Being white in China, especially in off-the-beaten path areas of China, seems to make it fair game for any stranger to ask you any question about America. This can sometimes be awkward or weird, especially if you are a white person from Sweden, Canada, Australia, South Africa…but I digress. Many people end up asking the same questions (Are you used to the food here? Are cars cheaper in America? Do you teach English? If so, can you start this Saturday?) but there have been a few standout queries over the years.
Here are the weirdest questions I’ve gotten, in no particular order, along with a pair of answers: what my snarky self was really hoping I’d answer, and what my polite self actually answered.
1. Does America have mountains?
Snark Me: “No. America is a small kingdom-state located on a tiny island off the coast of Scotland, so there’s no room for a mountain range. But we do have unicorns.”
IRL Me: “The United States is approximately the same size as China, so we have diverse geographic regions just like China does. We have mountains, beaches, rivers, and plains just like China does.”
2. Are your kids yawning because it’s the middle of the night in the U.S.?
Snark Me: “Yes, humans are permanently tied to their passport country time zone.”
IRL Me: “It’s true that it’s the middle of the night in the U.S. right now, but we’ve been in this country long enough to adjust to the time zone here.”
3. Did you perm your baby’s eyelashes?
Snark Me: “Yes, she also has a tattoo and belly button jewelry. I thought it would be a good way to jumpstart her Instagram following in her first few weeks of life.”
IRL Me: “No, they are naturally like that. Many Westerners have eyelashes that naturally curve/curl.”
4. Do you eat hamburgers three meals a day, every day?
Snark Me: “Yes, except for Christmas Day, when we celebrate with pizza.”
IRL Me: “Americans do eat hamburgers more often than Chinese people do, but just like you wouldn’t eat fried rice three meals a day, every day, we also have other things we eat.”
5. Is California the state that’s next to Australia?
Snark Me: “If you mean ‘next to’ as in ‘closer to Australia than it is to Saturn,’ then yes.”
IRL Me: “Ummmm…well, it’s across the Pacific from Australia, so, kind of…”
6. In America, you greet each other in Chinese, but backwards, right?
Snark Me: * totally dumbfounded *
IRL ME: * totally dumbfounded *
(It turns out that this person had seen an American movie in which a character greeted other people with “Howdy.” But the person kept hearing it as “Hao ni,” and thought it was “Ni hao” backwards.)
7. Don’t Americans lock their old people away instead of taking care of them?
Snark Me: “Definitely.”
IRL Me: “The culture is different in America. Older people like to have their independence and live in their own home instead of living with their grown children. Americans are also more likely than Chinese to live far away from their parents, so sometimes it’s not possible for the parents to move in with their children. Or if the parents are in failing health, they might live in a nursing home where they can get better medical care.”
8. You’re tall because your parents fed you Western formula as an infant, right?
Snark Me: “Correct. It had nothing to do with genetics.”
IRL Me: “Both of my parents are tall, so I am also tall.”
9. How do you get your skin so white?
Snark Me: “My parents fed me Western formula as an infant.”
IRL Me: * pauses for a moment to see if the person will suddenly realize they are asking a 白人 why their skin is so 白 . Nope, not happening.* “Umm, it’s just naturally that way.”
10. Do all American women wear bright red lipstick?
Snark Me: “Yes, every last one of them except for me, the actual American woman standing in front of you who is NOT wearing bright red lipstick. I was given a temporary exemption because they know how hard it is to find red lipstick in China.” (< – – HA. I’ve seen more women in bright red lipstick in China than in the U.S.)
IRL Me: “No.”
To be fair, most people asked pretty normal questions, and many asked rather intelligent questions about us, our family, and our home country. (And full disclosure: I’ve also had Americans ask me some pretty crazy questions about China.) But hey, where’s the fun in normal?
Let's be pengyou.