With hundreds of thousands of people across the country, the expat community in China is massive, and no two of its members are created alike. It can however be broadly broken down into eleven stereotypes, which encompass nearly every foreigner who has chosen to make China home. Here’s your need-to-know guide.
Once the most common type of expat in China, the ‘English Teacher’ is a slowly dying breed thanks to China’s ever stricter visa laws, which favor highly trained professionals over young people just looking for a job to keep them abroad. The ‘English Teacher‘ travels in a pack, likes to laugh at other types of expats, and stays always on the defensive. At the end of the day, though, this type of expat is the smart one for accepting a low-skilled position that pays enough to keep them comfortably drunk at least three nights a week.
Found mostly in Shanghai and Shenzhen, the ‘Finance Bro’ does not associate with the ‘English Teacher.’ In fact, he also tends to travel with his own kind. He only takes taxis, unless he owns a scooter, and prefers to remain in his habitat: super high-rise buildings. It’s very likely that he has a degree from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center and knows it will be hard to translate his skills to a non-China context. He tracks the rise and fall of the Chinese yuan with hawkish intensity, and may or may not run a cryptocurrency venture in his spare time.
The ‘Lifer’ is a unique breed of expat who intended to stay in China no more than two years, but is still there seven years later. They may have once been the ‘English Teacher’ or even the ‘Finance Bro,’ but now they’re the old person who shouts at kids to get off their lawn and compulsively comments on the “good old days” when there were no subway lines and every meal cost less than RMB30. It seems like they always prefers how things used to be and you wonder why they don’t just leave China, but they knows they’re in too deep, and the complaining is the only thing besides mediocre western food that keeps them satisfied.
Beware the worst. The ‘Jaded Expat’ thinks that they can’t be racist because they live in China, but they’re the first to comment bitterly on the less-than-savory aspects of life in the country. It’s a mystery how they made it to China in the first place, and it’s even more of a mystery why they’ve stayed so long. Every expat risks turning into the ‘Jaded Expat,’ but it’s only the ones who have seen themselves become the villain and still decide to stay that are true members of this category.
Every expat knows what ‘LBH’ stands for, and no, it’s not ‘Little Black Headress.’ Instead, this unfortunately common breed of expat is the ‘Loser Back Home.’ The ‘LBH’ is the type who says things like “I only date Chinese women” when his girlfriend is actually Thai. He wears the term “laowai” (“foreigner”) with a weird level of pride, and feels like he owns whichever city he lives in. He is happy to get by in China on his whiteness alone, and has every intention of becoming the ‘Lifer.’ He will never, however, become the ‘Lifer.’
No one but this person themselves considers them to be a true expat. The ‘Student’ is only in the country for a semester, and will leave their city without being able to name even five of its streets. They will, however, be able to name all of its clubs and dive bars with impressive ease. They live in a wonderful community of like-minded individuals, all of whom will claim forever that they can speak Chinese, even if the best they can do is place their McDonald’s order in Mandarin.
“Tai Tai” is Chinese for wife, and “Guy Tai” is the cheeky male version. The ‘Tai Tai/Guy Tai’ is an enviable breed who is married to a high-earner and spends his or her days exploring the best shopping malls the city has to offer. He or she has a full time ayi, or maid, who raises the kids alone and cooks Chinese lunches for them so the ‘Tai Tai/Guy Tai’ can eat out at expensive restaurants without being bothered by the love of his/her progeny. This breed of expat typically lives in a gated community and enjoys some kind of passion project.
ABC is for American Born Chinese, BBC is for British Born Chinese, CBC is for Canadian Born Chinese: the ‘English Teacher’ should really be using the ‘Acronym’ to teach her kindergartners the alphabet. The ‘Acronym’ has a particularly tough life in China, especially when they can’t speak fluent Chinese. They get in a cab and the driver starts shouting at them, before realizing that their customer can’t speak the language. “You Korean? Japanese?” the driver asks. The only solace the ‘Acronym’ has is their large community of comrades. That, and their grandma lives next door.
Although the ‘Fresh off the Boat-er’ is the best type of expat, they are hated by all other types of expat, especially the jaded ones. Everyone starts as the ‘FOB,’ but no one likes to remember a time when they went hungry simply because they couldn’t use chopsticks. The ‘FOB’ is still having the time of their life visiting all the tourist attractions in their city. They swear they’ll never eat KFC and strives to make friends only with locals. They don’t know it yet, but they will only stay in China for six months at most.
The ‘Houdini’ is an enigma – no one is quite sure where they’re from, and after an unspecified length of time in China, they will leave without a moment’s notice, never to be heard from again. It’s likely that the ‘Houdini’ was deported, perhaps for a drug-related crime, but again, no one knows for sure. Some may start to wonder if the ‘Houdini’ ever even existed at all.
No, the ‘Local’ isn’t Chinese. Instead, they are someone who has integrated themselves so well that they have managed to do the nearly impossible: break out of the expat bubble. All of their friends actually are locals, they speak Chinese better than the ‘Acronym,’ and they likely have a Chinese husband or wife. They are the rarest breed of all and one that just kind of happens. You can’t become the ‘Local.’ The ‘Local’ becomes you.