Monday, July 6, 2009

Rude questions and how to answer them politely (pre-adoptive edition) Part I

When you enter the adoptive community, one topic that keeps coming up is the rude questions people ask. Some people turn into Obnoxious Experts when they see a parent and child in public - it's a fact of life. Internationally adoptive families are prone to it to... with a twist. The Obnoxious Expert realizes that there's something exotic going on here. Proudly armed with a small amount of misinformation, the Expert boldly jumps into the next step: personal questions.

I'm being a little sarcastic here. Most rude people don't mean to be rude - they are merely curious. They ache to be educated, to test their knowledge of international adoption against the real thing.

(Truly rude people are easy to identify - they're the ones who yell, "Chinka chinka ahhh so!" and pull at their eyes with their fingers as you walk by. If you never meet one of those, thank modern society for allowing racism to fall out of fashion.)

And you don't need the actual child to invite the rude questions. You just have to mention you're adopting. Some waiting parents keep quiet about their adoptions until they're done and the child is home safely. Not us. We tell everyone - coworkers, the doctor's receptionist, the other volunteers at Cape Wildlife Center, the girls at the gym... everyone.

I figure I want to get my practice in now. I want to give people a chance to ask their questions, both curious and rude, so I can educate them ahead of time... and so I can know what to expect. So I can think up some polite answers instead of storming off in a huff. Here are a few I've heard already:

Q: "You're getting a boy? I thought only girls are available from China."

A: "No, more girls than boys get adopted by families in the US, but there are some boys too. My boy isn't the first, and he certainly won't be the last."

Q: "But I thought they didn't value their girls over there, and they abandoned them in hopes of getting a boy."

A: "It's a lot more complicated than that. See, traditionally, it's the son's family who takes care of the aging parents when they can't take care of themselves. But Chinese culture is changing rapidly, and that's not so true anymore. In fact, almost no abandoned children are firstborns - almost all have older siblings, and are probably illegal according to the One-Child Policy. If a family has too many children, they find themselves in a bind - they'll be punished for having the second child, and punished for giving it up for adoption. They're forced to abandon it anonymously. It's a heartbreaking thing to do, but they do their best to assure that the child is taken care of.

"Also, only about 20% of the orphaned children in China are adopted internationally. That leaves 80% who are adopted in-country, or who are raised either by the state or by relatives. This whole thing about Chinese adoptees being girls is only a small part of what's going on, and at this point it's driven as much by American culture as by Chinese culture."

And here's a shorter answer:

A: "That's not exactly true. It's based on a lot of misconceptions. Things change fast in China, and it's hard for American media to keep up. But just wait - I'm sure the changes will become common knowledge in a while!"

Commentary: The longest conversation I've had about gender views in China lasted 5 or 6 questions. That particular woman had a hard time letting go of her preconceptions. She then told me several times that she knew someone personally who had two Chinese girls, but she didn't know anyone who had boys. Well, I'm having a boy. I'm sorry if it hurts her head; I'm still having a boy.

It has occurred to me that explaining my child has special needs would do the job as well, but I don't want to go that route. My child' special needs are no one's business. There's no reason anyone has to know he has any.

This line of questioning is extremely annoying in any situation, but if anyone tries it when my son is around, I may have to use a great deal of self-restraint. That would be the utter height of rudeness!

Q: " Do you have to go to China to get him?"

A: "Yes! Yes we do! And we're all excited, although I don't know how many touristy things we'll get to do. We'll be busy, you know."

Commentary: This question only sounds rude because it implies that going to China is undesirable. Some people may have heard that Korea has caregivers escort the child to the US, and you meet them in the airport. And maybe they think that method is better. I don't. I'm happy to go.

Q: "Will he speak English? You'll teach him English, right?"

A: "Yes, I'm sure he'll pick up English in no time."

Q: "Why would you want to learn Chinese? You won't need it. He doesn't even speak yet."

A: "I'm just learning a few words. Don't worry, they'll come in useful! Besides, learning other languages is fun."

Commentary: Geez Louise! What is so terrifying about the idea of somebody else learning Chinese? This appears to be a big huge issue with many people. The very topic distresses them. If it were just one or two people, I'd think it was an odd personality quirk, but this overreaction is very common!

It's okay, folks. If I learn some phrases in Chinese, I will only grow from the experience. And don't you worry about my relationship with my son in terms of language. There's nothing you can do to help, not even scrunching your face up in concern like that.

1 comment:

  1. What if I hop on one foot and wave my hands in the air - would that be helpful? =) I think it's really awesome that you are learning some Mandarin. I have no idea how much of a language barrier Yun Gui will have with as young as he is, but it can only help if you are able to produce a few words of the language that he has heard for all of his (short) life.