Shirani Alfreds is an expat mother of two living in Shanghai. She will be writing about her experiences in a regular "Dragon Mama" blog for Urban Family.
Did you see that hilarious video, or read that post about what it’s like to be a non-white expat here in Shanghai? Though I haven’t encountered those specific problems (yet), having darker skin I’m accustomed to stares and people coming right in my face to check me out. (My manicurist did that the other day whilst painting which I found rather impressive, as she didn’t even go outside the line!) I also saw on a website called ‘Scary Mommy’ (it keeps stuff ‘real’), an article about what it’s like to live as a mixed family in the suburbs – apparently a lot of ‘Are you the new nanny/babysitter?’ type questions…
And actually I do live in the ‘burbs of Shanghai, though mercifully, that particular query hasn’t arisen yet. Perhaps it's the large cosmopolitan environment, perhaps “a foreigner is a foreigner” to most people, or perhaps I’m just dense. Nevertheless, reading this gave me an ‘Aha!’ moment as to why our motley crew of a family get so many stares. I assumed it was because we were foreigners, but now I suspect it might be because we are all really foreign – from each other. My husband is very fair skinned, I am dark skinned and our two daughters are a mix of this. Whilst they have similar skin colour, they have very different features as one of them is adopted.
Once I realised how our ‘starers’ might perceive this, I’ve started a game called “How Far Can I Take This?” It’s super fun, and reminds me of when we just adopted. People would say “You’re back to your pre-pregnancy body in a week?!” “It’s in the genes” I would reply flouncing off with my newborn in her pram, because I could flounce, and not worry I was going to pee my pants this soon after birth. Or “You look far too svelte to have been pregnant recently” “Awww thanks…but I look different naked!” I would reply with faux modesty, referring of course, to the effects of my first daughter’s birth. My favourite was the confused look to my belly followed by “But you didn’t even look pregnant!” Good to know! Always! I totally ran with it and it was So. Much. Fun.
Now armed with the suspicion that people might be gawking for a different reason, do I say something or leave people to their open-jawed confusion? The other day, a mother I’m on ‘hello’ terms with might as well have drooled as she stared at me rescuing our East Asian-looking one-year-old from flying off the playground slide. There was slight irony, given she herself was of East Asian descent herself though hailing from Down Under. In the end I decided my daughter is my daughter and no explanation was needed, even if I could practically read the thought bubble above her head. We exchanged pleasantries and I left the playground whilst her eyes bored into my back.
Though bemused by the experience, I did wonder if I should have said something – if not for her sake but for my daughter’s? I still don’t know the answer to this, but while I figure it out I’ve been busy building a ‘retort repertoire’ for my game. For instance, if someone is staring particularly hard I say, ‘Oh my kids have different fathers’ and await their scandalised faces. Or if it’s mere curiosity, I wait till the question mark above their heads materialises and respond with a ‘Yup.’ But now I'm thinking to keep things simple, I should just admit I'm their nanny. It’s kinda true, that.
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[Image Via My City 4 Kids]