If you’ve followed a minimum, you know that “laowai” is what Chinese people call foreigners. Doesn’t have to do anything with nationality or race, although if you’re white blond blue eyed you’re most likely American. If you’re romantic you’re most likely French. If you’re French you’re most likely romantic. If you’re a white blond blue eyed French American Peace Corps volunteer you’re most likely weird. You don’t really know what’s going on most of the time because of the language barrier and gigantic cultural barrier.
But there is a certain amount of respect and, maybe, admiration. Because you’re free, to think for yourself, move around the world, not be married at 26. At least that’s what I felt coming from my students in China. I think it was a traduction thing but tons of students kept telling me (and still keep by email) that they envy my life style. So maybe a mixed of jealousy too….
Also somehow because there is this instinctive fear or distance from foreigners that’s part of Chinese culture, a laowai might be at most bothered by “hellos” and “laowais” in her face, but won’t be assaulted as, it seems, a gringa might be walking alone down the street.
Here in Ecuador a gringa is most likely a white blond blue eyed person (and any white blond blue eyed person is assumed to be American).
A gringa is by definition loose, and apparently (thanks to a cultural session at training) it seems that Ecuadorian women will never lose that ounce of pity they have for us female PC volunteers: far from friends and family, without any house skills, no protection of a macho man: the best we can do in our friendships with Ecuadorian females is learn those skills and be humble that we don’t know shit. (I am SO excited about the possibility of learning crochet for example, cuz, well, I’ve always dreamt of doing that, you know me).
So as a gringa I’ll be seen as loose and hopeless worth of pity, more likely to be robed. Sounds like fun.
I can’t wait to get to site to verify or infirm all these facts we’re told every day at the training center with my own daily experience of Ecuadorian life, and see if the laowai status is more or less desirable than the Gringa one. In China, the safety and security sessions were way less dramatic (or maybe I just don’t remember?). Right now I lean toward laowai (eventhough it feels so good to understand most of what’s going on with the language) but then again, I’ve had my own experience being a grown-up laowai on my own, not that of being a grown-up gringa on my own at site. In China I never really felt unsafe. Here either, but I’ve been told everyday that some of us will inevitably be robbed or have a knife pointed at us for money. Walking down the street the other day with my host sister, we saw three younger Ecuadorian men walking toward us on the pavement. After they passed by, my host sister whispered: when you see young men like this in group, push yourself against the wall so that you’re not facing them and you can see if they are hiding a knife. It does make me remember my time as a safe weird laowai with nostalgia.
On a more positive note, I did find out that you can get your clothes washed and dried for $5. I might put aside $20 a months for that because this morning I was grumping away at la piedra from pretty much 9am to noon….
besos chicos and chicas.
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