Jump to content
Chinese-forums.com
Learn Chinese in China

  • Why you should look around

    Since 2003, Chinese-forums.com has been helping people learn Chinese faster and get to China sooner. Our members can recommend beginner textbooks, help you out with obscure classical vocabulary, and tell you where to get the best street food in Xi'an. And we're friendly about it too. 

    Have a look at what's going on, or search for something specific. We hope you'll join us. 
Hero Doug

Opinions on Laowai

Recommended Posts

Mugi

self-taught-mba has summed up the situation perfectly. No more to add in respect to 老外 per se.

But one further comment on 老 - while it is usually used in association with terms of endearment, this is not always the case. Compare the distinction in 北京话 between 老头儿 (endearing) and 老头子 (derogatory, when used by a stranger).

Originally posted by roddy

if you turn up for a job interview and the receptionist tells her boss on the phone that 'that bloke's here' or something.

I agree that "bloke" is probably similar in weight to 老外. However, no matter what the situation, if someone referred to me as a "bloke" in a formal situation within my earshot, I would either turn around and walk straight back out the door or have a few sharp words with the person who uttered the term, or with their superior, and demand an apology.

Question: Have the terms 老白 and 老黄 (proffered above) actually come into existense to refer to white guys and Asians respectively?

As for 老黑, when I was in China 10 years ago, this term was if not derogatory then certainly very impolite, much more so than 老外. Has this changed?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

carlo

The word 'foreigner' in English and 外国人/ 老外 etc. in Chinese are also used differently. English speakers don't usually feel the need to specify that a friend is a foreigner, while a foreign friend in Chinese is always a 外国朋友. Most people think of themselves primarily as Americans, Germans, etc, rather than as 'non-Chinese', while the word 外国人 only says what you are not. These differences in usage and connotation, more than anything else, are behind the common impression that there is something wrong with the word (even people who can't speak Chinese don't like being 'laowai').

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Hero Doug

Sorry, haven't been able to get on in a couple day's didn't expect so many replies.

I read daxia's post saying he used the term 东亚病夫 for annoying people lately. I can see how this would be the same as saying something like "Dumbass Chinese", which would give the impression that you hate all Chinese, when it's just that one annoying person.

I like dalaowai's suggestion of using xiangxiaren. Much more personal, shouldn't offend other's who don't deserve it. The problem is that it's quite likely the person who origionally insulted you will take offence to it not even realizing they had it coming to them. If they were to attack you, I imagine if any Chinese bystanders had the gull to step into the fight (Not quite their style from what I gather, wouldn't "want to get hurt" as my students often put it) there's a good chance they aren't going to help you, just speculation, but I wouldn't expect any help.

And unlike Canada, where people will let other's fight, they stop it once someone has lost. I don't think they extend that same courtesy here. I'd be worried they'd just keep going until you're limp.

I'd like to hear your fight stories daxia, anyone rush to your aid? Or your opponents? Or, the one I'm leaning towards, did everyone just watch?

I hear LaoWai all the time here in Shanghai and it doesn't bother me a bit. In fact, when I hear it I sometimes just reply back in Chinese, "wo bu shi laowai, wo shi zhongguo ren" with a smile and be on my way.
Sometimes I'll just point back and call whoever said it Chinese. It usually surprises them.

Anyways, from what I've gathered, it's not really the word that's all bad, it's the people using it. Some people just want to be jerks, and since you're a foreigner, they use the word foreigner to be jerks to you. Seem's to have given the word a bad reputation.

Not sure if I'll ever get over the stigma of the word, may just ask people to use waiguoren.

P.S.

Most of the times it is kids that say it too me (my school is in an area in Beijing with relatively few foreigners).

It is not considered polite and I've even heard parents tell the kids so. I think it is a matter of ignorance for many people though and I don't really care. Like someone else said' date=' it is more about the attitude and feeling behind it.[/quote'] I do have one comment on this, so give weight to what I said above.

When walking down the road I encountered a mother and her child (very young). The child looked at me and said Waiguoren, kind of amazed. I don't really mind that. I've even noticed myself, after not really seeing other foreigners for so long take notice of other foreigners, although I don't announce it at the top of my lungs.

It's when children/teenagers/adults run up to you (or from where their standing) point, shout, and laugh waiguoren/laowai. That get's to me. That's what's I mean by people using the term negatively feeding the negative stigma it already has.

P.P.S. I know many adult aged Chinese people say their just excited to see a foreigner, but I don't buy that for a second. It's just being a jerk. And I especially believe it after my friend talked about this with a class of children he was teaching, and the children directly said "their laughing at you", which I side with. Sadly I see this kind of stuff too much. Mostly from Children and teenagers, but some adults to. It's just so detrimental to the country.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Long Zhiren
"bloke"

Wouldn't a better equivalent of that be 家伙?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
xichg

If you think Laowai is an insult and you are really bothered by it, it only means one thing: your Chinese is pretty bad and you don't know Chinese society/culture well enough.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
xichg

As a Chinese who use and hear 老外 on the daily basis, I think this is neutral or even positive word. It derives fromt he word 外国人. In chinese language you put the word 老 before the first character of a noun and you form another word. If you want to look into the meaning of 老外, you should look into the meaning of 外国人. I think most people would agree that it's a neutral word. In US people don't get offended by referred to as 'foreigner', because that's what they are. But words' meaning keep changing and developing. Now the usage of the word 老外 sort of is restricted to white people. And since most Chiense will associate positive things with white people (i know this statement might cause controversy or even outcry of racism, but this is true most of the time. One close African American friend told me that Chinese 'worship' white people), the word 老外 has some positive connotions. On a scale of 1 to 100 (50 is neutral), I would put it at about 75 or 80.

老黑 on the other hand has somewhat negative connotions. That's why I avoid using it in converations. It's supposed to be a neutral term as 老外, but also as 老外 it gains its 感情色彩 from the perception most Chinese have on Africa-origined people. You may want to ask how the Chinese people have these pre-conceptions since most of Chinese never meets a foreigner in their lifetime. I think those conceptions are from the movies, TV shows, books, etc. And most people in China think they know black people were discriminated in the west. This education is supposed to be a good thing but when being educated many Chinese people actually ACCEPT the stereotypes, and the discrimination against black people is imported to China. On the scale of 1 to 100, I would put this word at 40.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Long Zhiren
P.P.S. I know many adult aged Chinese people say their just excited to see a foreigner, but I don't buy that for a second.

This happens all over the world. For most cases, I think you have to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume goodwill.

I'm ethnically Chinese and born in Indiana many decades ago. I'm a native English speaker. Chinese is my third language. I still encounter Americans all over the US who say they're excited to see (me) a foreigner, when I'm not! They mean it too. They're just a bit slow.

Here's some of the favorite things that I've heard: "Your English is so good...I can barely hear your accent..." "...I still remember when President Nixon visited your people..." "...where are you from?..[indiana]....no, where are you really from?...[it's just off the coast of Manchuria.]...oh..."

On the flip-side, there's still plenty of flak, not so-well intentioned, from people even in the most so-called multicultural and diversified parts of the country like California. People trying to take advantage of me and wondering why I'm glaring at them... "...what? no you speakee English?..."

People are people...naturally jerks. You need to get better at recognizing when they don't intend to be jerks.

In Europe, nobody guesses that I'm American. They assume that I'm visiting from East Asia. I actually get treated with more respect than prototypical Americans get...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
赫杰
If you think Laowai is an insult and you are really bothered by it, it only means one thing: your Chinese is pretty bad and you don't know Chinese society/culture well enough.

I don’t think it means this at all, but I do think you are failing to put yourself in a foreigner’s shoes. Let's imagine that you go to America where many people call you a "chink" or even "foreigner" and points and laughs at you, and let's just say this happens on a daily basis. Not only this, let's say the people around you talk about you and how weird and different you look, just because they think you don't understand English. Would you feel very welcomed? Even if it was part of our (America's) culture to talk about people loudly, derogatorily, and in ear shot of the person being discussed, could you honestly say that you would not take it to heart? Could you just dismiss it, and forgive these people on a daily basis, even though you know people should not 以貌取人?

As a Chinese who use and hear 老外 on the daily basis, I think this is neutral or even positive word.

Here in 武汉, I once had a Chinese woman actually spit on me and say 该死的老外, while walking in the street, and for no apparent reason. And I am sure there are people on this forum who have experienced worse, so don't fucking tell me this is neutral or an even a positive word! And I never did anything wrong, I do nothing to these people to deserve this, so now when I walk in public, I just either hide behind a book and study, or just stare at the ground, cause I don't want to catch someone's eye and give them an excuse to say shit to me.

I agree with everyone else that it all depends on context, when me and a good friend here go play basketball together, someone will ask "who is on my team?" My friend will say him, him, and 老外, of course I am not offended in this situation.

Even though I have had some rough experiences with some Chinese here, I am definitely not going to say that all Chinese are bad, because that would be 一概而论.

HJ

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
xichg

Is it fair to equate 'chink' to 'laowai'? I think 'foreigner' is a better comparision than 'chink'.

And there is a huge difference between ‘该死的老外’and just '老外'.

It's just like 'foreigner' is a neutral word, but 'damn foreigners' is not neutral at all, but it's not the word 'foreigner''s fault.

You are not alone in having bad experiences. The other day I was walking on campus, and some girl walking behind me just shouted at me 'fucking Asians'. Should I blame the word 'Asian'?

As you said, it's all about context. And I still believe most people when they say 'laowai', they have no bad intention at all. And they are not trying to be jerks on you. It's more about surprise, curiosity and excitement. Of course you have every right to be bothered or annoyed, but the thuth remains that in most cases it is not used to insult you.

I grow up in a village and it's very rare to see an aeroplane. Let's say a group of kids were playing in the fields and somebody spotted a plane flying overhead. The kid who saw that plane would be extremely excited. He would shouted 'Feiji, feiji' while pointing his finger at the plane to draw other children's attention. And then other children will gazed at the plane until it became too small to be seen. Years later I still do that, saluting every passing plane and being amazed and excited by it.

It's also rare for many Chinese to see a real foreigner in real life. I think I can draw a parallel between my plane story and kids calling you guys 'laowai' on the street. It's not the best behavior, and you have every right to feel offended and annoyed, but the kids are not trying to be a jerk on you or trying to insult you. Just like when my childhood pals got excited and shouted when they saw a plane, the children here are also more excited, curisou than being mean, hateful. Unfortunately it won't be a pleasant experience for many foreigners in China. It will change when people are exposed to more foreigners. I was also excited to see foreigners when I went to college in Beijing although I didn't yell 'laowai' at them or followed them. I remembered how nervous and excited I was when I summoned courage to talk to a real foreigner in Zhengzhou Raiway station square years ago. He was a Canadian, an English teacher teaching in Qingdao. Luckily for me, he was very nice and very encouraging. I think my confidence would totally went away if he just shouted at me, 'no free english lesson for you. Now when i walk on the street, i don't look at laowais (except pretty hot girls) because they are everywhere. I do stare when i see Asians on the street now.

Anyway, that's my perspective on the 'laowai' or 'hello' issue you guys encouter everyday. I do know it won't be easy for many of you, and I don't deny it's annoying. But still it's important to be cool, understanding and forgiving. I know you won't like it, but you can try seeing it as part of Chinese culture, at least for now. That way you may find more positive feeling and less negative feeling. You life in China will be more enjoyable and rewarding. And you won't find the need to shout back '东亚病夫' (this is a very insulting word to Chinese) and get yourself in trouble.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
赫杰
Is it fair to equate 'chink' to 'laowai'? I think 'foreigner' is a better comparision.

I wrote:

or even "foreigner" and points and laughs at you

But yes I do believe it is fair to equate, because when someone calls me a 该死的老外, or the like, and considering it being said in such a hateful and menacing tone, the only thing that I can think of in America is the dumb asses who say something like, "You god damn/motha fucking chink" Yes, you could replace "foreigner" with "chink" and the meaning is still there, but because you are chinese, it is more insulting, and has more feeling.

The only reason I equated chink to laowai, was for my "what if" situation I presented to you and to allow you to put yourself in a foriegner's situation in china, I am not saying lao wai = chink. Similarly, if you were mexican, and was trying to make a similar point, I would have used spic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
xichg

However 'laowai' alone doesn't mean to insult. You have to put 'damned' before it to have insulting effect. For the word 'chink', it's insulting by itself. That's the difference between them. 'laowai' is neutral while 'chink' is not.

And how about other things I wrote in my post? I would like to hear your detailed analysis on them too, as what you did on the 'chink' = 'laowai' point.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
赫杰

I did not address the other things you wrote in your post, because the comment you had on chink and laowai was the only thing I saw when writing my reply, you then apparently edited your post...

But no matter, I will address the other points; I have been wanting to discuss this subject in English for a while, haha

However 'laowai' alone doesn't mean to insult. You have to put 'damned' before it to have insulting effect. For the word 'chink', it's insulting by itself. That's the difference between them. 'Laowai' is neutral while 'chink' is not.

I agree one hundred percent with you, laowai by itself does not mean an insult, unlike chink, and the difference lies therein. Again I will say I only equated them for the purpose of the scenario I created specially for you (being from china), but you are absolutely right, chink is a very bad translation of laowai.

Now I think we agreeing on one thing: this is relative, for it all depends on context, as you and I have both said, right? So yes, I take back my comment, and apologize to you, for saying that laowai is not neutral or positive.

However, because this is relative, this means that it can be what it wants to be for various people. All I wanted you to see is how it can be negative. Because in my experience, though I am not Chinese, and I have only been here for one year, the usage of laowai was being used mostly in the negative. Of course, to you it is something neutral or positive, I am sure you don't put cuss words in from of laowai and make fun of laowai, or even hang out with friends that do these kinds of things. No, you probably use it and view it in a positive and/or neutral sense. And again just to show how relative this term is to people, I used to bring news articles using the term laowai to my Chinese teachers, we would all agree that these articles and the tones of such articles were written in a somewhat disrespectful way to foreigners, furthermore, I had one teacher tell me how much she does not like the term laowai.

It's just like 'foreigner' is a neutral word, but 'damn foreigners' is not neutral at all, but it's not the word 'foreigner''s fault.

You are not alone in having bad experiences. The other day I was walking on campus, and some girl walking behind me just shouted at me 'fucking Asians'. Should I blame the word 'Asian'?

Well said. Im sorry you have to put up with that. Of course not, of course you should not blame the word 'Asian'. But as a side note, I know many 'Asians' that take offense to use of the word Asians, to me indicating its similar relativity.

Now allow me to create yet another scenario to help you understand why some foreigners feel like this: imagine a word similar to Asian in meaning, yet somewhat hard to define exactly, let's call it "asianite". And yes you hear someone say to you "Hey! Asianite! Fuck you man!", now imagine hearing that almost daily from lots of people, but then, for some reason, you also encounter daily the word "Asian" but in somewhat more respectful tone, then sometimes you encounter the word "asianite" in the media and newspaper, but with no cuss word attached to it, and even sometimes people calling out to you "Hey! Asianite!" just to get your attention.

I ask you, in this scenario, would "asianite" not sound negative to you, no matter what the context? And when people use "asianite" to call your name, would you not say to yourself. "The hell? Why not just say Asian? Why must you use this "asianite" name to call me out?"

Yes, you can then say to yourself: "o! perhaps this is an instance where "asianite" is not negative" BUT, then you say to yourself: "This does not make sense, up to now, I have seen "asianite" almost entirely in the negative and have seen it a lot, surely the person calling me this name must know that I may find it offensive? Is it so hard to just use "Asian" instead?"

so you see, if you substitute "laowai" for "asianite" and "waiguoren" for "Asian", this is a train of thought a "laowai" might have in china, thus to me "hello" does not equal "laowai." again, this why I gave you the laowai and chink comparison (even though chink is a terrible translation of laowai), because I bet you would be more pissed off if someone said to you "fuck you chink" instead of "fuck you Asian", similarly, I would be more pissed off if someone said to me "fuck you laowai" instead of "fuck you waiguoren"

I think I can draw a parallel between my plane story and kids calling you guys 'laowai' on the street. It's not the best behavior, and you have every right to feel offended and annoyed, but the kids are not trying to be a jerk on you or trying to insult you

Yes, again well said, you think such behavior would stop after being a kid, no? Again, thank you for your understanding and admitting it's not the best behavior. I know the Chinese are not trying to be insulting when acting like this, but of course I find it insulting because I am not a "plane in the sky", but a human with feelings. I guess I am just finding it hard getting used to be treated like an object, and finding it hard to believe many Chinese do not consider these feelings. But you know what? Again this is all relative, I have no idea how I would act if after 22 years I saw a black person for the first time. Who is to say how I would react?

Anyway I completely agree with you again, this will be much better as china becomes more open to the world and to foreigners. So yeah for now I will continue to just try to make the best of it.

HJ

ps I think I might send you a pm later about Chinese talking in front of foreigners about them, and why they do this. Ok? Since that it is not really discussing the connotation of laowai.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
mr.stinky

i don't see it as insulting or degrading. i've been led to understand laowai simply means

furr'ner, including other asians. yes, it gets annoying that they stare and point and yell

hello, but what the hell, they're just chinese, right?

when the kids point and yell waiguoren, i just point at them and yell zhongguoren. when

they say laowai i take the opportunity to correct their pronunciation....especially the

older guys. (in km it comes out as louwei) tell 'em their accent is terrible, draw the

characters on their palm, and teach them the proper tones.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Qcash3
I know the Chinese are not trying to be insulting when acting like this, but of course I find it insulting because I am not a "plane in the sky", but a human with feelings. I guess I am just finding it hard getting used to be treated like an object, and finding it hard to believe many Chinese do not consider these feelings.

I think that this is really the underlying issue. I really don't belive it is the use of the word 'Laowai' as much as the feeling of being objectified. It is generally hurtful to have anyone talk about you behind you back, but it is even more hurtful when someone is talking about you as if you were a stray dog. To my knowledge I was never referred to as 'Laowai' when in China, but I did have to get used to people talking about me as if I couldn't hear them, wondering if I was from Africa or not....: The reason behind this was because they probably assumed that I couln't understand what was being said, but never the less it was rude. While for the most part all the attention that was payed to me was driven by curiosity and not spite, after a while it did become tiresome when people stopped whatever they were doing and started whispering about the black kid walking down the street. I understand that it is exciting to see a foreigner walking down the street, but by no means does that make it OK to make the foreigner feel like the big red plane overhead.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
LFCLOUDS

I used to hear the term every day about 5 - 10 times, on a really bad day it could have been as much as 50.

It totally depends on who's saying it and how their saying it.

Its most often out of harmless surprise, but can occasionally be pretty vitriol saturated.

Have only heard it once since I came to Beijing in Feb, and that while I was cycling and I wasnt really even in Beijing.

( it was harmless BTW)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
md1101

i once saw a foreigner in china with a t-shirt where the front said "老外来了“

and the back said "老外走了“ :mrgreen:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Hero Doug
This happens all over the world. For most cases' date=' I think you have to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume goodwill.

I'm ethnically Chinese and born in Indiana many decades ago. I'm a native English speaker. Chinese is my third language. I still encounter Americans all over the US who say they're excited to see (me) a foreigner, when I'm not! They mean it too. They're just a bit slow.[/quote']

I give benefit of the doubt to people who do something innocent such as giggle, but I guess I just have the habit of putting my self in the shoes of others (The golden rule). I'd never point, laugh, or try to start a 3 sentence dialogue with someone who has already passed me by condensendingly shouting foreigner or hello because I think it would be rude to do so.

Here in 武汉, I once had a Chinese woman actually spit on me and say 该死的老外, while walking in the street, and for no apparent reason.
That's one of the worst I've heard of yet. Sorry to hear.
I grow up in a village and it's very rare to see an aeroplane. Let's say a group of kids were playing in the fields and somebody spotted a plane flying overhead. The kid who saw that plane would be extremely excited. He would shouted 'Feiji, feiji' while pointing his finger at the plane to draw other children's attention. And then other children will gazed at the plane until it became too small to be seen. Years later I still do that, saluting every passing plane and being amazed and excited by it.
Did you laugh at the plane? :wink:

Not sure there's much left to be said, seem's to have been summed up. Thanks for the feedback.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
imron
i once saw a foreigner in china with a t-shirt where the front said "老外来了“

and the back said "老外走了“

Haha, I have that t-shirt :mrgreen: but you can't wear it in China. If you think the random "hello" and "laowai" is bad, it's like a billion times worse if you wear that t-shirt in public. After the first time I wore it, I got so sick of the extra attention and then explaining that yes I understood what it meant, and that if they found the front of the shirt funny, wait until they saw the back, that I've not really worn it much since.

I've got another one that says "没有钱" that I usually only wear when going to a market or something. It's an instant ice-breaker with any merchant and the novelty of a Chinese speaking laowai wearing this sort of t-shirt sets you up pretty good for getting rock-bottom prices.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
mrtoga

My tuppence worth.......

In my office we often get foreigners calling us. The Chinese staff that answer (they are bilingual) will refer to them as 老外 when talking amongst themselves after hanging up the phone. I would say it is very synonymous with "bloke" in English but less gender specific.

Seems to me it is a term that indicates familiarity and / or informality. Therefore in certain circumstances it can be construed as being a little rude, but when I go for a stroll through the market it bothers me not in the least. It is a very descriptive word and in the Chinese mind it is associated with someone who speaks very poor or no Chinese. They are therefore shocked and amazed when a 老外 replies in understandable Chinese (especially the little kids).

I do not appreciate 外国朋友. In my experience this has been used either by people that want to separate me from my money, or by acquaintances that cannot be bothered to remember my real name. If it is a tradesman I immediately move on. If an acquaintance I do not stoop to entitling them 中国朋友 but make a point of addressing them by name.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
roddy
I do not appreciate 外国朋友. In my experience this has been used either by people that want to separate me from my money, or by acquaintances that cannot be bothered to remember my real name.

Oh yes. It's one of my pet hates. Being suddenly promoted to 'friend' by someone who can't be any more specific about your nationality than 'well, he ain't Chinese, so I guess he's foreign.' I can just about bear it when it's used to refer to foreigners in general, but when it's used to refer to me specifically it never bodes well - almost always used by people who make a very nice living by charging 'foreign friends' the 'foreign friend price', pointless 'leaders' who are delighted to have some foreigners sitting at their table but see no reason to bother with inconveniences such as names, and college students who 'want to help you understand Chinese culture' - specifically, the 'get one over on your English teacher by getting a foreigner to say the answers in the book are wrong' aspect of it.

Can be worse though. A few years ago I was accosted by some woman who wanted my phone number because she was looking for a 小朋友 to learn English from. Tragically, I got the last two numbers mixed up and never heard from her again.

Roddy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...