Snobs in China
18 Oct 2005
When I lived in Hangzhou, the “snobs” were the foreigners that lived in Shanghai and thought it was so great.
After I moved to Shanghai, the “snobs” became the foreigners in Shanghai that didn’t learn any Chinese and spent all their time and money in Western over-priced restuarants and bars.
Carl helped me realize how “snobby” I can be, towards foreigners that spend a lot of time in the bar scene (some actually are cool). They’re not all assholes.
There are so many kinds of snobs, really. (Maybe it cheapens the term to apply it so liberally, but who cares?) When I still lived in the US the ones that annoyed me the most were the music snobs. Here in China (and especially in Shanghai), there are so many other kinds of snobs to be found in the expat community…
– There are the “Real China snobs”. Their experience in China is the real one, in some part of China that the snob deems respectably “rough.” This type of snob holds nothing but contempt for the expats in Shanghai. The funny thing, is, you can find this type of snob in Hangzhou. (Life in Hangzhou is anything but “roughing it.”)
– There are the “Chinese study snobs”. They’re usually bookish and don’t openly show contempt. But they might mention that they don’t hang out with foreigners.
– There are the “I speak Chinese snobs”. They speak at least basic Chinese, and unlike the “Chinese study” snobs they do hang out with foreigners, mostly because they’re always trying to impress them with their Chinese skills. Their snobbery is only half-hearted, because they love to be needed by those without the Chinese skills. They limit their contempt for the Chinese-unequipped to occasional snide remarks.
– There are the “I am so 老百姓 snobs”. These are the opposite of the traditional snobs. They arrive in China and move right into the slums to live with their Chinese “brethren.” They get 5 rmb haircuts and eat 5-10 rmb meals, exclusively Chinese. They usually don’t show a lot of contempt for those who want normal conveniences, but neither do they recognize the absurdity of their own actions. This kind of snob is specific to big cities, but is otherwise basically the same as the “Real China” snob.
I am guessing that some of my readers find me writing about this ironic, as on more than one occasion I have been accused of being one of these types. So here’s where I’ll get honest.
I was certainly never hardcore about it, but I did feel the “Real China snob” in me resisting the move to Shanghai. I lived out my “Real China” snob fantasies in my first year in Hangzhou and when I traveled in my first 2-3 years in China.
I was sort of a “Chinese study snob” my first year in China, but that was mostly because I was poor and didn’t really know any other foreigners. I’ll admit that I am still somewhat bewildered (frustrated? shamed? saddened?) by foreigners who live in Shanghai long-term and don’t make a real effort to learn the language. I’m not sure if that makes me a snob.
Despite the occasional accusation, I don’t think I am a “I speak Chinese snob,” although certain friends of mine might say I have definitely exhibited symptoms. (It was tough love, I swear!) But yes, I speak Chinese, and not badly. If you want to label me a snob for that, have fun.
I am not a “I am so 老百姓 snob,” but I think I know a few people who exhibit symptoms.
So… how many kinds of snobs did I miss? What kind of snob are you?