I went to a restaurant today, heard two foreigners commenting/complaining. I was not listening their words intentional, but some got my attention.

A: Fuc*ing Chinese people call "washing room" as "cesuo"...

B: They also call us "Lao Wai"....

I wanted to stand up and told them: It doesn't mean anything, please don't complain here...Considering I am not brave and my lazy English, I gave up...

Now I am thinking: is it really bad to call Waiguoren as Lao Wai?

How do you feel about being called "Lao Wai" or "Waiguoren"?

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I like asking and listening
I do not guess and explain
my question just like a poor boy

no one would accept
he cried and pulled me
The teardrop will grow wings

I know this is an older post, but I just saw it and decided to join and give you a better, more thorough answer.

Let me give you a bit of a long answer to your question, but I think it might be helpful to you, as well as other Chinese, when it comes to the use of this term, and how/why it often offends foreigners.

(I mean all of this, honestly, with the utmost respect.)

First, let me tell you something about your own culture, as well as a bit about that of many foreigners who come to China. Yes, that’s right; sometimes there are parts of our own culture that we cannot discern, without it being pointed out to us. This is the same for every culture; an outside perspective of ones culture can be an eye opener sometimes.

(I won’t specify a form of the word “foreigner” yet. I’ll do that at the end.)

China is predominantly a one race society, while many westerners come from extremely multiracial/multicultural societies. Using any form of the word “foreigner” to describe someone, based simply on their looks, is HIGHLY offensive in those societies. And while someone may be a foreigner, using the term by looks alone is racist - period (even in China). Remember, racism isn’t specifically about having ill intentions.

Even in China there are non-Asian Chinese nationals, if someone referred to them as “foreigner” they would find it offensive (imagine an 俄罗斯族 traveling to Shanghai and having to hear people call him a foreigner). That being the case, it is better to err on the polite, but that simply isn’t the case in China. 99.999999% of every single person who has ever used the term “foreigner”, in reference to me, has used that term without ever having seen my passport. I’m simply a foreigner, because I’m white.

We are separated and treated differently, based solely on the color of our skin. We are not “老师”, we are “外国老师/外教”, we are not “朋友”, we are “外国朋友”, and we are not “叔叔”, we are “外国叔叔”. Every day we are reminded of how we are not equal.

That term has now morphed into a word that describes anyone who is not Asian/Ethnic Chinese. It would be a rare thing to hear an American, in China, use the term “foreigner” to describe Chinese people. However, Chinese traveling abroad will use the term while they are in foreign countries, in reference to the native population.

For every Chinese person on the planet, there are 5 others who are not Chinese. But if you listen to the way Chinese interact with other races/nationalities, you would believe the reverse was true. I’m sorry to say this, truly, but there is a great deal of in-your-face racism in China… Much more than you would see in most western nations. While much of it might not be intentional, it is there nonetheless. I might be very understanding of a hotel not being able to accommodate foreigners, because of the paperwork, but it is another thing to be told that you cannot stay in a hotel as soon as they see your face when you walk in the door.

But let’s take it a step further: I see your name is Rita. Rita, imagine EVERYWHERE you walked, you heard people talking to each other, looking at you and saying “Rita” under their breath. You KNOW they are talking about you, but you don’t know exactly what they are saying. Now imagine they are complete strangers. Think about that happening every 10 seconds after you walk out the door. Imagine the irritation that would bring to you, every - single - day. That is what we hear when we hear people say “foreigner” as we walk by. That is not to say that anyone is saying anything bad about us, but often times they do.

At this point I have not specified any Chinese form of the word “foreigner”, that is because, at the base level, any form of the word is going to really rub westerners the wrong way, because we know we are being singled out because of our skin color. But knowing that the word IS going to be used, there are definitely times in which the word is going to be used in the derogatory. With “老外”, there are more chances for it to be used underhandedly in the derogatory, while the use of “外国人” doesn’t leave much room for derogatory use. “老外” is sort of like the murky place, between “外国人” and “洋鬼子”.

I hope that clears things up a bit.

Just today one of my coworkers, at a job I have had for 3 years now, was speaking on the phone to the department head, informing him about something to do with me, and she used the word “老外”… As if I didn’t have a name or job title.

As for your example, I honestly wouldn’t imagine any foreigner, who has been in China for any length of time, who would actually generalize about the term being used by everyone. We have all heard it in polite and impolite situations. And I have no idea why they would mention the use of the world 厕所. Maybe these were simply foreigners who were just off the plane and had no real comprehension of the language.

Interesting opinion, just like I saw another scenery.
on this issue I didnt noticed China was a race society, western countries are  multicultural societies before...
I need to think now
Many thanks.



What a bunch of nonsenses. I would just like to know whether you are offended when they pay you few times more that a Chinese colleague? You don't even know what racism is...

Not sure where all of my reply went.  Let me try this again.

The old "foreigners are paid more than their counterparts" propaganda is just that.  From the first day I arrived, through the quarter of my life that I have lived here, I have never been paid more than my Chinese counterparts.  While my monthly salary may be higher, my yearly salary is far less.  Working 30-40% more hours, no insurance, no paid holidays, never invited on company paid outings.

I'm not sure how long you have been here, or if you ARE here, but once those rose colored glasses start to fade, you will see the racism that permeates this culture.  And I'm not talking about cultural curiosity, the type that Asian-Americans seem to chalk up as "racism": Asking if I know how to speak Chinese or use chopsticks, or automatically thinking I am Russian, or the random stranger pulling my eyelashes in the middle of a supermarket checkout line.  I'm talking about real racism.

Maybe you are in that phase where it seems you are treated as a rock star - well, after a while you will start to understand that is nothing more than "dancing white monkey" treatment.  It wears off after your first year here, when you wake up to the realization that foreigners are basically indentured servants to their Chinese employers.  Give it a while, you will see.

Paying 7 times more for internet (if you try setting it up yourself), as a policy.

Having to cough up a 200元 per book deposit in the local library.

Being spat on, cigarettes thrown at you, and possibly the "Chinese cluster-fk" group jump on you for no reason other than the color of your skin.

Is it EVERYONE? No, of course not.  But one day you will also wake up to the fact that no Chinese, regardless of your relationship with them, is going to side with you over the Chinese "group" in public.  When that day arrives, all of those fantasies about foreigners being treated "Special" will fly right out the window. 

Can't agree more with everything you elaborate, Kyle. Well said. Been living in China for more than 4 years. The only thing I disagree is the use of term 'race'.. like scientific sources say, every human is one race, so perhaps it's more appropriate using 'ethnic' instead of 'race' to refer to different background/nations of people?

agreed it depends on the tone, which often feels like the speaker is talking to a dog, e.g. 小区保安说‘啊!老外!’

I think it is the context and your intention when you use a word that makes it offensive or not


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