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Finding Waldo: Why Making Chinese Friends is Difficult [Copy link] 中文

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Post time 2012-7-30 16:08:29 |Display all floors


Conveniences afforded by rapid modernization have made it possible for the average foreigner to get by (barely) in China without speaking a word of Mandarin. Translation software and supermarkets make survival without Chinese friends possible. Cloistered in work situations unconducive toward interacting with locals, it is possible to live in China without having a single Chinese friend. Some are perfectly happy to spend all their leisure time with fellow expats. A large proportion of foreigners, however, come to China to gain cultural experience and this cannot be attained in a friend-less vacuum.

Having a hard time making Chinese friends? Here are some possible reasons why, along with suggestions on how to bump up your chances at friendship in China.
Friendship defined, Chinese-style…
Before writing all locals off as insincere opportunists, try seeing friendship from their eyes. Chinese tend to use the word "friend" rather loosely – for everything from colleagues to casual acquaintances. In a name-dropping, guanxi-based society, contact details are usually requested within minutes of making an acquaintance. Following months of silence, a local acquaintance is capable of striking up a conversation like an old friend. Although, to be fair, networking is a perfectly legitimate pursuit back home.  Soulmate-type friends do exist in China – you just have to look harder for them. Having defined "friend", let’s move on to the causes of friendlessness.
Reasons why making Chinese friends can be difficult
1) Effect of nationality on "friend-ability"
Growing affluence in China means a growing appetite for the exotic and the imported, friends included. A foreign passport can work like a friend-magnet, at least until the novelty has worn off. It can also work the other way, with the recent rash of incidents involving foreigners behaving badly in China causing a significant amount of backlash and anti-foreigner sentiment. Not to mention that most Chinese already possess insecurities toward how foreigners view them. Lastly, not all foreigners are created equal. People from Western countries usually enjoy the warmest welcomes (sincere or interested), while foreigners from developing countries could find themselves looked down upon by locals. Relationships between countries are ever fluid and unpredictable, hence the effect a foreigner’s nationality may have on locals is something that is beyond one’s control. But having knowledge of how locals view people from different countries is useful in getting to know how they think.
2)  Cultural differences
Chances are, China differs from your home culture on at least four out of five of Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions. Cultural differences are employed by both Chinese and foreigners to explain everything from differing service standards to political systems. Specifically, Chinese concepts of guanxi (connections) and mianzi (face) are often bewildering to those from meritocratic societies. Neglecting to build networks and failure to give face (adequate respect) are potential friendship landmines.
Those taking a long view of their stay in China would find going a step back and understanding Chinese history a worthwhile investment. Chinese are understandably proud of their "5,000 year-long history", which significantly and indelibly shapes current thinking and behaviour. In ancient China, guanxi did not have its current negative connotation as people worked hard at maintaining relationships. Recent history has eroded traditional relationships among Chinese as they continually seek immediate connections – a.k.a. the we’ve-met-once-therefore-we-are-friends phenomenon. A Chinese "friend" who seemed so warm and effusive in the first few meetings suddenly disappears after finding out his or her target’s financial or social position.
3) Language barriers
Adding to the seeminly insurmountable cultural barriers are language barriers which serve to widen the chasm between foreigners and locals. Especially considering that Mandarin Chinese is not an easy language to master for those learning it as an adult. Even fluent Mandarin-speakers meet accent discrimination in parts of China less accepting toward differently-accented Putonghua. Chinese looking to make foreign friends that can be used as language partners are not hard to find, but not every foreigner relishes being a free language-practice target. In rare cases where true friendship subsequently develops, the road is more often than not fraught with lost in translation potholes.
4) Not doing as the Chinese do
On a more mundane level, culture affects day-to-day activities like eating habits to leisure pursuits. Being in China but unable to do as the Chinese do could jeopardize chances at friendship in regions where locals are less tolerant of "Western" preferences. In places where cuisine options are more extreme, like hot and spicy Sichuan, not every foreigner is willing and able to join in their newfound friends’ weekly hotpot sessions. Ditto with mahjong and karaoke sessions. Being perceived as "different" could mean "not friendship material", especially in inland parts of China less exposed to foreigners.
5) Being technologically hip in China
Policies in China have also affected communication methods. Young working adults favor QQ and Weibo over Skype and Twitter; Tudou and Youku over YouTube. Sure, many scale the Great Firewall, but such expeditions are usually confined to satiating curiosity on YouTube, news sites and the odd Skype session with foreign friends. Suggesting that a local friend sends you an email will not go down as well as leaving a message on QQ.
6) Sometimes, the answer lies within
So far, the discussion had been confined to environmental factors, but to a large extent, friendship also depends on the individual. The workplace is a good place to develop friendships due to the hours spent there but some workplaces, like universities, may deliberately separate local and expatriate staff. Choice of leisure activities is also another factor. For example, friendships forged in pursuit of common interests are typically deeper than those made under the strobe-lights of the disco. Lastly, the clichéd adage, "if you want a friend, be a friend" applies. Being more outgoing helps in drawing out locals who tend to be more self-conscious and introverted, as effusive ones often turn out to be shameless opportunists.
To increase chances at friendship in China
  • Get on a local social-networking or microblog site like QQ or Sina Weibo – especially helpful to build networks with young working adults.
  • Remember, when using humor, that Lost in Translation is not just a movie – at best, efforts at lightening the atmosphere could fall flat; at worst, they could prove offensive.
  • Try not to decline an invitation without very good reason for doing so.
  • Pursue a hobby that locals would engage in, such as Chinese painting or joining a gym. Joining an English corner or attending a local religious group are other possibilities.
  • Avoid "sensitive" or controversial topics on the first few meetings, especially politics or news that cast China in an unfavourable light. Being critical of China is something of an art form in and of itself!

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Post time 2012-8-1 18:41:06 |Display all floors
I am a foreigner on a shorter stay to study Hanyu in Beijing and it was a great lesson to read your text. Indeed, I recently did not show interest in a suggestion of a meeting with a Chinese. After that she does not even look at me {:soso_e100:}

On the other hand, I met a couple of times with 2 Chinese guys on different occasions to swap language learning- English versus Chinese. It was really fun and extremely useful for both parts. None the less, now they don't reply to my sms or e-mails about the next appoitnment :)

I learned many Chinese in Stockholm - Sweden where I live. I was really much more open and generous to them without expecting anything in return. The joy of learning new people from an exotic country was enough for me.

In contrast, I experienced the Chinese towards me as pretty passive and closed up, even indifferent. And this observartion is even much more apparent here in Beijing.

My conclusion is that there is a fundamental difference of mentality between West and CHina. We westerners are on the average very curious about other "the other", open minded, generous, full of humour and easy going approach. But at the same time we keep times and serious promises.

That's semething that certainly hepled us to spread our languages and culture all over the planet.

I like the Chinese ancient culture but it is somewhat difficult for me to see how modern China is an heir to that old civilization. I see all around me very unfair society with a few rich and a vast majority of pretty simple and poor people. The consumerism and materialism is very striking. hobbies and alternative life styles to shopping barely visible. Of course in the West, we are buying things as well but in addition we learn foreign languages, travell, fishing, having romances and relaxed behaviour in between our working hours.

SO at the moment I am a little bit disappointed. In addition, it is really funny to hear about those superstitions of lucky 8 and bad luck 4, the powerful people who happenend to be born in the year of the dragon, mianzi , guanxi et cetera. Maybe the Chinese had better look at the people as a potential and have the courage and motivation to explore it? {:soso_e100:}

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Post time 2012-8-23 09:37:09 |Display all floors
traveller_in_Cn Post time: 2012-8-1 18:41
I am a foreigner on a shorter stay to study Hanyu in Beijing and it was a great lesson to read your  ...

Maybe you stay here for "short",so you can never say you  know Chinese or even the Chinese ancient culture.That's the main reason why you feel confused ,disappointed,or something.

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Post time 2012-8-30 19:48:58 |Display all floors
hah a ,unluckily ,i am in shanghai ,

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Post time 2012-8-30 22:11:45 |Display all floors
seneca Post time: 2012-8-24 14:07
Thanks for a lot of fresh reminders of how I felt about Chinese in the beginning. Even ten years o ...

Would you just briefly address these questions, please, if time allows?

1. How important is the command of Chinese language to reach the people? Does it make any difference or is the importance of family bonds, ethnic, racial, national affiliation predominant as ever?

2. Is there a "breaking point" of keeping a distance? If you pass this breaking point you can be accepted as "my buddy"?

3. In the west there are many mixed marriages, relationships between different nationalities. It is striking that Chinese plus another is almost non-existent. Do the Chinese mix up with other chinese from a different city, province, social class etc. or are they "territorial" as well? There are few cases where a Western guy has married a Chinese lady. Is it fair to suspect that the motivation of the woman was purely opportunistic (to live in the west) or is there a new trend that Chinese women are likely to marry foreigenrs?

Thanks. Have a good one :)

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Post time 2012-8-30 22:20:37 |Display all floors
Raff Post time: 2012-8-23 09:37
Maybe you stay here for "short",so you can never say you  know Chinese or even the Chinese ancient ...

Disappointed in a way, yes, confused not.

I based my opinon on my casual acquaintances with Chinese in the west. those chinese were nice and easy to talk to but already they were "themselves". Not very likely to make a relaxed and close friendship.

When I experienced China from within I was a little surprised to learn that average Chinese are very simple, sometimes primitive, unfriendly, occasionally rude et cetera. The Chinese in the west, very often very bright students leave the impression of a smart chinese but the folks in the street in Beijing were just stupid sometimes

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Post time 2012-8-31 06:57:05 |Display all floors
"When I experienced China from within I was a little surprised to learn that average Chinese are very simple, sometimes primitive, unfriendly, occasionally rude et cetera. The Chinese in the west, very often very bright students leave the impression of a smart chinese but the folks in the street in Beijing were just stupid sometimes"

You just experienced culture difference.

simple? - Yes, they talk straight, with less "going around", it saves energy :)

primitive? - social behavior is quite different then in "west", if You used to it - You can find a lot of subtle changes, that makes those "primitiveness" just different kind of Your "developeness"

unfriendly? - if You mean about average look on the face, be aware, that our "neutral" facial expression is also taken as "all time pissed off and angry", if You refere to action on the streets - They are not so open to conversation with strangers in strangers' language (sometimes  because they just go with friends and are affraid that by showing lack of language skill they loose a face) etc... many cultural differences

the same go with "rudeness" - see "primitive". did They asked You why You are fat? Nothing wrong with that (in my oppinion), They are just curious. Many of Chinese use simple english words in communication, insteed of "formal savoirvivre" that we used to hear in "west".

And here we came to difference about average Chinese on the street here and for example in US.
Here - by using simple words and straight communication They may look as simple, rude, etc. There - usually goes people with high language skills, who are not affraid to use it, and can express many subtle emotions etc.

So, maybe some kind of reply is - its a both cultural, and language difference?


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