Jianyu from China moved to Munich, Germany, where he encountered a few interesting stereotypes Germans have of people from East Asia. He tells us where a few of these might come from and why some stereotypes may not be too far removed from the truth – but never tell the whole story.
Seeing as I just moved to Munich and the weather hasn’t been all that great recently, I decided to make the most of my weekend and visit the Königsschlösser (the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles) near Füssen in the Allgäu in Bavaria. It was one of those tourist locations most of my friends who had been to southern Germany had visited and highly recommended. So I got on the train and headed to Füssen, where I was met with an onslaught of tourists. I expected as much, but I didn’t actually think there would be this many visitors from East Asia (mainly China and Japan, as far as I could tell) running around and taking photographs of everything. Quite frankly I was suddenly a bit embarrassed!
I have travelled quite a bit during my life so far, and I also lived the life of an expat in the United States and in St. Petersburg for a year each, so I was familiar with the stereotypes we Asians face abroad, especially as tourists. Westerners think that we always travel in gigantic busloads; take too many photographs of everything; we don’t speak the language of the country we are visiting and don’t really make the effort; we always have the newest version of whatever technical gadget is currently in; and we travel around Europe with a two-week agenda for seeing all the “hot spots”.
First, let me say that tourists will be tourists wherever they are and they usually stick out like a sore thumb! Then I would like to describe where all these stereotypes come from, and lastly, I would like to say that stereotypes do not pertain to everyone from that particular nationality!
The reason Asians, at least those that I know who have done so, prefer to travel in large groups is because it is easier for them to get around. Quite simply, figuring out how to read a bus schedule in French, when you are more familiar with the hànzì the Chinese characters, which were adapted in many other Asian cultures, is difficult, and to be perfectly honest, most people may not understand our English accent if we haven’t yet lived in an English speaking country. In my English classes back home, written excercises were often favoured over learning just to talk. Actually, it took me a while until I got over my nervousness and started speaking English in the States. So, if you can simply hop on a bus after breakfast and get shuttled to the nearest place of interest, why not? It makes your vacation much less stressful!
The second stereotype, which I must admit is true, is the ridiculous amount of photography. However, it can also be explained away quite easily with a small anecdote: I was sitting in a Biergarten in Hohenschwangau surrounded by heaps of tourists, one of which happened to be a group of Chinese women. They ordered a Steckerlfisch, which quite literally means a fish on a stick. It is smoked over an open fire, smells (in my opinion) rather awful, and will leave you smelling of it for days afterwards! When their fish came, they first took an innumerable amount of pictures of it from all possible angles and then, while eating it, took more photos, and finally when only the fish bones were left on the plate, took some pictures of that, too. Having been to more than one beergarden by now, I wondered to myself what about Steckerlfisch could be so fascinating that you needed approximately a dozen photos of it. Then I thought of all the American and European tourists that come to China and take a ridiculous amount of pictures of everything – including our great sights, but also local buses or our market produce. It’s the same thing! If I have never seen a Steckerlfisch, then I probably find it interesting and would want to document it. If you’ve never seen a bowl of deep-fried eel skins, you will probably want to take a photo to show it to your friends at home!
The last three stereotypes I listed above, not speaking English, our technological advancement, and our speed-through Europe tours, can also be explained away. It is not true that Asians do not make the effort to speak English. If you travel in a large group of people from your country, you will probably not be speaking in English with them (unless you are from an English-speaking country of course!). And as for Asians not speaking English at all, this is untrue as well. Due to the phonetic differences of languages like Mandarin and English, it is often difficult for us to understand Europeans and vice versa. So perhaps the Asian tourist at the store was making a great effort to converse in English and you just didn’t understand him! And how is your Pǔtōnghuà
As far as electronics and advanced technology goes, well, just think where your Minolta came from? Yes, that’s correct, “Made in China” means it’s also on the market there first, so it’s no wonder that we have the latest version of cameras, cell phones or laptops. In fact, here goes another stereotype!
Travelling in a set two-week schedule through Europe or America is one of the things I myself do not understand. I can’t imagine seeing all there is to see in Germany in 14 days, let alone all of Europe! However, one must take into account that travelling to these countries is a privilege that not everyone from an East Asian nation can take advantage of, be it due to money, work, or, in some cases, even the government. If you don’t know whether you’ll ever have such amazing opportunity again, perhaps you won’t be able to come back and see the rest, so take in as much as possible the first time around! And, well, that’s certainly not all that different from a German or American traveller who thinks that can explore China – the world’s largest country and one its oldest civilizations – in 16 days, on a guided tour from Beijing to Macau…
Now this is not to show that I am offended about these stereotypes, as I have come to regard them with bemusement, but it just goes to show that perhaps there is a reason behind them all, or if you put yourself in the position of a tourist, you may find that you do things abroad that may seem silly to locals too!
And for the record, I can’t stand travelling in large groups and I am probably the worst photographer you will ever meet!
Dear Reader: What stereotypes do you know about your nationality, which are either true or untrue? Feel free to share them here!
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons