I think that most Chinese people do not bother with this question – as foreigners, by default, are stare-worthy. It doesn’t really matter whether we are short/tall, fat/thin, brunette/blonde, male/female, big or small nosed… It is the right of a Chinese person to stare at a lăowài!
No, “to stare or not to stare” is it the question that I have to ask myself – usually in one of two situations…
- when I get stared at – should I pretend that I haven’t noticed the stare, or that it doesn’t bother me in the least? Should I just ignore the totally obvious gawk in spite of the fact that the person has stopped in mid-stride, driven into a lamp-post, stopped the traffic or fallen over their dog? If it’s been a long day and I am culture-fatigued, I turn away and pretend not to notice. If I am in a more competitive frame of mind/mood, it’s game-on and I choose the “I can stare at you too” approach. This has one of two results – in a few situations my stare is met with a sheepish smile as the person feels a little embarrassed and looks away. By far the general reaction is a look of surprise and a deepening stare/glare, along the lines of “What are you looking at? Why are you staring back at me? You’re the odd one out, not me – you’re not playing by the rules, in fact, you’re not allowed to play this game!“
- The other situation happens when…I spy another fellow-lăowài…especially in an area where there aren’t too many expats around… about 5 seconds after I see them I catch myself in mid-stare and mid-thought of “Hey, look, a foreigner!” and then have to remind myself – “啊呀! Āyā! is this the right time and place and means of trying to blend in by adopting the local mannerisms?