Expatriates have it tough enough living in a foreign country.
This may be obvious, since we are expatriates, but it is a real issue because when someone is living overseas, it seems that the rules people live by are very different.
This goes for the rules of the culture an expatriate is moving into but also for themselves as they decide what choice they want to make in regards to the rules they think they should respect and obey.
This then tends to lead into the choices of how an expatriate treats other expatriates, and locals, and how the other expatriates, and locals, treat the expatriates.
Yes, that sentence is confusing. So is being an expatriate.
My hope is that when we visit a foreign country, we show our best sides and keep the complaining, issues, and criticism to a minimum.
I am a guest, in your land, and I expect to behave as one.
This gets confused, especially living in a country like China, where many people don’t speak English and people that do may not speak to you.
But you can be sure they are listening and hearing everything you say about their country, your country and your beliefs.
Almost all of the Chinese nationals I’ve met are incredibly nice and friendly. Every once in a while, you run into a person having a bad day or whatever, but that is true of anywhere I’ve been.
I try to keep my complaints at home and between myself and the people that need to hear them.
Even if I’m tempted to complain on the subway, a bus, or somewhere in public, I try not to so as to respect other people and not influence people negatively about my country and my culture.
This is hard to do, sometimes, and yet it is a goal I work towards each day.
I did have an experience that bothered me greatly just last week.
We had been shopping for Jill’s phone and then went to dinner.
As we left, we hailed a cab.
A female passenger left the cab and basically ran into a restaurant behind us.
The male passenger started yelling at the cabbie and the cabbie started showing him the receipt and arguing with him in return.
Our friend, Federica, who speaks Mandarin, was listening and I could get the jist of what was going on.
The male passenger then took off into the restaurant and we got in the cab after the driver looked at us and sat back down in his car.
Federica started talking to him and the cabbie said that the passengers had refused to pay the 109RMB, about 18 bucks US, and stiffed him.
He said this has happened to him twice now.
He said this has happened to his cousin four times in the past.
His cousin no longer will pick up expatriates and this cabbie was thinking of doing the same.
Being that he told us this, we were surprised he picked us up at all. Maybe he was telling us because Federica could speak Mandarin and Jill and I were trying to be empathetic towards him. Maybe he didn’t want to think this about expatriates and he was asking for us to help him with this thought.
As a behavioral therapist, that is what I’d like to think.
Federica kept talking to him and Jill and I did our best to make sounds that would show we felt bad for him. We kept nodding our heads up and down in agreement with his, and Federica’s, comments.
We asked the cabbie how he could make up the money and he said that he would not be able to and would have to pay it himself.
Cabbies, like almost all service workers in China, don’t get any tips.
His company would take the lost fare out of his wages.
I don’t have any proof, but my guess would be that most cabbies make about $200-300 USD a month.
Maybe $400 at the most.
In other words, this was a huge loss for him.
And, it seemed to us, a huge loss in regards to positive international relations between people and cultures.
At the end of our cab ride, Federica, Jill and I pitched in and gave him 45RMB (6 bucks US).
He tried to hand it back to us but Federica told him it was to help out with his loss and we wished him good luck on the rest of his shift.
As we exited the cab, he got out, started bowing to us, and kept saying, “Xie Xie (thank you)” over and over again until we motioned to him to get back in the cab and said “Bú kè qi (you are welcome)” numerous times.
It wasn’t very much for us to do but we didn’t want this cabbie to feel alone and cheated by expatriates when we could help put a positive spin on a horrible situation.
Hopefully, we did that.
We will never know unless we somehow meet this cabbie again and he stops to pick us up and remembers us.
He also may never pick up expatriates again.
Maybe, just maybe, when you, my readers, come to visit China, you will hail a cab and a young Chinese man will be driving you along the streets of Beijing.
He will tell you a story of how one group of expatriates ripped him off and then, just one minute later, another group helped him out.
The story will conclude with him telling you that he still believed that people, from all over this world, can be trusted and are kind.
He has proof of it.
That is the story I choose to believe because, as a cognitive therapist, and even more so as a human being, that is the story I want to believe.