It’s been a couple of weeks since it was actually discussed near me, but the issue came back to me in the shower this morning (not sure why but hey, let’s roll with it!)

Somebody at the Drink and Draw meetup had commented on how they had recently begun finding the word ‘Gwailo’ a bit awkward, having previously thought it a quaint nickname. For those of you not in the know, ‘Gwailo’ is the term used by Hong Kong Chinese to refer to white westerners, usually in an affectionately disparaging way (bear with me on this).

Said person had discovered that Gwailo meant ‘white devil’, and realised the racist and potentially hateful connotations of the word. As, in all fairness would (and should) everybody. While it’s not a word I use regularly myself (and I resent it being applied to me as doing so would be inaccurate and insulting to me and my family), I can tell you that it’s not (usually) used in anything but the most affectionate of ways. The word doesn’t mean ‘White Devil’, it means ‘Devil or Ghost Man’, a comment on the pale appearance of the travellers from Britain. Yes, it almost certainly had its roots in colonial-era racism and I wouldn’t for a minute dream of using it in common everyday conversation; It really ought to be consigned to the same scrapheap that the N word or the Ch-y word belong to.

However, I would remark that in modern times, it’s not really used in the same way that was originally intended, due in no small part to the willingness of the Hong Kong British to adopt Gwailo as a kind of badge of pride. While Gwailo does still see its usage as a term for the ‘foreign invaders’, especially when directed against expats, more often than not it’ll be used as a shorthand for ‘westerner with western customs’ or ‘a bit clueless’ rather than something outright malicious. My uncles often call my father ‘the Gwailo’, but it’s never meant as an insult; He’s the only white guy in the family, and he’s got a reasonable grasp on much of asian culture, but he’s not necessarily going to get involved in it. And we might rib him for it, but really, we don’t mean anything by it, because we appreciate that he appreciates the culture without necessarily getting involved himself.

Because let’s face it: I can just about get away with praying at a buddhist temple, but it’d look a bit… Weird if he were to do so.

But in all seriousness: Remember, if anyone ever calls you a Gwailo, try and judge the tone! It’s probably not meant to be a slur against you and your race, but if you ever feel uncomfortable it’s perfectly cool to ask us not to call you that. After all, how many times have I asked my friends to stop using the Ch-y word to refer to a Chinese Takeaway?

Joi gin!