Picture this: you’re walking inside one of Dongguan’s most popular malls—DG Mall—when suddenly a young Chinese girl you’ve never met before timidly approaches you with her phone out and asks you for a picture. To most female (and some male) foreigners living in China, this is a familiar scene.
After such an encounter, the first question you might ask is: what’s the deal with Chinese people taking a foreigner’s photo? When I was a young kid in China, I asked my mom this same question after the fifth time a stranger had asked for my picture that day. She casually replied with “because they think you’re pretty” and left it at that.
Several years and many photos of me saved on strangers’ phones later, I’ve come to realize that my mother was partly correct. When a stranger approaches you and asks for a selfie, the next words that come out of their mouth is usually “you’re so beautiful.”
Taking a look at the general Chinese beauty standards offers up a more precise explanation. Chinese ideals include white skin, large eyes and double eyelids. Due to female foreigners having met most of these criteria, it explains the high frequency of being asked to take pictures.
However, beauty alone isn’t always the reason behind being asked for your photo. The occasional follow-up question of “where are you from?” hints that there’s an excitement surrounding the fact that you’re not from China. This was especially the case several years earlier when there weren’t as many foreigners living in China—let alone in Dongguan. To someone who has never left China, meeting foreigners can be exciting, prompting them to ask for a photo.
Despite this situation’s reoccurrence, some foreigners are still uncomfortable with strangers taking their picture. If this is the case, it is perfectly fine to respectfully say no. However, most foreigners only seem to mind having pictures taken of them when done so without permission.
Vikisha Gohil, an Indian student from the American International School of Guangzhou, says, “When people discretely take my pictures without my consent, I find it uncomfortable as I never know what their intentions are with the pictures.”
Similarly, Gaelle Pollak, from Mexico, says, “I think it’s okay for strangers to take a picture of me with permission. I only get uncomfortable when photos are taken of me without asking, and I’ll say no if I’m in a hurry or in a particularly bad mood.”
Personally, I’m fine with having my picture taken. Of course, I’d much rather it be with my consent. At the end of the day, what strangers want with my picture doesn’t concern me; what’s essential is that people are respectful and considerate of one another.