In China I started using QQ. A Chat messenger software i used to talk with my friends. The same way i use Skype and MSN messenger to keep in touch with everyone else in the world. I can also use Skype and MSN to search for new people to talk to. And i can almost do that with QQ. Except that every time i search for some new friends on QQ , and begin a conversation with them, they assume I am lying about not being Chinese as i am obviously speaking to them in Chinese. This isn’t because my Chinese is unbelievably fluent, I still make plenty of mistakes, they just can’t fathom the possibility of someone who is not Chinese being able to speak Chinese. It happens every time, and I have been using QQ for several years. A Japanese friend of mine who speaks Chinese also told me Chinese people don’t believe she isn’t Chinese when she speaks to them for the first time online.
It’s a very strange way to frame your social interactions. If I speak any language, English, Spanish, Russian, Swedish, or even a language much more obscure online to a person I have never met before, and then I tell this person I am actually from a different country from them and my native language is actually not the language we are speaking, what reason does he have to disbelieve me? I mean people might be dishonest about where they are from occasionally, but what cultural process creates an entire society that believes only people from their country can speak their language at all. The first time i tried to type Chinese in a Chinese chat room, I was first amused by the warning not to say anything that would insult the government, and then I was as offended as I was surprised at the fact that nobody believed i was actually not from China. They believed i was just a kid lying about where I was from for fun. I wouldn’t be so frustrated by this phenomenon, except that it happened every time I tried to talk to new people through QQ’s search function.
It was somewhat entertaining at first though. They always wanted to see me via webcam, to prove i was American. To which i would always explain that a person from any country could have any ethnicity and so it would prove nothing. I could very well be culturally Chinese from living in China my whole life, yet ethnically caucasian. Sometimes I would reply by saying, “fine, I will show you what I really look like, so you can see i really am not Asian, but then it’s impossible for me to be your friend because you only wanted to see me because you didn’t believe me, not because you were genuinely interested in seeing me.” They would act surprised, apologize, and compliment my Chinese, then i’d delete them.
If they didn’t immediately disbelieve me when I would say I am from America. They would ask if i was American-Chinese. Except they wouldn’t use such “politically correct” terminology. They would always ask if i was ?? (huan xie). literaly meaning “mixed blood.” I always respond to this question by saying all people are “mixed blood” as the genetic material from both parents is combined to create each person. People in china are used to using this word in this way without thinking of the literal connotations of its meaning. So maybe i am too sensitive to my preference of trying to describe the world accurately. And maybe I can be more understanding, and considerate of the different ways people communicate depending on their cultural identity, but why is it so impossible for people in China to believe the obvious reality that people who are not from China can learn Chinese?