Three proclamations I’m tired of hearing

Being in an AMWF relationship and marriage means that I hear all sorts of notions. Here’s three of the most recent: 

1. Does your husband speak English? 

 I want to answer this question in the same manner as when my students used to ask me if I could use chopsticks. Students asked me this when having lunch with them, knowing full well (forgetting, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt) I’d been in China for three years. My answer takes two forms, depending on the audience and whether I may employ sarcasm. A simple yes, or 是的 if I’m so inclined, perhaps “of course” all while muttering/thinking “duh,” “thank you, captain obvious”, or “wow, sherlock holmes.” I expected and regularly deflected the above whilst in China, but in the US, come on, the callousness of life and burden I would carry if ZJ wasn’t at least conversational may have led me to reconsider such a big move. 

2. Your husband speaks English well!/You speak English well! 

Conversely, strangers will compliment me (or him) on his impeccable English skills. I’ve put the “compliment” directed at me first because usually they speak to me, assuming he can’t converse in English. I managed to get by with Mandarin, but ZJ does not get by in English. He’s got a keen sense of humor, a knack for sarcasm, and banters with his MIL quite well. (😄) I know it’s because plenty of Chinese who visit or reside in the US may not feel comfortable using English; I saw this regularly with my students many of whom learned English for many years or had traveled abroad. ZJ isn’t too shy to speak English, albeit he’s the quiet type, however, when he does speak up he’s fairly confident and doesn’t need me. Interestingly, he applied for his social security card without my presence. That’s part of a to be continued story… 

3. Oh, he’s so Americanized…

With my new part-time job comes the immense pleasure of explaining my four year sabbatical from a life in the US. When a coworker asked me about number one, I retorted by telling him about my husband’s mix of American and British humor and this third statement is what he followed up with. I mention my husband’s sense of humor because I struggled in my classrooms back in Xi’an to get anything more than a blank, zombified eyebrow raise from students and when around ZJ’s friends and family, his friends in particular, didn’t seem to appreciate his humor. I had the occasional student who laughed but her/his peers looked bewildered. Humor also doesn’t always translate well across languages.   

What proclamations are you tired of hearing, whether you’re living abroad, returning from abroad, in a AMWF/cross-cultural relationship or marriage? 


20 thoughts on “Three proclamations I’m tired of hearing

  1. Susan Blumberg-Kason says:

    I guess I’m a little tired of people from all backgrounds scrutinizing my son Jake’s looks and pointing out what part of him looks like me and what part looks like his dad–all while Jake is standing right there.

  2. Jocelyn Eikenburg (@jossailin) says:

    I was always tired of people who hadn’t met my husband and assumed his English was very poor. They knew he spoke, they just figured that since he is Chinese his English must be horrible. I remember one guy who insinuated as such and I was so ticked off I just walked off in the middle of our conversation.

    • maklu001 says:

      Yes, exactly my point. Most of these proclamations are either upon first meetings or when they haven’t yet met ZJ. People are just too quick to generalize and seem to forget that at one point in time, their own ancestors likely went through the same struggles, as we are a nation of immigrants.

  3. Laura says:

    When I went to US and Mexico this year I met 7 different Chinese people with very poor English skills.
    Two examples:
    Te taxi driver who was living in Las Vegas for 23 years he was telling me he had a house this that…talking to my boss…when I switched into English he just didn’t get a word. He told me in Chinese that he only drives Chinese people and cannot speak English.
    In Mexico the owner of a Chinese restaurant, the woman has been living in DF for 17 years and when I ordered water in Spanish she just looked at me and said: coke? ….According to her she just doesn’t have to use Spanish. “Water is one of the first words I always learn before going anywhere”..that’s what I thought..

    So maybe those who are surprised have had my same experience. I came back to China telling my husband that I was surprised to see how many people I met who could not say a word in English to me despite their long time in US. We are talking about jobs that require Customer Service. My boss was happy to hear he could move there without English at all, I was unhappy.

    When I go to Spain I come back to China complaining because Chinese who live there still call others “laowai” and is very annoying to hear that word when you are back home, especially when you are in the same street where you were raised and still you are called “foreigner”. 🙂


    • maklu001 says:

      It’s disappointing that English isn’t neccessary here in the US, let alone for people employed in the retail/customer service industry, but the two stories you mentioned the individuals seemed older, thus less likely to pick up a new language.

      I’ve also heard stories from Americans being called “laowai” in the US.

      Yes, perception!

      • Laura says:

        Well not very old, my colleague Annie lives in L.A., she moved there 2 years after she graduated and she barely speaks English. The taxi driver was about 40-45yo and the waitress was only 30yo.
        So some of them did move to US quite young, but some of them didn’t.

  4. Ri says:

    I can imagine the frustration of dealing with that every time. (Although I’m sure it’s not going to end soon!)
    Since we live in my fiancé’s home country (Japan), I’m usually at the butt of these comments, but I get those with or without him so I suppose I’m used to it. (Or rather… I’m used to dealing with it? I still feel my stomach sink when I get complimented on my Japanese when I’ve barely spoken yet.)
    The chopsticks comment comes on occasion… As with you, my answer depends on the mood I’m in. ^^

    I get the “you’re so Japanese” comment a fair bit, when I don’t see it as being Japanese at allーjust relating to either my own “home” culture or being a generally non-abrasive person. (It makes me wonder: Is the threshold really that low!?)

    • maklu001 says:

      Yeah, I don’t think they’ll stop anytime soon. I’m glad my husband brushes it off and that it’s really something I have to learn to deal with. The threshold is really that low.

    • maklu001 says:

      My husband’s also over 180 cm tall, and working on a stronger, more athletic build, but it seems that people here will comment on the oddest of traits based solely on stereotypes.

      • R Zhao says:

        I get comments about my husband’s look and build. My Grandma said, “He’s so handsome. He doesn’t look very Chinese.” And one of my friends (who is Filippina!!) said he doesn’t look “very Chinky.” And how he’s not short and not skinny, etc. I know I should be offended, but for some reason all the backhanded compliments make me want to laugh at people’s ridiculousness.

      • maklu001 says:

        That’s great you can be so nonchalant about it all. My husband happens to be slim and tall so I get to hear how people are surprised that he’s tall. If they make this comment in his presence, he likes to let people know that they’re thinking of Southerners. 😄

  5. R Zhao says:

    I know it’s hard, but try not to take things to heart. When people say stuff like this to me or my husband, I often think it’s funny. And most people really are just trying to be nice or making conversation. Where I am from (Milwaukee), we don’t have many non-Hispanic foreigners so people just don’t know what to think or say about me being married to a Chinese guy.

    • maklu001 says:

      I take things way too personally. My husband also got very defensive, in the same way I do, when we were in China. I’ll definitely keep what you’ve said in mind going forward 🙂

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