China is the first country I have been to where, just by looking at me, you can tell I’m not from this land. My white skin and fuzzy beard make me stick out like a sore thumb. But Shanghai is a very international city. Thousands of tourists dot the streets every day and even more expatriates call Shanghai their home. It’s might be uncommon to see someone from the West, but it happens every day especially in the more touristy areas.
But the fun part about being noticed by the masses in Shanghai isn’t seeing how the Chinese react to me, it’s seeing how the Westerners react. The Chinese are used to seeing Westerners on the streets of Shanghai. But every time – whether I’m shopping, waiting for the subway or walking on the street – I seem to make eye contact with fellow Westerners. It’s also the same interaction too: First, eye contact. Then, a brief look away from each other. Finally, eye contact is made again to see if the other is still looking.
I can just see what they are thinking: “Do you speak my language? You look like you speak my language. Why are you in Shanghai? Are you here for the same reason I am?” It’s so funny to witness the internal dialogue externally that they have with themselves.
It’s also fun to play the game of “Where are they from?” from a distance. The goal is simple: guess which country the people are from just by looking at them. It really comes down to if they are European or North American. Europeans are hard to tell the difference between and so are Canadians and Americans. If the person is a little heavy set, they are probably American. But if the person is heavy set and has a mustache, they are probably German. You can check you’re answers by getting close and listening to the language they are speaking.
I’ve seen French people and Germans the most, but there are a number of Americans in Shanghai doing business who stay at my hotel.
All in all, it’s fun to see other Westerners. Maybe it’s because they remind me of home. Maybe it’s because it’s fun to see other people as out of their element as I am.