Antiracism laws outlaw term "gwailouh"

I read recently an article which stated in a new anti-racism law beign drafted in HK, it will be illegal to refer to white people as "gwailouh". its about time! to all those expats who DONT speak fluent cantonese and thus think this word is acceptable, from the viewpoint of an expat who has to use cantonese at work and to get around, to be constantly referrred to by your race and not your name IS a problem. Racism is deeply entrenched in this society against everyone so this law is a very positive one.

... but names will never harm me!

Thanks for that, Teresa -- that was a helpful take on this subject!

I think you're exactly right -- and this was what Mr B was getting at earlier. Hong Kong culture is full of examples of people calling each other names and making blatant 'observations' that would be considered utterly offensive in Western countries. I recall my own shock when my students in HK years ago would come up to me and say things like 'You are very tall, but you are also extremely fat. How much do you weigh?' (I *was* distinctly chubbier in those days!) It took some getting used to, because I had to come to the realization that they were saying even worse things to each other! I even had one student whose English name was 'Darkie'. I asked him why he'd chosen this name, and he gave a completely deadpan response: "I am called Darkie because my skin is very dark". Okay, got it. HK is also full of guys called 'Fei Lo' because they're just a little more than skeletal, and so on.

But you're certainly right in that it's hard to get used to. These kinds of honest but unflattering observations just aren't made in polite western culture. We make them behind people's backs!

Re:Antiracism laws outlaw term "gwailouh"

Hey Humidboy;

I'm very interested in hearing more about your experiences. There aren't many westerners in HK who need to use Cantonese in the workplace -- what has happened to you there that makes your feelings on this issue so strong?

I've gotten increasingly tired of being referred to as a 'gwai' as well, although in my case it's certainly more irritation than real anger -- see article here if you haven't already read it.

I don't think the term's use should be outlawed, though -- that to me is political correctness gone far too far.

I've had some success by simply confronting people who use it -- most are genuinely embarrassed and apologetic. I've also, on occasion, reported its use by shop staff to their managers, etc, and have gotten immediate apologies.

That's the thing with 'gwailouh' -- lots of people here say it doesn't mean anything, but then really deep down realize that it's a pretty unpleasant term when confronted with it.

Mr Tall

Re:Antiracism laws outlaw term "gwailouh"

I can't see this ever happening. Listen to your mini-bus driver's conversation with other drivers, hear how many times their mother is referred to in less than glowing terms, and you'll see how unlikely it is that anyone will care about hurting our feelings.

The other point from the above example is that the "*** *** old mother" line is used without thinking and 99.99% of the time doesn't cause offence because it's not meant to. But I've also seen fights start when someone has said it with real feeling.

So as long as someone is using the term "gweilo" towards me without any malice, I don't see the harm in it.


PS But ... if they could make this law work, and issue a fine every time the evil word is uttered, our budget deficit may well be a thing of the past.

Re:Antiracism laws outlaw term "gwailouh"

Mr. Tall,

I really hate this term simply because it doesnt respect me as a person. If I went around in an english speaking country referring to people as "chinks" or "slopes", I would be labelled a racist. So the way I see it, it should be the same here.
I know "gwailouh" IS a bad term simply by the fact that when chinese talk to me in cantonese and have to refer to my race, they always use "Sai yan" or "Sai Fing yan" which is very polite. If gwailouh wasnt a bad term, they would use it with me.
And to the second poster, I dont know what planet you are on, but if you think "diu lei lo mo" isnt rude and an acceptable way of speech, you are way off.

Re:Antiracism laws outlaw term "gwailouh"

Hi again Humidboy;

I don't think anybody's saying 'gwailo' is a nice word! I don't like it myself. I think what Mr B was getting at above is the fact that its use is heavily dependent on context. I fully agree with this -- lots of phrases --even 'diu lei' -- don't carry much serious meaning if they're used as a joke, or used so carelessly it's obvious there's no ill will behind them.

I wouldn't want HK to become like the states, where even uttering some words that *sound like* other words can get people sacked from their jobs or ending up with lawsuits on their hands!

A point to consider...

Hello all,

Hong kong is a perculiar place indeed.

Today I am heading to the bookfair and as those who watch the news would know, one of the major spotlights of the fair was the booth of the "Second degree culture" publisher where they sell books mocking political leadership and utilise Cantonese names that resembles impecciably to the name of the ex-leadership. (ie: Yip Lau Suk Yi)

I can still remember the debut book called the "So bah Tau" (translate: the head of a sweep) and Mrs Yip regarded it as a denounciation to her, she received more unpopularity as the result.

another point worth noting is that, using words of denounciation is a very common place in the Hong Kong culture. If you grow up in schools and colleges you can usually see people chatting and calling each other "batpoh" (bitch) or "sei yan tau" (lit: your dead head, trans: you fool/stupid), even fathers or mothers call their son bastard or bitch sometimes. Realise that Britain and American do not posess the same culture and it is hard to get used to.


Reminds me ..

Of what Bill Cosby has to say about blacks in the US (oh wait .. African Americans...).

HK will never have an anti racisim law. If it does, people will have to be nice to the Indians and the filipinos and all the other minorities... that means even the general gwailo expat will have to tone it down a bit. (Ask me about some of my experiences in HK ... specially when out at the pubs when soccer is on)

Don't confuse racism with ignorance.

Re:Antiracism laws outlaw term "gwailouh"

'illegal' is pushing it a bit far i think...

for those not used to this 'name calling' it can seem a bit harsh....but for those of us who understand....well we understand that it's not always meant to be as derogatory as it sounds

i mean let's face many boys have the nickname 'fei jai' thrust upon them not by their detractors, but by their own family ... and then there's 'haak jai' and so on and so on

hey i'm a little overweight (nicely rounded would be a western description) and i can't tell you how many times i've heard 'wah gaam fei' behind me in a lift....and i know it's not meant in such a nasty way, merely an observation of my size vs asian norms...usually i just turn around and smile

i think people get waaaaay too upset about the use and misuse of the term gwei loh

and as for the doing things with your mum....well it's used like an english f**k off really, nothing more, it's just a tad more descriptive *L*