I knew that we would stand out like sore thumbs in China. The foreigner is always accompanied by stares and pointing and exclamations of “laowai” here. I still wasn’t prepared for what would happen when I brought my tiny, blonde-haired girl here though. I remember people touching my little brother’s blonde hair in the market when we lived in Tianjin in the mid-90s, and expected that, but what I didn’t realize was all the advice (or aggressive commands in some cases) I’d receive.
The Issue of Shoes
Back in Florida, before my daughter could walk, I never put shoes and socks on her feet when it was warm out. I had never had anyone say anything to me about it either. The sun feels good on your feet! When we arrived in China, it was the middle of summer and temperatures were pushing 100 every day. She could walk, but not for very long so I often took her out in the stroller if I was doing some shopping. Again, I would let her little baby feet be free! I’m glad I let her feet see the sunlight because now we’re in the dreary middle of a smoggy winter and there’s no chance of anyone getting any vitamin D around here. Anyway, I was getting into the elevator with a barefoot babe in the stroller one day, and there was a woman in there with her little boy. At first she started to say the typical things everyone says when they see my daughter (she’s so cute, her hair is yellow, it’s a foreign baby, etc.), but then her eyes caught sight of those bare feet. Her face twisted into such horror that I had to double check that I wasn’t eating live kittens and spitting the fur and tiny bones into her face. Her face was full of panic and anger as she yelled at me about why my baby had no shoes. Um, lady. It’s hotter than balls out and I’m literally going 150 feet to the corner to buy toilet paper and this baby ain’t leaving the stroller lest she get taken out by a frantic Kangaroo delivery e-bike.
I had dozens of people confront me about her lack of shoes this past summer. One time, I put shoes on her just so people would leave me alone and then I felt like sellout. And, her feet were so sweaty!
Long Hair in the Summer
One day at the bus stop, an old lady lit into me about the length of my daughter’s hair. Now, my daughter was just over a year old and her hair was still a bit short for a proper ponytail. I wasn’t ready to give her a haircut, and she seems to enjoy having shaggy, unkempt hair. This lady at the bus stop thought I was terrible person and should shave my baby’s head. Her granddaughter was with her and had a shaved head. My daughter’s hair is really thin, and I hardly think it’s causing her any discomfort in the summer. This time I snapped back at the lady that I didn’t want to embarrass my daughter with an ugly haircut. The lady then proceeded to tell all the uninterested bus stop patrons how stupid and rude I was. Well, you started it, lady.
Strollers Prevent Your Baby from Learning to Walk
My daughter was taking steps before she officially hit 10 months. By the time we got to China, she could walk and run really well, but I’d often pop in her in the umbrella stroller so I didn’t have to walk at the pace of her little legs when I had errands to run.
Someone asked me one day (also in the elevator) if my daughter could walk yet. She was sitting in her stroller. I said yes. Then I had to listen to a lecture for 28 floors about how if you use a stroller then your baby won’t learn to walk. I just stared at the wall with glazed eyes. Did she not hear me say my daughter could already walk? And if using a stroller prevents a kid from learning to walk, then most of the adults in the world would still need strollers.
If It is Winter Time, Your Baby is Freezing to Death Even If It’s Actually Warm Outside
I remember this from when I was kid in Tianjin. People were always asking “Leng bu leng?” if we had short sleeves on in the fall. Once it’s officially winter according to the calendar, you must bundle up as if you’re on an Antarctic expedition. No exceptions. This is perhaps the most annoying of anything on this list. I refuse to overdress my baby when it’s warm out. I see Chinese babies bundled to a ridiculous extreme and they look lethargic and their faces are red. I’m pretty sure they’re overheated. I find it abusive, but it’s a cultural thing and I won’t ever convince a Chinese parent that is actually more dangerous to overheat your baby than to let him feel a cool breeze. But, I really wish people would stop telling me my baby is cold when it’s literally 80 degrees outside. The Shanghai area has pretty mild winters. It’s January and I don’t think we’ve hit freezing temps once. And often, I’ll be inside a heated building when people yell at me that my baby is freezing. There was one day when I was getting out of a taxi and it was chilly out – maybe 45 or so- and this lady was so angry that my daughter had a light coat on that I felt I had to prepare for a physical altercation. We were getting out of the car and walking 15 steps to our building. This lady was screaming and flailing her arms.
Stop Scaring My Baby and Then Laughing
My daughter is in the phase where she’s shy with strangers. In China, it is perfectly acceptable to touch someone’s baby or take photos of them. There must be thousands of photos circulating around WeChat of my daughter, and I did not agree to a single one. Old grandmas love to come up to my daughter, grab her arm or leg, pinch her cheek, and yell in scratchy Chinese right in her face. This makes her cry. Then they laugh at her crying. This was more of a problem when we first got here because I was too timid to just smack peoples’ hands away from her. Why is it funny that my baby is crying because you scared her? Don’t you think I would rather not deal with a crying baby? I would be so apologetic if I made a stranger’s baby cry. I had to go through months of non-stop colicky crying with my daughter. I still relish every moment I do not hear crying. But now, I physically smack peoples’ hands when they reach for her. Oddly, no one has yet to protest being smacked with anything other than a shocked look. I can’t imagine getting away with smacking people at Target! I hate that I have to be so aggressive, but I’m tired of being treated like my daughter is a circus show.
It’s Just a Cultural Thing
In China, everyone’s business is everyone’s business. People think they are being helpful when they yell at me for mistreating my kid by dressing her appropriately for the weather, letting her have hair, putting her in a stroller, or letting her feet be free. It tough for an American to adjust to this. I can actually deal with people telling me silly things I should or shouldn’t do, but the mom in me just can’t get comfortable with people lecturing me about my baby when they are so clearly wrong. I’m her mother and I get decide if she walks or rides in the stroller, how long her hair will be, whether or not she needs shoes, and how many layers she needs to wear on a cold day.
I’ve gone through the horrible ride of culture shock and now that we’ve been here for over six months, I’ve adjusted well to all the things that initially bothered me, but I can’t get comfortable with people yelling at me about how I dress my baby. It’s an obstacle I didn’t anticipate having to overcome when we decided to move here. But, it’s also one that isn’t going to change so I’ve been practicing pretending not to speak Chinese and just smiling stupidly at people. It’s worked wonders.