50 Signs American Expat China

There’s fifty nifty U-ni-ted States, and 50 ways to tell you’re from one of them.

  1. Your English has slipped to the point that you can’t remember if phrases like “have a rest,” “I will contact with her,” and “welcome to my home tomorrow” are correct or not.
  2. Even if you can’t speak Chinese, your English is sprinkled with words like mafan and lihai and laoban.
  3. You secretly wish you were Canadian or Dutch or Australian or Russian just so people would be wrong when they ask, “You’re American, right?”
  4. You get overly excited about food you don’t even eat in the States, like McDonald’s (oh, their breakfast!), Subway (oh, the smell of bread baking!) and Oreos (oh, they have birthday cake flavor!)
  5. You’ve seen a movie on DVD before it’s out in theaters here.
  6. You’ve seen a movie in theaters here before it’s out in the U.S.
  7. You’ve been in some kind of ad, possibly without your knowledge.
  8. You’ve been on Chinese TV far more times than you will ever be on American TV.
  9. As soon as you discover something new at the import store, you Wechat all your expat friends to alert them.
  10. Even if you’re only mildly attractive back home, you’re starting to develop a bit of an ego after being told over and over how beautiful/handsome you are.
  11. Even if you’re only of average height and weight in the States, you feel like a giant here, and you get really happy when you find clothes that actually fit.
  12. (But you absolutely know how to use your “giant” size to your advantage when boarding a bus.)
  13. You’ve used Taobao to buy powdered sugar, deodorant, and mustard.
  14. You’ve used Taobao to buy much more than that. Much, much more. Way more than you care to admit.
  15. You get asked to teach English an average of once a week, more often right before the gao kao.
  16. You are frequently photographed by random strangers in public, especially at tourist destinations.
  17. You always know what time it is in your home state.
  18. Your VPN = your lifeline.
  19. You miss indoor carpet.
  20. You really miss driving your own car.
  21. You really, really miss cheese.
  22. You’ve requested taco seasoning packets, candy corn, and Cadbury crème eggs in care packages.
  23. You’ve attempted to make s’mores out of fruity marshmallows and digestive biscuits, and you rejoiced when China got Hershey’s so you didn’t have to use Dove.
  24. You now realize which items on the Pei Wei, Panda Express, and P.F. Chang’s menus were altered to suit American palates.
  25. You’ve been invited to some kind of banquet or meeting or party or wedding, only to suspect you are the token foreigner, there to give someone face.
  26. You’ve been invited to perform in a play, concert, or other event, only to suspect you are the token foreigner, there to give someone face.
  27. You’ve shown up for some small, casual event in shorts and a T-shirt and flip flops, only to discover it’s a major event and you are embarrassingly underdressed.
  28. You’ve stopped saying “xie xie” for everything, stopped hugging people, stopped saying “bless you” when someone sneezes, stopped trying to shake hands with or find out the names of people you meet, and stopped assuming that only the people you invited will show up.
  29. You’ve stopped expecting toilet paper in bathrooms, napkins at restaurants, or ice in drinks.
  30. You know it’s red bean, not chocolate; taro, not blueberry.
  31. You know it’s “six,” not “hang ten”; “ten,” not “die, vampire, die!”
  32. You’ve taken at least a dozen photos of ads, signs, or people’s clothes with English swear words on them.
  33. But you’ve stopped taking photos of squatties, overloaded scooters, and license plates with “666” on them.
  34. You fear that when you get back to the U.S., you will throw out your back from sleeping on such soft mattresses.
  35. You fear that when you get back to the U.S., you will think chocolate chip cookies and brownies are too sweet.
  36. You are used to telling random strangers how much you make, how old you are, and how much you pay for rent.
  37. Whether or not you follow the NBA, you can recognize the Chinese name of most teams, and you most certainly know the Houston Rockets.
  38. You’ve learned the Chinese name of some new American singer or actor before you knew their English name.
  39. You don’t flinch when your taxi drives into oncoming traffic.
  40. You don’t flinch when you drive your scooter into oncoming traffic.
  41. When choosing a phone number, you get the one with more 4s to save money, but always wonder if people are laughing behind your back.
  42. Same with apartments on the 4th floor.
  43. In an instant, you can tell if the “HAH-LOW!” is friendly, drunk, obnoxious, sweet, shy, or from someone you actually know, and can then respond accordingly.
  44. Your first taxi and train rides (and your 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th…) were in China.
  45. You have stayed up ’til the wee hours to gather with friends to watch the Superbowl and/or the Oscars.
  46. You have gone to great lengths to eat REAL pizza.
  47. You have gone to even greater lengths to procure a REAL turkey for Thanksgiving.
  48. Every once in a while, you drop trash on the ground when there’s no trash can to be found, and you can almost do it without feeling guilty.
  49. You’ve been scolded by grannies and teachers for not wearing warm enough clothes when it’s in 20C outside.
  50. You didn’t have to convert that to Fahrenheit to understand it.

Can you relate? 🙂

If you’re interested in life in the Middle Kingdom, here are three outstanding books for understanding life in China, …

…expat kids…

…and anyone who has ever fallen in love with another country.

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