Oh, the *other* Canada…

I’ve heard people joke, especially pre-9-11, about how Americans think there are only two kinds of people in the world: Americans and Foreigners. Well that applies at least as much in China; I’ve heard Chinese tell that joke about themselves, that there are only two countries: The Middle Kingdom and The Outside Kingdom. And to a Chinese learner’s half-tuned ear the way people talk sometimes sounds ridiculously funny, because when you hear things too literally all the time it sounds in Chinese (to you) as if “Foreign Country” is proper noun and people do think there literally are only two nations in the world.

In English we have “abroad” or “overseas” and those words don’t sound or look anything like Germany, the USA, France, etc. And we have to have an article in front of “foreign country” (a foreign country). In Chinese, many oft-used country names are two-syllable words all with the same last syllable: “~” (“[~]” + “country”). For example:

  • 德国 dé guó – Germany
  • 法国 fă guó – France
  • 美国 mĕi guó – USA
  • 俄国 é guó – Russia

Pay attention to these last two:

  • 中国 zhōng guó – China (literally: “central” + “country”)
  • 外国 wài guó – abroad, overseas, a foreign country (literally: “outside” + “country”). “Foreigner” = “outside” + “country” + “person” (外国 + ).

So whenever Chinese talk about going abroad, it literally sounds like they’re dividing the world into two different countries, even if they aren’t.

But sometimes… I wonder. This morning I was somewhere meeting a bunch of new people, and there was this kid, maybe 10(?), who was all about quizzing the foreigner while he had the rare chance.

Qingdao kid: “Where are you from?”

Me: “Canada.”

QK: [leans in, stares closely at my face] “But your eyes look like foreigner eyes.”

It took me a couple seconds to figure out what had happened. The kid had never heard of Canada, and “Canada” in Chinese isn’t “[~]” + “country” like all my examples above, it’s just a transliteration of the English: 加拿大 jiā ná dà. He heard a name for the first time, and it wasn’t obviously a country’s name, so he assumed it was somewhere in China.

Most of the adults present had a good laugh, though I’m not sure some of them weren’t as confused as the kid. We do occasionally bump into grown-ups who don’t know where Canada is or if it’s even a country.

And just to be fair, a week ago today we had a group lunch that included an American woman who ended up saying, “Shanxi? Where’s that? Is that in Qingdao?”

Chinese “birth tourism” & “passport babies” in Canada

As white, native English speakers, we were ethnic and linguistic minorities in the birthing unit of our local Canadian hospital for both of our daughters’ births (they’re 2 3/4 years and 7 days old). My daughters and I are covered under Canada’s socialized health care system, but Jessica isn’t because she’s American; she’s on international health insurance. Similar to a growing number of people in Canadian maternity wards, she was a foreigner giving birth in Canada.

Jessica’s foreign status means a $6000 deposit from us before the hospital deals with the insurance company and personal visits from Accounts Receivable agents hours after the child is born. Literally right as I was meeting my parents and daughter at the reception desk when they were coming to see the new baby for the first time, an agent showed up for a 20-minute lecture/interrogation, asking us the kind of questions you get when going through customs: When did you arrive in Canada? How long do you plan to be here? Where is your permanent residency? Etc. She was friendly and reasonable and I had no problem with her (don’t shoot the messenger, right?). But I was already annoyed at the idea of a $6000 deposit (which I negotiated down to $3000 and eventually $1000), and in my mind I was thinking: You know we’re insured. How is any of the rest of this your business? She even photocopied Jessica’s passport, even though Canadian border agents don’t usually stamp American visitors’ passports. I get them being all on top of securing Jessica’s insurance info, but what’s her status in Canada have to do with it?

It turns out that there are different prices for foreigners and non-covered residents. But I may have discovered another part of the answer in the high school staff room this morning, where the Vancouver Sun was open to this story (online version behind a pay-wall):

Apparently they’re on the lookout for “passport babies” and “birth tourists”:

Citizenship and Immigration Canada is poised to crack down on so-called “passport babies” or “birth tourism” – the practice of travelling to Canada to give birth so that child can have Canadian citizenship.

The Canadian action comes an investigation by a Hong Kong newspaper found that bogus “consultants” are teaching Chinese women how to hide their pregnancies and how to apply for Canadian visitor or student visas.
[…]
The government will introduce changes to the citizenship laws in the next year, Malcolm said.
[…]
“By definition the hospitals don’t ask. You know, when the birth certificate is issued no one is asking what was the immigration status of their parents. So, there is no statistical register of this,” Kenney said.

(Well, they do now! At least, they asked us. Anyway, back to the article…)

Canada and the U.S. are the only two countries in the developed world that have an automatic inheritance of citizenship if you’re born on their soil, Kenney said.
[…]
“And maybe our citizenship laws are rooted in a time when people couldn’t fly over here, fly in and out so quickly, so easily. I think maybe there’s a need to modernize our approach.”

I wish I’d thought to ask the lady straight-up about Chinese birth tourism. Maybe if we have a #3 I’ll remember to inquire about China-related issues with the hospital staff, but somehow I doubt it… :)

See also: ‘Birth tourists’ believed to be using Canada’s citizenship laws as back door into the West
Some Related Stuff (Chinese in Canada, Reverse Culture Stress, Pregnancy, Babies):