Snobs in China

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?

Marilyn Monroe Five Drops No 5″ 1955

John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Da Xiangchang Says: October 18, 2005 at 9:21 am

    You’re missing the most prevalent snob in China. The I’m-better-than-the-Chinese-cuz-I’m-Western snob. Very few Westerners escape this snobbery, though I got to admit, from my observations, you’re one of these few, John!

  2. “I’m not an English teacher” snobs.

    “I regularly update my China blog” snobs. I am so not one of those!

    “My Chinese girlfriend is prettier/younger than yours” snobs. The female equivalent would be, “I have a Chinese boyfriend” snobs.

    “I can cook authentic Chinese food” snobs. I’ve never actually met one, but my goal is to one day become the first.

    Are there any “I like baijiu” snobs? A lot of foreigners regard the stuff as a foul poison to be scorned and ridiculed, but if you’re drinking in Chinese style (ie. sculling, and to excess) then it’s kinder on your stomach and bladder than beer.

    I was a music snob, but I’m dying in China (for lack of artistic nourishment). The last vestages of my snobbery are that I make a face if I hear “Mice Love Rice”, and I refuse to learn how to sing “Yesterday Once More”. I sometimes find myself humming “The Moon Represents My Heart” though, which may be the beginning of the end for me.

    Finally, the reason I eat cheap food or cook myself is that I have no money. And the reason I pay 3 rmb for my haircuts is that I’ve never given a damn what my hair looks like, and I’m fond of that particular hairdresser.

  3. Todd,

    “I’m not an English teacher” snobs.

    Ouch! (OK, obviously, I saw that coming.) To be more truthful, though, I would have to be a “someday I won’t be an English teacher” snob, because I still am an English teacher (moreso now than a few months ago). I’m not sure that works.

  4. well, I didn’t get a haircut but I did eat 5-10 rmb meals – they were good honest! but mostly because I was on a tight budget.

    so I guess that makes me a poor snob 🙂

  5. well I study in Harbin, and while I really don’t consider it “roughing it,” (on the other hand my friend studying in Lanzhou is) it is deff not one of China’s “international cities.” I guess some times I’m a real China snob, most of the time I am study snob, because there is really nothing else to do in Harbin besides hit the disco’s and listen to MC Hammer dubbed over in russian or stroll around looking at delapidated and overrated russian buildings. Im also a 老百姓 snob over here because its hard to find expensive things in Harbin without simply laughing at them beacuse in Harbin you can live comfortably on 33 kuai a day. Ok I really am a cheap ass student, but when I go to Beijing I blow $200 american in a weekend. So I really am glad I am stuck up here.

  6. I’m becoming more and more a “I’m so 老百姓” snob, but my wife actually is a 老百姓 and she’s forcing me, so it’s not really my fault. I long to become a “I speak Chinese” snob, but I’ve still got months and years of “I study Chinese” snobbery to go before I get there.

    I agree that I’m bewildered by people who live in China (or any country, really) that don’t make an effort to learn the language. I would just feel so unattached not understanding anything that’s going on around me. But maybe that’s just me.

  7. How about the self-deprecating and delusional snob:

    I am a worthless, loathsome piece of rubbish, want western friends but they all justifiably hate me, don’t want Chinese friends but they all unjustifiably love me, like Baijiu and Chinese cigarettes, hate Chinese food especially Jiaozi, but can use chopsticks in either hand….yes, I am a pitiful cretin and don’t know why I bother getting up in the morning to read Sinosplice and recite the Analects of Confucius, but I am still better than you (and Confucius for that matter)!!!

    Hmmm, could such snobbery traits merely be a question of gradual assimilation?

  8. Being on the ‘outside’ now for a little while, I find it pretty funny that Shanghai is not considered ‘real’ China. Ditto for Hangzhou. When I was living there, I as well always thought of the Chang Jiang Delta region as ‘China Light’ (well, except for the air quality..ooph). When I went back last April while living in London, however, I just couldn’t get over how ‘Chinese’ Shanghai really is. It’s huge. It’s dirty. It’s overcrowded. It’s crazy. It’s bustling. It’s a whole lot of show and even a little substance. It’s too big. It’s Too tall. It’s unabashedly in your face, with no apologies. It’s too polluted. It’s too exciting. It’s too gridlocked. It’s completely out of control. Hmm, yep…sounds like China to me! Those ‘real China’ snobs are still searching for that mythical ‘authentic’ town populated solely by people in Mao suits. I’ve seen my fair share of Chinese towns, but I’ve mostly found drunk officials hotboxing their Santanas with noxious smokes after lunchtime baijiu benders. They should stick that on the cover of Lonely Planet.

    John, I think you forgot the “I left China but can’t get it out of my head” snob.

  9. I agree with DXC, there are so many foreigners who show such arrogance. If there’s a problem with miscommunication it’s always the chinese person’s fault because their english isn’t good enough. Or “If China wants to be like America they have to learn how to treat people” (actual quote). But I think this form of snob meshes well with the I-live-here-but-refuse-to-learn-chinese.

  10. what about when the problem with miscommunication is because the chinese person doesn’t know ‘chinese’ well enough? I don’t speak so great but my brother, well he’s been told dozens of times by farmers and people on the street all over china that his chinese is better than theirs is.
    I don’t buy that the ‘I’m better than you because I’m a westerner’ snob is as prevelent or insidious as supposed. and where it does crop up, who is anyone to say it isn’t 100% natural and also kind of unhealthy NOT to feel? as if a Chinese person living in America would never feel that way… or even a Turkish person living in Austria. or a Ukranian living in Beunos Ares?
    not understanding and allowing for these natural human tendancies is just as snobby as having them.
    I will say there is a point where more maturity is definitely expected from an expat, and there are those who pass that point with eyes closed and hands over their ears.

  11. but I also realize 2 things: as John has made clear, this is not a soapbox of any kind.
    and secondly, the list of snobberies is literally endless, ad nauseum.

    ‘you’re an I’m better than you because I’m westernern snob’
    ‘well you’re an anti-I’m better than you because I’m a westerner snob snob’
    ‘oh but you’re an anti-anti-I’m better than you because I’m a westernerner snob snob snob!’

    haha funny looking… but appropriate along the lines of this discussion.
    maybe what I was trying to get at is that… everyone is some kind of snob, but the more you can look past things ABOUT people and just consider everyone as a person first and before all else, the less of a snob you will be. I am not a ‘right-handed person’ but a person with common human nature with everyone else, who is right handed.

    then again, this gets back to the Platonic/Aristotelian debate. do you HAVE a body? or ARE you a body? not even to mention the implications of ‘evolution’ upon the concept of human nature. whew! sorry, not going to put up the soap box. my mind works like this at this time of night

  12. I’ve been three of those kinds of snob at some time, and I’m now an “I’m over China snob”. Just as everyone else seems to be getting China fever, I’ve become completely skeptical about the place and its 3000 year old culture. On my first few trips home I used to drink Chinese tea and insist on using chopsticks at local Chinese restaurants. Now I sometimes give my Chinese guests a knife and fork and expressing surprise when the “waiguoren” can use them. So it’s a kind of I-remember-when-I used- to-think-China-was-cool snobbery.

  13. Dalian Dragon Says: October 18, 2005 at 4:09 pm

    I have to definitely admit…about 90% of the time, I’m a “China Sucks because it’s not America.”, and ” ‘Developing’ my hairy butt! China STILL sucks!” kind of snob. This is REALLY a detriment to my life right now, because my wife is Chinese and she’s just tired of hearing it.

    I’m working REALLY hard to get a couple of businesses off the ground so that I can be a “I’m not a “外教“ snob” (although, I’d probably slip into the “rich foreigner” snobbery).

    Also, that way I can make enough money to travel back to America every 6 months or so. I think, that way, I can appreciate China for what it is instead of focusing on what it’s not (therefore leaving the “China sucks!” snobbery behind).

    However, I may, one day, grow into the “I am soooooo Chinese (knowledgeable about Chinese life and culture while retaining my own individuality) because my wife is Chinese.” snob life.


  14. Personally, I am definitely a ‘yes, I am obsessed with China and yet I couldn’t care less about T1bet’ snob. Am I correct in thinking that’s pretty rare?

    I am also a ‘I have been in China for years but I have not been to either Shaolin or Guilin or Pingyao or any of the other most egregious tourist traps’ snob. Of those there are definitely more.

  15. This is funny! I didn’t know there was such a whatever-snob community in Shanghai when I was there 5.2 years ago. I cannot wait to see what Shanghai looks like now after all these years.

  16. I fall in with Tuur in the “I’ve lived in China for a while but haven’t seen the places we’re supposed to seel” snob. In my case, my lack of travel stems from the fact that I’m also a “foreigner who works his butt off to buy expensive Western electronics while living in China” snob, which is great nonsense, economically-speaking.

    Here’s a snob you may have missed — though you might argue that he fits into one of the snob archetypes — the “I’m so Chinese that I go overboard in adopting Chinese beliefs and prejudices” snob, who spends his time telling Chinese friends that Japan really is the source of evil in the world and that China should go ahead and invade Taiwan, and that the Dalai Lama had it coming…

  17. It may be more worthwhile. and accurate, to let others comment on what type of China snob I am; one I will admit to however, along with Tuur, is the “yes, I am obsessed with China and yet I couldn’t care less about T1bet”.

  18. Da Xiangchang Says: October 18, 2005 at 11:05 pm

    Prince Roy,

    I’ll add to your snobbery. I’m the “yes, I’m interested China snob but could care less about Tibet and Xinjiang” snob. Haha.


    Great points. And I HATE it when some guy goes, “Shanghai’s nice, but it’s not the real China.” This is the STUPIDEST comment in the world since there’s no “real” China. Like which is the “real” America–New York or some redneck town in Arkansas? They’re both America.

  19. Here’s a few:

    Cuisine Snob… makes a big deal out of how they only eat Chinese food and know everything about it (pizza? in china? never!!!)

    Street Food Snob… shows off their iron stomach by only going to the dirtiest street food stalls (smells like stinky tofu)

    Western Brand Snob… only drinks real Coke and will never touch the Chinese stuff

    Won’t speak English to Chinese People Snob… wants to speak Chinese with Chinese people but refuses to speak to them in English when they wanna learn English

    Sitter Toilet Snob… refuses to squat and seeks out fancy western hotel lobbies to make his deposits in (Wheres the Ritz?)

    Snob Snob… makes fun of snobs and categorizes people according to the level or type of snobbery

  20. And no-snob snob: those who don’t fall into any categories list above.

    so everyone is a some-kinda snob

  21. People might think I’m “I am so 老百姓 snob”. HOWEVER, I’m completely like that wherever I am, especially the USA. I might not understand why waiguorens buy lots of electronics, install cable TV, always use the taxi and buy stacks of DVDs daily, but I’m even more baffled by my friends in the US. I only wish I could get a 5 RMB haircut here, but I admit I’m the rare person who found a 5 RMB barber that could do something decent to my hair. It was horrible before I found her, I’d go in and have my hair mutilated and even it up the best I could myself.

    I’m also “yes, I am obsessed with China and yet I couldn’t care less about T1bet”.

    Mike, do you think the Chinese cola is drinkable? There’s a reason to stick with Coke.

  22. AD… I’m a Coke snob even in the US… though Dr. Pepper is in a different league… Future Cola is drinkable.

  23. I’ve been one of those snobs at least once, and maybe all of them at the same time if that’s even possible.

  24. After only two years here, I continue to be the “I’m still dumber than a wilted house plant when it comes to anything Chinese snob.”

  25. The nicest thing about living in Ningbo is the utter lack of snobbery. Every foreigner (and I mean every single one that I know, and I know a lot) is laid-back and cool. It’s like the Garden of Eden here. The reason is due to the lack of “true expats”. Yaknow, the guys who get transferred, and demand a Western house so his wife can bake cookies, etc. It doesn’t help that corporate executive types tend to be assholes in the first place. The businessmen here are hard-charging bare-fisted independent capitalist types.

    My snobbery is of the “I’m not a snob” type, and the “I’ve lived in a not-too-large city for a year and a half, so I know everywhere and everybody” type. Of course, I’m not a snob about it.

  26. My take on ‘snobbery’
    life is about snobbery.. Us vs Them.. nationalism, fundamentalist religion etc are built on creating artificial divisions between humans, who are all the same underneath the ‘flesh’ we think of as human..

    e.g. even if we evolve into 8 legged octopus like creatures in the future, if we still think in a similar manner (i.e. human) we would still be humans … I read a really good sci-fi book about the end of the world once where humans devolved .. can’t remember the name.. they were still ‘human’ but not as we know it..

    That’s one reason why Zen Buddhism appeals to me – the Middle Path. People are imperfect. Fact of life. Sad but true. 😉

    Everyone has the potential to do good or evil in the future so we shouldn’t judge them on their previous acts or current lifestyle…

    Then again, I have mixed feelings about capital punishment..

  27. “Won’t speak English to Chinese People Snob… wants to speak Chinese with Chinese people but refuses to speak to them in English when they wanna learn English”

    I do contest this one! I think such people should be commended for standing up for themselves, not considered snobs. Quick test: Do a survey of all the yellow skins on given US uni campus, say “How many times has someone FORCED themselves on you — not taking no for an answer, to speak your native lang. with’em ?” “0”; “How many times has someone even tried to say a word in your language to you in US ?” “Maybe 2 or 3 time I heard word ‘hello’.” Now, put on white skin and caucasion face, go to China one day, and prepare to be made an English whore. If there is such a thing as “human rights” the most basic should be — to be addressed in the lingua franca of the land you are in.

  28. Justin,

    you’re wrong; you run into the same situation in the US, but the shoe is on the other foot, i.e. Chinese who “Won’t Speak Chinese to American People Snob”. I’ve personally encountered it on several occasions. What’s more bizarre is that even in China, but more so in Taiwan, you will run into a home-grown variant of this snob, who won’t deign speak their own native language with you, even if their grasp of English is far worse than your Chinese. There are enough snobs to go around I guess.

  29. Ok here is a new one. The “I am not a student, I am interning in China” snob. This snob tends to come from an afluent background, knows some basic Chinese, perhaps studied it back home in Australia, U.S. Britiain, etc. wants to give their expertise to China, was an over achiever back home, thinks going to China is an investment in the future, eats Chinese but isn’t afraid to go out and spend 30 bucks on drinks at a laowai bar. This snob immediately differentiates him/herself from English teachers and students, because an intern is kind of working in kind of a real job. This snob has pangs of inferiority because A) they are privleged and don’t need to work to live in China, and B) Aren’t really doing anything for anyone, becuase their internship is a bunch of garbage coffee fetching or internet research.

    Oh it should be said that I am now the founder of the “I am doing an internship” snob rehabilitation program, if you need help stop by my blog, where you can become a “I am a Chinese blogger” snob.

  30. Hey, Prince Roy! I checked out your page and realized you were my Chinese TA at CU 8 in 1997! Oh, how I wish I’d studied more when I was there…

    Anyway, while at CU (the University of Colorado), I had a couple of Japanese friends who were just the type of “snob” we’re talking about. While in America, they refused to use any Japanese at all (except to LE with American students). When other Japanese students tried to talk to them in Japanese, those two would just pretend they didn’t understand. It was funny though, because their English wasn’t that good. This would be a typical exhange outside a campus dining hall:

    Normal Japanese Exchange student: おーす! ここに住んでるん’すか?  
    (Hey, do you live here?)

    “Solley. Comu Againu?”

    Normal Japanese Student:
    何言うとんねん! 何であねに日本語を使わへん? 可笑しいおまえわ!
    (WTF!!? Why the heck won’t you use Japanese!? Weirdo.)

    Snob: “Excusu me. I speeku Engleeshi.” (and goes into the dining hall)

    Sadly enough at the end of the year, the two snob students didn’t really seem to improve that much. The strangest thing is I found myself feeling like doing some of the same things in my first year in Taiwan. While I never told other foreigners I couldn’t speak English, I have to admit that a few times I’ve felt tempted to pretend to be a Spanish speaker just to get Taiwanese people to give up on answering my Chinese in English.

    So, I guess I’m a “I won’t use my mother-tounge snob wanna be”.

  31. Justin – I think it’s like comparing apples and oranges a bit – different cultures, and different population make up.. We don’t bat an eyelid here in Oz when we see an Asian person on the street ..

    The best way to avoid the annoying “Hello laowai .. : giggle :” is to wear a big pair of headphones I found – even if you’re not listening to anything .. 😉

  32. parasite(Justin) Says: October 20, 2005 at 10:16 pm

    Prince Roy, think you have it backwards though — the OPPOSITE of what I said, would be Americans who were unwilling to speak English with Chinese people who are in America. Basically it would mean you are going up to Chinese looking folks around town, and insisting that they speak to you — and speak to you in Chinese, possibly pretending that you don’t understand if they try to respond in English. I don’t think you can find a Chinese person who has had this experience in the US — so they likely don’t understand what it feels like when they do it to us in China. One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of folks in Asia seem to think I will be happy or pleased to hear English — they need to stop a second and think how infuriated they would be if they heard Chinese in USA. Then they will understand…
    (Another guy posting as “Justin”, so I’m parasite.)

  33. parasite(Justin),

    I definitely agree with you on this issue. In fact, I wrote a blog entry about this very topic a while back:

    English only, please — this is China

    Wait a minute… I see that comment #4 is by “Justin.” Was that you??

  34. Funny thing is, among those Chinese living in US, you also find all such snobs…

  35. A thought just struck me belatedly: there is of course also the ‘I was in China during SARS and did not panick’ snob.

    Guilty as charged, your honour.

  36. Good point tuur, I’m one of those SARS snobs too.

  37. […] Recently, my friend John Pasden wrote about “Snobs in China,” outlining his view of different foreign “snobs” that live here. Yesterday Micah wrote that he was part of the inspiration for John’s “I’m so 老百姓” snob and defended his position, to which John responded early this morning. In lieu of a long comment posted elsewhere, my take on this question (and the idea of foreigners getting privileged treatment in China) follows. […]

  38. To parasite(Justin):

    “they need to stop a second and think how infuriated they would be if they heard Chinese in USA.”

    Infuriated? Trust me, the (recently-immigrated) Chinese I know in the States would fucking love it if everyone spoke Mandarin to them every day. Then they wouldn’t have to deal with some foreign language with insanely complicated grammar rules that they have to butcher when they want to get a simple point across.

  39. You forgot the other snob – one that I often find myself being. The “Shanghai was so much better 5 years ago snob”. Interestingly, when I first arrived in 1997 -notice how I subtly drop that date in to affirm my credentials – that snob already existed. And I found myself pandering to that snobbery by saying inane things such as “Wow, getting around Shanghai when there were no Taxis must have been fascinating” etc.

    Then again, I still hold that 98-99 Shanghai was THE BEST period to be a foreigner, interested in China but not necessarily in being Chinese, in Shanghai. But then again the amount of alcohol I imbibied during that period could have something to do with it.

    This snobbery goes hand in hand with the “If you’ve been here less than a year I’m not going to spend much time with you” which many of my friends fall into.

    Think of it as us being those grizzled veterans in a war movie who refuse to speak with the new recruits because:
    – what you say is too damn naive or obvious
    – we’re sick of being told about “China” and “the Chinese’ because hell we’ve finally realised that we’ll only ever understand bits of it
    – what you’re doing now we’ve already done
    – we’re sick of making friends with people who are going to dissapear anyway in the next year or so.

    You can also see this snobbery become apparent when two “old timers” meet up and start grilling each other on who they knew “back in the day”.

    Then again, we’re rarely out and only hang out amongst ourselves so you never will meet us.

  40. one more. the “i am an ABC and SOO much better than just plain old white westerner” snob
    also, the “i am an ABC and can actually speak fluent mandarin, you hilfiger wearing banana” snob.

  41. People insisting on speaking in English to me when they’re understanding my Chinese drives me insane. It is the ultimate proof that the base reason for the conversation is English practice, not communication with me. We’re in China! Also when I’m on my own or chatting somewhere with a foreign friend and someone comes up and asks (I quote, many times): ‘Hello, you’re very beautiful, can I be your friend so I can practice my English?’ Argggggh
    It’s not snobbery, it’s clinging to sanity

  42. Damnit – someone’s already used “I’m not a snob” snob and then right at the last minute Maggie D’s pinched “I’m sick to the back teeth of pitifully transparent attempts to ‘befriend’ me” snob.
    Has anyone had “Actually China’s not going to make it after all” snob?
    I think I’m all of the above.

  43. what about the ‘dialect snob’? it’s the ultimate ‘i speak chinese snob’… they even look down upon laowai with perfect putonghua and waidi Chinese that can’t speak the local dialect.

    there’s also the ‘i’m not a snob’ snob, that thinks they’re better than all the snobs because they’re not a snob.

    personally, i’m of the ‘my tapeworm is longer than yours’ snob variety

  44. i guess my ‘i’m not a snob’ snob comment proves that i was too much of a snob to read all the comments down to the bottom.

  45. I live in Japan, I love Shanghai circa 2004, what sort of snob am I ?

  46. PaulinHarbin Says: February 6, 2006 at 8:59 pm

    “I was in Harbin during the water crisis and did not run to beijing – ooh, look at me, I’m so tough and cool and can take disasters head-on and I live in minus 40C and I have a cool green military coat and laugh at all southern expats because I’m learning real putonghua and I can say zdraswojcie to the chinese who mistake me for a russian and I’m generally the coolest guy I know and i went to the snow town and skiied (how the hell do you spell that word?) while all you people in the south are boiling in your appartments” kind of snob. And yeah, thing here are cheap so a 5 quai snob too.
    Cheers, Paul

  47. You mean Yabuli? It’s artificial snow, right? I can’t imagine there being enough snow for skiing anywhere that close to Harbin.

  48. PaulinHarbin Says: February 13, 2006 at 3:47 pm

    Hey, no, the Snow Town National Forest Park which has 6 feet of snow in the shoveled places. Yabuli is also ok, been there, but in early december – not too much snow (got better in january I was told).
    Cheers, Paul

  49. Travis @ Shenyang Says: May 18, 2006 at 12:27 am

    “Won’t speak English to Chinese People Snob… wants to speak Chinese with Chinese people but refuses to speak to them in English when they wanna learn English”

    In my defence I would like to say, as I do fit into this category, that I am staying in Shenyang for 6 months to visit my missus’ family and I am not teaching English here. I have brought enough my to subsist on for the duration of my stay here. And if anything I have returned here to improve my Chinese and enjoy myself.

    I have never taught English and don’t really desire to. So having parents send their children over to me in restaurants and shopping centres to talk to me is a bit annoying, as I don’t won’t to be thought of as an English teacher, or even worse, an American. Foreigners are a rarity here, I can’t speak of Shanghai/Beijing etc. as I have never spent any time there. But here I have always felt very much display when outside running errands or doing food-shopping. Sometimes I get so sick of hearing “Hello” followed by “ni shi nar guo de jia?” that I sometimes reply with “Really, is that so?” or “No thankyou, I’ve already got one.” just to confuse them.

    The other day a women asked me something and then said “ah, ni shi waiguoren ma” (你是外国人马?) I responded quite rudely by saying 谢谢你说的…我不知道我是外国人!. (Thank you for saying that. I didn’t know I was a foreigner.)

  50. “My Chinese girlfriend is prettier/younger than yours” snobs.

    Already the phrase “my chinese girlfriend” coming out of a white guy’s mouth has the widespread implications of asian fetishism/paedophilia, which make ordinary people uncomfortable. But someone being proud of this? Must be what years of living in china and being surrounded by a bunch of other yellow-fevers do to them. Well enjoy the safe heaven before facing the real world (after months of visa-application processes!)

  51. heilong Says: May 21, 2006 at 1:57 am

    Im sick to death of all these wai guo ren snobs living in the lap of luxury that is Shan hai or hang zhou, these places are totally westernised comparied to other parts of china, all the lao wai go to these place and have done for years, boo hoo to you, how dare you complain about why its not western enough. Shang hai was shaped by the west, you can get almost any thing you want there. I guess im the kind of snob who avoids any part of china that is considered a tourist spot. why not live like the chinese, live cheap, buy cheap and enjoy life.

  52. Reading this blog made me feel like I’m in high school again. It’s funny stuff, but lighten up! We’re all here for different reasons, have different expections, and have different points of views. All this judging-it makes me as frustrated, shamed, and saddened as you probably feel about me. I have been working 2 jobs in Shanghai for the past year and just recently, within the last 3 months, I felt ready to try to learn the language (TRYING is the key word). I wonder if I am some sort of snob and didn’t even know it. Here I am thinkin I was just a nice human. THanks for the insight.

  53. Pretty funny stuff. Foreigners in China are the total opposite of a band of brothers. What’s lame and ridiculous is how no one will say hi to another foreigner on the street. I have better China creds than most but I always make a point to say hi. WTF? We’re both hanging out in a weird foreign country, why wouldn’t we say hi? And, even if you don’t want to say hi on the basis that “why should I say hi to you and not every Chinese person on the street,” you should at least say hi back. So here’s my form of anti-snobbishness: I think people who can’t deal with other foreigners in China, cause I’m the only one who could possibly be on this amazing trip of discovery & adventure and you are diminishing my specialness….well, those people suck and are damaged. Just be cool to people. Man.

  54. I suppose several of these can be condensed into the China Hand snob, and then the Wannabe China Hand snob. The former will berate people for not having read the complete works of Lu Xun or not knowing the location of every bumblefuck village in China. The latter has been in China a few months or years and that has yet to shake their pre-arrival confidence that they completely understand China. These two groups don’t seem to mingle well.

  55. after I spent sth like 8 yrs in the us, I find it difficult to live in Beijing again. MIddle-aged women are particularly difficult to dealt with. I don’t know if this is a chinese characteristic or a menopausal symptom.

  56. Professor Loco Says: August 12, 2006 at 3:37 am

    Has anyone seen the I am so 老百姓 snobs wearing Che t-shirts?

  57. Personally I don’t agree with John about the so called ‘snob issue.’ I believe there are just subtle culture differences and every individual lives out their culture in their own way. For example one chinese local might find it too strange to befriend a foreigner while another will be excited and will want to show you around. The bottom line is, everyone is different, I don’t believe anyone should be judged and put in a particular ‘snob’ categorie; that applies to white and chinese.

  58. I’m a “I hate all you guys in China because I stink at Chinese and married to a Chinese wife in the States” insecure snob. But I listen to Pray for me.

  59. Hi Bart,

    It hasn’t always been so with people not saying hi to each other on the street – when I first got to China in the late nineties you would cross to the other side of the street to talk a foreigner in Hangzhou just to have the chance of being able to speak English for once.

    I guess as more and more laowai came that died out….now no one will even acknowledge you, sometimes I guess even crossing the street to get away from another foreigner

  60. […] that I’m a “Shanghai snob,” I had to laugh at Hangzhou’s East Train Station waiting room VIP […]

  61. sinotexian Says: June 16, 2007 at 11:06 am

    My favorite is people watching in the City Supermarket at the Ritz Carleton in Shanghai. It makes me wonder why these people even left the States!

    Wait a minute… I think I’m the snob here, even though I’m not the one buying the 70 kuai Smucker’s Jelly…

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    Published in 1934, this guidebook is really all you need to survive in Shanghai. What’s more, it settles many age-old debates of the China blogosphere. For example:
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  63. JO

    John B. has it all together. everey one who is living in a foreign country should make an attempt to learn the language. I did in Hungary, then in Italy, then Spain. People will respectyou for it.

  64. Johnny L. Says: October 31, 2007 at 2:46 am

    I think the Chinese people’s treatment of foreigners is responsible for the snobbery. No matter how long you live in China and how much you know, they will treat you like you just arrived there and don’t speak a word of the language or know how to use chopsticks. In turn, those who DO know about the language and culture (to varying degrees) counteract by distancing themselves from the tourists, “English teachers” (not the John kind, the “just here to teach English for the year”-kind, ex-pats, etc.).

    It’s an interesting phenomenon. I remember being on the subway once and this American guy was cuddling up to his copy of the Confucian Analects (in Chinese, of course) with the typical “I live in China” look on his face. The best about any of these snob varieties is that they actually have the misconception that they “blend in”, as if the Chinese people don’t see them and the tourist headed to the Great Wall in the exact same way.


  65. Great post, funny and true. Didn’t realize I was a “I’m not an English teacher” snob. However I don’t agree with the “won’t speak English to Chinese people snob.” I speak Chinese but if I meet a Chinese person in the USA I’ll speak to him in English. It can be annoying when some Chinese pretend they can’t understand your Chinese, as an excuse to speak English.

  66. Sharla Worba Says: June 14, 2008 at 1:45 am

    Haha, you guys are a crackup! I am a contradictory snob…

    I was in Taiwan for that big earthquake and i was being a “I’m not afraid of earthquakes snob” when i didn’t bother to leave our house even though things were falling off the shelf. Then I saw the Zhongshan hotel which had collapsed. And I saw the quake damage at the epicentre. Before you know it, I was sh1tscared, feeling non-existent tremors, and bawling my eyes out in 45 Bar a couple of weeks later.

    Funnily enough, now being an “I was in an earthquake and could have died snob” did not prevent me from being a “I’ve seen bigger and I’m not scared snob” to our scared neighbours when we felt minor tremors in Hangzhou. This was despite the fact that I had just run barefoot down 20 flights of stairs; while only barely managing to prevent a sphincteral damburst.

    My snobbery is not limited to the above.

  67. Sharla Worba Says: June 14, 2008 at 2:21 am

    I love snobbery, and I love the boss of this blog for bringing it up. Snobbery is a required tool for the self-nurturing of our fragile egos. Claiming no snobbery is as bad as using it carelessly, for like evil, it lurks within us all. But like The Force, snobbery has a dark and a light side. When it makes us feel important because of our hard-won achievements, and spurs us to greater efforts, we are still somewhere in the Light Side. But when it makes us stop being friendly, or ignore the greeting of a small child, be aware that the Dark Side of snobbery may be taking you over. Snobbery can be a force for good, when it is used to defeat the snobbery of others. Please continue to read, while noting that, as a “blog grammar snob”, I have written this first paragraph last, hoping to sound more impressive. I do refrain from insulting people for making typos, but I do seriously think my response is better than most others, and that John should move it up the top of the page so someone might actually read it.

    I’m a language snob of sorts, although an understanding and enouraging one ( come on now, the China CEO of a multinational in Shanghai who is too busy making millions to learn fluent chinese is not a loser). I try to avoid speaking Chinese too soon in front of foreigners I have recently met in order to avoid becoming a “mandarin fluency pecking order checker snob”; the question always plagues me until I find out for sure. You know you’re a language snob when you realise you have evolved from an “I know circa XXX number of characters snob” into an “i’ve lost count of how many characters I know snob”, which in itself is a convenient way to show pecking order checkers that they are not just below you in the pecking order, they ain’t even in your pecking order!

    Dialect snobbery is justifiable when used against “mandarin fluency pecking order verfication tests” snobbery to show them that they shouldn’t bother. And it’s great because they can’t test your ability and thus outsnob you, unless they speak the local dialect too. For such situations regularly practice speaking in fake dialects, to make sure I’ll come up trumps in such a situation.

    This is almost as funny as inventing a chinese character and then watching a Chinese friend rack their brains over it after your innocent enquiry as to what it means. Try it — it’s a classic!

  68. Well, I haven’t even been to China, but I’m already pretty sure that I’d be a “music snob” as Todd mentioned. I already make weird faces upon hearing the names of certain extremely popular “artists” (rolls eyes), and I rather look down on people who go to China and bring back cover CDs. I remember my reaction when someone copied one such Liu Fang CD, and being the Jay Chou fan I am, I immediately recognized one of the songs as “东风破,” and I could not help but give this person a CD with the original song on it. I know that I was once like that, but I stopped listening to “老鼠爱大米,” though I still have at least 10 versions of said song on my harddrive.

  69. I’m probably a “Real China” snob with trace symptoms within other areas of snobbery, though I think any real snob-like behavior that I may exhibit most likely developed long before China.
    I’ve recently come to notice a change in trend in the way some foreigners write about China. That is, I noticed it recently though I don’t know how long it’s been going on.
    Usually it involves those people that have lived in China for some time and have more or less come to accept their new life here. These foreigners have gone from “hating Chinese characteristics” to “hating ‘the typical foreigner’ characteristics”. This in itself could be a category of snobbish behavior.
    It seems that those who show contempt for the typical foreigner feel as though they are superior in some way due to their sophistication and tolerance of the Chinese condition. (I wonder would they be so tolerant if they returned to their home country to find that society had adopted certain regretful Chinese characteristics.)
    Both groups are actually the same; but it seems one has merely shifted its feelings of intolerance to something that makes life here easier to accept.
    Now before I go and create another group of haters (i.e. Foreigners who feel superior because they hate on foreigners who hate on foreigners who hate on Chinese!) I’ll just leave this now as another observation on the long list of snobbish behavior that we all hate each other for yet participate in ourselves.

  70. I’m definitely a “I speak Chinese” snob except I don’t try to impress other foreigners. I impress the Chinese staff, who then sing my praises in front of the other foreigners. Way more effective. Also, I’m a bit of a “I taught myself Chinese” snob.

    Now, I quite like to be a “God, the western media’s reporting on China is so biased” snob. I mean, do those journalists speak fluent Chinese?

    I’m also a “I like baijiu” snob. I am not one but I have met some “I like real proletarian food like chicken feet and pig’s bladder” snobs.

    How about this one; “I don’t deign to learn such a 难听 language as Shanghainese” snob.

  71. Got to say… nothing absurd about getting your hair cut for 5 yuan or eating for 5-10 yuan. Well, in the hair case it might be safer to make it a 10 yuan place. Although I guess bragging about it would qualify as snobbish.

  72. Pariah Says: May 3, 2009 at 4:20 am

    Your characterization of snobs seems to me to be quite xenophobic. Is it really necessary to identify the types of people who are “snobs”. Do you really believe that a person’s country of origin determines their snobbishness? In my opinion, such a practice seems racist and such a mindset is divisionistic and harbors hatred on a global scale. But then, this is just my opinion and I could be wrong.

  73. Humbled Snob Says: January 4, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    I love your descriptions of all the different types of snobs you can find in China and I found it curious that I have encountered (and been) some of those types of Snobs while living in other foreign countries. I have certainly had conversations about what constitutes “real Mexico” before. I have also been an “I only speak Spanish” snob and a “my Spanish is better than yours” snob. One of my fellow Latinophile friends once commented that when you meet other foreigners abroad its like you are all dogs sniffing each others’ asses. I found this to be a fair assessment.

    Since moving to China, I now have a lot more compassion for all the poor fellow foreigners I once felt superior too. When I first arrived in China I had a minor existential crisis because I found myself doing all the things I so loathed in ex-pat in Latin America – going to foreign restaurants, only speaking English and having foreign friends, etc. Then I realized that is was a kind of like Karma for my snobbery in other places.

  74. […] not trying to be a China snob here; this “China Lite” concept is useful. With my parents planning another visit, […]

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