travels with my barang-barang

Speak good English

Posted in Beijing, Yellow Fever by ejl on 11 March 2009

It’s very difficult, in Beijing where a large number of expats are male and quite a number of those males are afflicted with a massive case of ignoramusia extremus, to not roll my eyes when within the first 5 seconds of conversation the topic turns to be fluency in English.

For the record:
1) I am female
2) I am a Singapore-born Chinese
3) I speak English as my first language, and Mandarin a not-so-close second

I do understand the initial assumption that I might be PRC, but surely the question as to my origins could be couched in a more sophisticated manner? Perhaps the belief that London-accented English should not be coming out of a Chinese-looking face that throws that person off the track of normal etiquette?

I have no issues with someone asking me quite directly ‘So where are you from?’. I take offence at ‘You speak very good English, where did you learn that from?’. The first is polite and vague, the second has an express assumption that someone that looks like me shouldn’t be able to speak English at any passable level – insulting not just me, but also numerous PRCs who are able to speak English extremely fluently.

It also seems to be a phenomenon that happens only to females, inflicted by males. Other women have never seemed taken aback by my speech, and all other X-born Chinese men I’ve asked have never been subject to such condescension. It’s very disturbing, no?

Anyway, gripe over. I just wish more people would understand that outside of China live a very large Chinese diaspora, many of whom speak, read and write English natively. I don’t assume you’d speak English just because you look caucasian, right?

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