The other day my colleague and I went to the Silk Market to buy a few things to take home. He wanted to buy some fake designer wallets and I needed to get some polo shirts.
We went to a stall with a good selection of wallets and he promptly tried to charm the staff with all the Chinese he knew. He then told her which company he worked for, hoping that by telling her he lived here, she couldn't rip him off.
But she thought he had an expatriate salary.
She punched in the number 30,000 in her calculator saying she thought this was the amount he made each month.
We had to laugh because we work for a local company, and she assumed that all expats had fat bank accounts.
But we had to really work hard to explain to her that no way did we make that much -- not even our two salaries put together would even come close to that amount. Whether she believed us or not wasn't clear.
If we did make that huge number, would we be shopping for knock-offs at the Silk Market?
The X factor was brought up again when I had coffee with a local friend today. She told me she knew some foreigners and met their circle of friends.
"They think they are so superior to us," she said indignantly. "They are treated here like kings and they think they are so great compared to us."
I had to tell her that I couldn't stand these people either. I explained some of them aren't particularly smart -- their companies need someone here so they offer to go or just end up here. And their expat packages are so large, and the cost of living in China so low, that they really do feel like they are royalty and it all goes to their heads. They have no concept or have no interest in the average person's life in Beijing or care to even learn Chinese.
Many live in houses -- just like suburbia USA -- just outside Beijing, and never really have to come in contact with the Chinese. It's a weird existence, but it fulfills their shallow needs.
These expats are giving the other ones -- like me -- a bad rap.
And the Chinese, like the staff at the Silk Market will continue to hold onto stereotypes of expats here. It's a huge gap that might never be bridged.