Over the last couple of Next Top Model episodes, I've been scratching my head over 22 year old Jian Nan. It's become blindingly obvious that she is becoming increasingly isolated in the Top Model house and the rest of the girls don't really get along with her.
I feel two ways about this. On one hand I feel incredibly sorry for Jian Nan. When a few episodes back the girls played a prank on her by smothering her food in salt and pepper, my first thought was "Oh no. She's not going to react the way they think. She'll eat it." And she did, cutting later to her crying in the garden and later telling a friend on the phone that the girls were not being very nice. Personally, I don't think the prank was meant to be cruel. I think the girls expected her to react in a totally different way to what she did.
Sometimes the way she acts reminds me of myself when I was new in Greece and didn't really understand what was happening around me. It was over a year before I was able to work out if the girls in bellydance were teasing me or actually being mean but disguising it as teasing, or their sense of humour or way of thinking. But soon, with some effort on both parts, I was more easily able to navigate my new friendships.
But that was my first year in Greece. Jian Nan has been in Greece for 10 years, since she was 12 years old. Here is where I get confused. From her behaviour and her Greek, she gives the impression that she somehow managed to isolate herself completely from Greek society for the last 10 years. The easiest thing to do when you arrive in a new country is to seek out your own, but Jian Nan seems to have done so to such an extent that now when she finds herself in a house with only Greek women for company, she has no idea what to do with herself. It's as if she literally arrived yesterday.
I'm puzzled as to how she managed to do this. Did she never make any Greek friends? Didn't she go to school here? If so, how is her Greek still so poor? I don't say that to pass judgement. My point is children pick up languages much faster than adults. Jian Nan was 12 when she arrived in Greece. If she went through the school system here at that age her Greek and her mannerisms should be very different to what they are. If she didn't go through the school system here, how did that happen seeing as it's against the law not to send your child to school?
I feel sorry for her, but at the same time her strategy of trying to make friends by emphasising cultural differences rather than looking for common ground is backfiring miserably. Multiculturalism is wonderful, but you can't escape the fact that when you end up in a foreign country, in my opinion at least you are duty bound to try and integrate into your new society.
I don't think the girls in the house are particularly racist (except maybe for Nancy who I can not stand), but I also think they are not particularly interested in foreign cultures. They're becoming aware of Jian Nan's awkwardness around them and it's setting some of them on edge. As soon as Jian Nan seemingly steps out of line, tempers flare and the line between Us and Them becomes much more sharply drawn. I think this is more a case of a bunch of extremely insecure young women shoved into a house together and losing their shit over nothing, rather than racism. I get the impression that they're getting tired of trying to coax her out of her shell.
At judging last night Jian Nan ended up in the final two, and blamed her poor performance on her feelings of isolation in the house. She also slipped up during judging when the judges told her she was a babe (kouklitsa) and she said "Yes I know, I have a babe-tastic face." She probably meant to use the word koukla in its literal sense (doll) rather than its colloquial use as babe, thus meaning to say "I have a doll-like face". The girls in the back sniggered.
As for some well meaning but highly inappropriate cultural stereotyping, we can always turn to good old Harry Christopoulos who just can not seem to get past Jian Nan's cultural identity and simply see her as another contestant. Cringeworthy comments about China can always be guaranteed from his mouth, along with outrageous statements like "You are as sexy as an Asian woman can be." or with her terrified expression in this week's photo posing with two scorpions "But you eat those in China."