If you have, or intend to, spend any amount of time in China, of word that you will learn rather quickly, whether you want to or not, is laowai (老外). A literal translation is “old foreigner,” but in modern colloquial Chinese it is often just translated as “foreigner,” which means someone who is not Chinese.
Walk down any street, especially of places where foreigner are scare and rare, and you’ll hear the word. Kids will shout “laowai!” as you pass by, and then run screaming in the arms of a nearby parent.
Ordinary people will simply use it as a form of address: “hey, laowai, would you like to purchase this?”
For many newbies, adjusting to this new moniker can be a bit of a challenge, but the sooner one adapts and embraces his/her inner laowai, the better.
The good folks at Learn Mandarin Now have produced a fun infographic titled “Become a Local Laowai,” that lists ten helpful tips to becoming a ‘local laowai,’ or what I like to call an “acceptable outsider.”
Notice that they also give a very generous explanation of the term laowai: “a local foreigner who has experience with Chinese culture.” Very generous indeed!
What tips would you add?
Living Well Where You Don’t Belong
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