We'd like our son to have some contact with a foreigner

Haven’t posted here in a while. Me: Canadian. Wife: Taiwanese. We used to be in Taiwan, but have been living in Canada for 14 years now. My wife seems fairly “westernized” and comfortable here in the Grey and White North, but then this happened today:

My wife’s brother mentioned to my wife on the phone that he’d like his son to have some contact with a foreigner. My wife immediately suggested my good friend Dave. My brother-in-law asked my wife to ask me to broach the topic with Dave of a meal or two where their respective families could get together. She asked me. I looked at her like she was from Venus, and said no, I was not going to ask my friend if he and his (Taiwanese) wife wanted to spend a dinner or two with my in-laws so that their ten-year-old kid could be exposed to an English-speaker.

Why not? she asked. Because it was insulting and degrading, I replied.

Needless to say, this set her off. I was insulting her and her family by suggesting that he was asking me to do something insulting. Insults all around. I obviously touched a nerve. I wasn’t very diplomatic. But phack me if I’m going to ask my lifelong friend something that I immediately and instinctively feel is kinda wrong. It reminded me of a curious incident that occurred my first week in Taiwan back in the day: this 65-year-old high school English teacher showed up at the bushiban and invited me and another fresh-off-the-boat guy to lunch the next day. Smiles all around from the secretaries. He seemed to have an air of authority about him. The intimation was that it was something we were obliged to do. Fine. So we were taken to this fancy buffet and made small talk. At the end of our meal he pulled out a notebook and asked us when we would like to give a talk at the English club for the teachers. We chuckled nervously, and made arrangements. It turned out to be an enjoyable experience at the English club, but soon after I found myself shaking my head at how very sleazy and manipulative the whole experience had been.

I shared the anecdote with my wife. In a huff, she said: well, if he’d just asked you right away to come to his English club you might have said no, so he had to take you out to lunch first. Which left me further gobsmacked.

Dave and I have known each other all our lives, and are still great friends. He went to Taiwan to teach ESL in the late 1990s, and is still there. I left Taiwan in the late 1990s. But we keep up. He’s a busy guy. He’s a foreigner. And I know for a fact that he’s definitely not someone who wants to spend his free time getting a free meal while feeling obliged to do some chatting with a ten-year-old while his parents beam from across the table. But it doesn’t matter who it is.

Right? I mean, “we’d like to spend some time with you so that our son can have some exposure to a foreigner” is beyond the pale. Isn’t it? It’s one thing for me myself to spend time with them, which I’m happy to do, though of course I’m currently an ocean away, but it’s quite another to “work the guanxi” to get some “foreigner face time.” Or am I taking this too seriously?

Obviously the argument was between my wife and I, so the brother-in-law doesn’t know about the marital strife he has caused!

I’d ask my friend but tell him in advance that I expect him to say no for the reasons you’ve mentioned or for these:
a - It might develop into an uncomfortable situation where he might feel obliged to say yes to something he doesn’t have time for or doesn’t want to do (like a two family vacation) but can’t say no.
b - It puts undue pressure on him to do something that has no parameters. What exactly is expected of him in this “foreigner face time meal”?
c - He values his personal time and doesn’t want to meet new people that might not share the same interests as him.

Those of course are the reasons he will give you after you told him to give you these reasons for saying no. Then that way he said no and not you.
You are angry cause your wife thought for you. Don’t think for your friend just guide him to no. :sunglasses:

simple, just hire a foreigner (or Dave) to teach the child English for a month. That way they still pay the same money they would for a dinner, and the child can actually learn something/have fun.

Agreed. They are looking for a cheap and ineffective way out for their son. Sad situation for the son. Sad for the teacher as well.

I don’t see how it’s insulting or degrading. The family simply wants to expose its child to the greater world. The best way would be to hire a teacher as kea said, but there is nothing particularly wrong with the approach they have taken other than that it would strike most westerners as a bit odd.

Come on, if your parents or a friend of your parents knew a writer or artist or professional sports player and asked that he or she be introduced to you so you might get a better understanding of those fields would it be so wrong? Not at all. Happens all the time.

You are making way too much of this, imo.

For once I disagree with Muzha Man. I don’t know anyone famous but if I did I wouldn’t dream of asking them to have dinner with complete strangers for no benefit to themselves whatsoever. I’d think that was rude and presumptuous. If they were to offer out of kindness, that would be different, but I wouldn’t ask because that puts them in the position of either going along with it in order to avoid offence, even though they might not want to, or refusing and possibly souring the relationship.

OP, maybe it’s a cultural thing. If your wife wouldn’t mind going out to dinner with people she doesn’t know so that their 10 year old can practise speaking Chinese, then you can see where she’s coming from. If she wouldn’t do it, then she’s being hypocritical.

My son gets random children coming up to him and asking to be his friend or talk at school quite frequently (much less so at his current school), and it offends him because he knows they aren’t interested in him as a person, they’ve just been told by their parents to use him for English practice. I’ve even had complete strangers come up to me in the street asking to arrange playdates with their 5 year olds (he’s nine).

As I said, maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I see where the OP is coming from. What grown man would possibly want to be an English practice opportunity for a 10 year old child? What friend would ask them to?

I’m certainly not famous but because of my work as a relatively successful writer (meaning I actually make a living at it) I occassionaly get friends asking if I would lunch with them as a friend of theirs would like to talk to me about writing. I’ve never considered it rude or presumptuous but just a normal part of life. I also interview people all the time and offer no compensation but the possibilitu they might get mentioned in an article. Never had anyone refuse because there was nothing in it for them.

Now this case is a bit different but again hardly insulting. Parents take their children travelling to expose them to different people. Should the natives refuse to cooperate in this?

I definitely get where the OP is coming from and would not ask any friend of mine either but think he had made too much of it.

It’s a weird request. When Chinese use the English word “foreigner,” they aren’t referring to someone with a different passport. They mean whitey. Trying to arrange a meeting between a child and a random white adult is weird. It treats the white guy as a racial object. Could you imagine a white person saying: “I want my son to have contact with a black person. Hey, you know a black guy. Could you get one of his black friends to meet with my son so he could meet a real black person, and tell everyone he has a black friend?” It’d be viewed for what it is: a weird racial fetishism. Rousseau is correct to object to the idea. Now that he and his wife live in a western context, he can instruct his wife that in pluralistic societies like Canada, people are respected as individuals and are not to be treated as representatives of their race.

It’s annoying, but certainly not insulting. Like Mucha Man said, if you were an aspiring athlete, artist, actor, or whatnot and an in-law knew a friend who was in the field, wouldn’t you like to meet them over dinner? It happens all the time. Now I can understand how it may be annoying for you to constantly get these requests, but that’s just how life is when you possess a certain skill set people want. What’s really irritating is the obligation for your friend to say yes or for you to persuade your friend to say yes to help out a relative. This is where making up some polite excuse helps out a great deal. This is the Taiwanese way to do things, and while we may not agree with it, there’s no denying that playing the social game while dealing with them makes your life so much easier.

As for your little anecdote, there’s nothing sleazy or manipulative about what your boss did. This happens all the time in Western culture too. You take a potential client out to a nice dinner in hopes of closing the deal using soft pressure. By accepting these offers, you allow yourself to be in debt for 人情, and you will be obligated to pay it back in the future. If you don’t want to be in such debt, then you can always refuse the initial offer. This is the same in both Western and Asian culture, only in Asian culture it’s much more impolite to say no after you’ve accepted someone’s offer. That’s why many Westerners feel that Taiwanese people are cold and more reluctant to accept your offerings of friendship or kindness, because they don’t want to be indebted to someone they don’t know that well.

Asian culture is quite quirky at times, but since you’ve married a Taiwanese girl, you’ll inevitably have to deal with it from time to time, so making more of an effort to learn where she’s coming from goes a much longer way than trying harder to Westernize her. Just my experience.

The thing is, race is never an issue in this way in Western countries, especially for white people, because you’re not trying to be like anyone else. There’s no denying that the general trend of the world is to be white, whether it’s in thinking, dress, language, education, appearance, etc. White people don’t grow up in a environment that constantly reinforces the notion that they need to be more black, or Hispanic, or Asian. If society is always telling you that you need to ditch that clunky silverware and learn how to expertly use chopsticks so you can pin down the fish with one chopstick and deftly swipe across with the other stick to break off the meat and pick it up all while half-standing and your arm hanging in the air, and there were only like 10 Asian people in your town, you’d probably hunt them down for a meal just to watch how they eat with chopsticks and they’d complain about the whities viewing them as a racial object too.

So again, while it’s certainly annoying, just try to understand where they’re coming from and be thankful that you are fortunate enough to be without such burdens.

Speaking for myself, there is no way I would want to spend my free time (away from teaching) having dinner with strangers so that their child could spend time with ‘a foreigner’. That sounds really, really boring. Actually, it just sounds like work but without any pay.

I don’t think you need to understand anything, what’s to understand, it’s retarded! Now if you are a hard up English teacher or backpacker there isn’t a problem in accepting this (my Aussie female friend had many acquaintances like this) , but otherwise, nah. As poster above said, you want company from a stranger, pay for it! It’s called a buxiban or a foreign holiday or whatever else that comes to mind.

I’ve been mislead into attending something I didn’t want before. Very un-cool and it is not common in Western countries as you would rightly told to p%^s off with yourself. In business it happens but only when it is clear that one side has something to sell or buy from the other, it’s all very transparent and understood from the start.

[quote=“Amasashi”]
The thing is, race is never an issue in this way in Western countries, especially for white people, because you’re not trying to be like anyone else. [/quote]

No, I’d attribute it to a lengthier history of immigration in western countries, especially so-called new world countries. And, I wouldn’t say “never,” either.

Oh, there can be denial of such a trend. And I don’t see the phenomenon in question as being the result of any sort of attempt to mimic whitey.

Have you seen the average white, suburban teenager in North America?

Possibly. But you’re only supporting my premise. Lack of diversity leads to the racial “other” phenomenon. It can result in treating people as racial objects, rather than individuals.

I think the OP would be correct to politely decline the request to supply a whitey on demand. Perhaps he could suggest some more appropriate methods/venues for the parents to give their child an international experience.

Crap!
I got a kid that lives upstairs. Nice kid and damned good English. The problem is that he is much like a ping pong ball. Wacks on the wall every 1 minute. I love the kid but he makes me crazy. Anyway, if you want to have a crazy guy come and teach me, I will do it for CNY and maybe more. (Sigh)

Maybe if you live in a white neighborhood, know one black guy, and honestly ask him “Hey, do you mind coming over for dinner, I want my child to meet a black person” do you think he would get offended? Or if he was gay.

Now, if the point is to dispel negative stereotypes, that is one thing, but this is clearly not that.

That made me laugh. :laughing:

[quote=“Confuzius”]Maybe if you live in a white neighborhood, know one black guy, and honestly ask him “Hey, do you mind coming over for dinner, I want my child to meet a black person” do you think he would get offended? Or if he was gay.

Now, if the point is to dispel negative stereotypes, that is one thing, but this is clearly not that.[/quote]

Who knows the motivation of the OP’s brother in law. I would just accept that he was harmlessly trying to broaden his kid’s mind but politely explain that the way he is doing it is not appropriate.

[quote=“Mucha Man”][quote=“Confuzius”]Maybe if you live in a white neighborhood, know one black guy, and honestly ask him “Hey, do you mind coming over for dinner, I want my child to meet a black person” do you think he would get offended? Or if he was gay.

Now, if the point is to dispel negative stereotypes, that is one thing, but this is clearly not that.[/quote]

Who knows the motivation of the OP’s brother in law. I would just accept that he was harmlessly trying to broaden his kid’s mind but politely explain that the way he is doing it is not appropriate.[/quote]

The motivation was clear, to expose the child to foreigners. I would imagine (and of course, could be wrong) the underlying motivation is to make the child more wordly…which of course is a good thing.

But its no different than asking a token black guy to hang out with your kid in hopes that some of his funk/swag rubs off on the child. Benign racism at its best.

[quote=“Confuzius”][quote=“Muzha Man”][quote=“Confuzius”]Maybe if you live in a white neighborhood, know one black guy, and honestly ask him “Hey, do you mind coming over for dinner, I want my child to meet a black person” do you think he would get offended? Or if he was gay.

Now, if the point is to dispel negative stereotypes, that is one thing, but this is clearly not that.[/quote]

Who knows the motivation of the OP’s brother in law. I would just accept that he was harmlessly trying to broaden his kid’s mind but politely explain that the way he is doing it is not appropriate.[/quote]

The motivation was clear, to expose the child to foreigners. I would imagine (and of course, could be wrong) the underlying motivation is to make the child more wordly…which of course is a good thing.

But its no different than asking a token black guy to hang out with your kid in hopes that some of his funk/swag rubs off on the child. Benign racism at its best.[/quote]

I see it more like taking your kid to an ethnic restaurant or on a trip where the intention is definitely to have you kid hang out with other local kids and learn about their different ways.

There’s no getting around the fact that the line between broadening one’s mind and taking pleasure in the fetishization of a foreign culture is an extremely narrow one.

How in any substantial way is asking a foreigner to your house any different from taking your kid on vacation to meet foreigners?

I think the parents are just a bit clueless.

[quote=“Mucha Man”]I’m certainly not famous but because of my work as a relatively successful writer (meaning I actually make a living at it) I occassionaly get friends asking if I would lunch with them as a friend of theirs would like to talk to me about writing. I’ve never considered it rude or presumptuous but just a normal part of life. I also interview people all the time and offer no compensation but the possibilitu they might get mentioned in an article. Never had anyone refuse because there was nothing in it for them.
[/quote]

Are you doing anything on Friday? :wink: :laughing:

Maybe it’s because it involves chatting with a 10 year old. Having spent a lot of time around a 9 year old chatterbox recently I’d rather stick pins in my eyes at the moment.