My “Rent-a-Foreigner” Experience

One particularly interesting business tactic that has fascinated me during my time in China is the “Rent-a-Foreigner” strategy.  In order to appear more international and exotic, some Chinese companies—ranging from real estate to engineering—will hire foreigners to give their companies an international face to appear more high-end.  The entertaining consideration is you don’t need any knowledge or education to do this; you just play the role you are assigned.  The greatest part?  You can make some good money as well.

Here is the Weixin commentary based on the BusinessInsider article.  It’s a short, interesting read that provides a little more information on why the Chinese perceive the foreign face to be advantageous during events and other business-related happenings.  I mean, it’s a running joke here that you can buy anything off of TaoBao (think Chinese Amazon and Ebay on steroids), but I didn’t realize that you can really buy anything, even foreigners.  Shoutout to Shelby Tuseth for sending this article to me.

I told myself that if the opportunity presented itself, I would at least interview and try to be that foreign face just to experience it.  I would be able to meet new people and possibly have some fun while earning that sweet Mao money so why not?  On April 4th and 5th, experience it I did.

Over time, a few friends I’ve made over here would post in their WeChat feed (think Facebook, but more mobile-oriented) that they knew of a company looking for a “white male, 6’0″ or taller, aged 21-25.”  A few of the times that I applied for the position, I was turned down with the reason being that I wasn’t skinny enough.  Maybe to some that would be upsetting, but you also have to understand the expectation of skinny here in China. I’m a 33″ waist which is pretty common for men my age in the U.S.  The first position I applied to was looking for someone “lankier than me.”  It was just funny having that explained by my friend who originally asked if I was interested.  After a few more attempts, I was finally accepted to help a kitchen appliances company, Robam, advertise during a shopping holiday at the beginning of April 2015 here in Nanjing.  Little did I know, I signed up for something a little more intensive than handing out coupon fliers.

That weekend, I met up with a group who were also in consideration for this event and I quickly realized that I was the only male among about eight Asian women who were around my age.  We get to Robam’s meeting room where we were told to wait.  The leader of this Robam promotional event has the girls stand up, show her how they look with different hair styles, and a few other things to ensure their qualifications and they wrap up after about 20 minutes.  Meanwhile I’m just twiddling my thumbs wondering what they will require from me.  After the girls are ok’ed, we’re told that all of us can leave.  I’m a bit puzzled so I ask one of the girls why the Robam woman didn’t even talk to me.  The woman heard me and told the girl to ask me if I can dance… which I said yes to.  Apparently, with that sole question, I was hired.  Did I just accept a role in an advertising dance promotion?  Yes.  Yes I did.

We were going to be working Saturday and Sunday doing choreographed dance promotions at 4 different Robam store locations in downtown Nanjing.  They would pay me 2,000RMB (~$330) for the whole weekend and while it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, I went with it.

All of us met again Friday night April 3rd, to finalize the full dance and I was fitted for the outfit that I would rock as the front man of my troupe: a pretty snazzy chef uniform. I just remember thinking to myself what is going on?

IMG_2765 Throughout Saturday and Sunday, we were led around various Robam locations within a shopping mall center and put on a 3 minute show starring Jack the Weigouren Chef and his Chinese French Maids. In total we probably did about 8-10 dances each day and we even got to cruise on Segways a couple of times.  While walking–sometimes Segwaying(?)–between locations, we would carry signs with the girls chanting a slogan in Chinese.  Meanwhile, I would just lead the girls in a line from location to location with the camera crew and assistants directing me.  I have never been stared at so much in my life. IMG_2746 IMG_2747 Every time the music would start, shoppers and passersby would look to the source of the upbeat tempo, see our costumes, and realize that some white guy is making an ass of himself for the sake of commercialism.  We would start dancing in front of maybe 10 people and by the end of our routine, there would be 70+ people recording us on their phones; at other locations, it was much more people.

So without further ado, here is the entertaining video of our dance with the laughing of my friend Tony (the person filming) included.  Sorry it’s not in 4K and surround sound.

Although it was a little odd at first, the whole weekend was fun.  The entire job turned out drastically different from what I imagined and I was paid for something I thought I would never get paid to do.  Sounds like the embodiment of a perfect foreign experience in China to me.


One thought on “My “Rent-a-Foreigner” Experience”

  1. You are one crazy kid. Loved the video. Smiled during the entire viewing. You did a great job. Reminded me of Slum Dog Millionaire. Only a Chineese version.
    Love and miss you. Big hug.


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