streets of China shows the entire spectrum of human emotion and the ways that the human species interacts with itself. This is one of the reasons why I love this country.

Filed under: China, Culture and Society

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3546 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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  • Chris Allworden June 10, 2012, 10:05 am

    Really great article Wade. After living in Japan for almost a year I can relate to “what are they really thinking”. Despite this there is always a vast collection of similarities between our cultures that remain. China sounds interesting, it would be nice if more people were like you and took the time to understand why.

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    • Wade Shepard June 10, 2012, 8:33 pm

      Right on, all cultures are pretty much the same. China though is probably one of the most unique I’ve ever been in. Japan too, is pretty excellent for pondering culture. Sort of miss it there. Thanks for the comment, and enjoy unraveling the riddles of Japan.

      Have fun.

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  • alf June 10, 2012, 12:48 pm

    While inflicting on one individual the prejudices you have against his or her country is bad, immature, and unnecessarily confrontational in my book, I do agree that it is refreshing to have some ‘non-bullshit’ policy.

    Some days I am happy to come from a country people can hardly point at in a map, much less build any prejudice against.

    I find plenty of people then asking my religion and native language, I suspect in need to figure me out, but in BiH and Serbia I felt some degree of relief in their faces when I turned out to be an agnostic raised as catholic, and not either orthodox or muslim. Or maybe it was just me.

    alf

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    • Wade Shepard June 10, 2012, 8:38 pm

      That’s true, it probably is interesting to be from a country that most people know nothing about. The funny thing about being from the USA is that so many people think they know all about my country — even though they’ve never been there. The funny thing is that don’t believe me when I tell them that their assumptions are incorrect and sometimes they even argue with me about it haha. It’s interesting. Maybe someday someone will shoot a big time Hollywood style sitcom in Costa Rica, then your cloak of secrecy will be removed haha. For your sake, I hope not haha. Anyway, thanks for the comment and it’s good to hear that your travels seem to be going pretty well. Coming over to Asia soon?

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  • alf June 10, 2012, 9:12 pm

    Well, it looks like I will start July somewhere in Turkey, to go then to Georgia and Armenia. Depending on the political climate I will take some land route through Western/Central Asia (It could be Iran or Azerbaijan-Caspian Sea and then through 2 or 3 ‘-stan’s and then China before the end of the year). I am taking the hard route in the hottest months of summer; I may be still a little bit much of a beginner vagabond for that kind of travel, to be honest.

    If the heat turns unbearable or the visa processes are too complex or expensive I may actually come back West after Armenia, I feel I left too much unexplored back here.

    There is no sure way of telling where in the world I will be in a couple months. I love that.

    I get the feeling that when I go to China, with my beard, my nose, and my undecided eye shape, I will be labeled as Uyghur too, based on the description you made of them.

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    • Wade Shepard June 12, 2012, 6:47 am

      That’s the way to do it, for sure. Go wherever you want whenever you want, that’s what travels for.

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