The Phenomenon Of Chinese Secularism In Cross-Cultural Friendships
Chinese people who travel overseas and cross paths with me in Australia, in our conversations, they always tell me of their difficulties to make cross-cultural friendships, because Chinese are traditionally shy, conservative people. If there is a Chinese community abroad, they tend to stick to those communities.
The decision to go contrary to their instincts and talk to a foreigner is rare, otherwise everyone in mainland China would have two or three Western friends in their circle of friends, their dinner gatherings, their group photos, and their day to day affairs.
That is clearly not the case in a majority of my observations. In China or abroad, when I make a new Chinese friend, even if they have spoken English for ten years, I am still their first and only foreign friend (唯一的外国朋友).
Is this a phenomenon?
Westerners and Chinese In A Chinese Hostel Scenario
In China, I spend a few weeks here and there in Guangzhou, Dengba hostel (登巴客栈). Dengba has a wide range of nationalities and Chinese ethnicities lodging there. It is a good place to meet new people. The time I spent there was also a reminder of the difficulties in making friends with Chinese people in China these days.
In my travels in China, I tend to exclusively talk only with Chinese people in China, and make friends with local Chinese. It makes sense to me when in China to respect the local customs and befriend the local people.
However, in the hostel, it was much easier to talk to the Westerners. One time, while chatting to a German man I asked, “Do you want to go out?” Without question, he replied, “Alright.”
The reason it is so simple for us to agree is because in our minds, we both knew there is no need to bridge any cultural gap because “That is how we do it in The West.”
Australians who meet for the first time would usually say in a very sociable, friendly way, “Hey, do you want to go out for some drinks?” The common response would be, “Yeah why not.” Then we do it.
Chinese people in the hostel would often feel strange to speak with Westerners. Chinese groups would flock to each other in the hostel, and be wary towards us foreigners. Even once you have a conversation, they remain cagey and are slow to trust, and slow to take the friendship further. I knew this was due to cultural differences.
In any introduction, two people must be willing to know each other. Often cultural differences becomes a psychological barrier, so while I would like to make friends with all people from all walks of life, sometimes the cultural barriers that are harbored inside people make them unwilling to come with an open mind to a conversation, and therefore, are unable to make a meaningful relationship happen.
Dinner Etiquette For Western / Chinese Dates
Another time, when in a coffee shop, I was listening to a male and female in their early 30’s sitting down over a coffee, talking. The first thing they are talking about was Groups (裙子). The guy said, “This group is too big. I don’t want to post on it because my face (面子) is not big enough for that yet. The lead poster has more face (面子) than me.”
I thought, “Wow man. So this passes off as topical in China, WeChat Groups.” This is how you flirt in China, basically by saying, “This person in the WeChat Group has less status (地位) than the other person.” Then talking about face (面子) and other popular Chinese trendy topics.
Basically, to flirt in China, you have to talk shit about all the other people in the group.
He started talking about the status (地位) of other people in the WeChat Group, and disparaged how the group member is too 牛逼. I thought, “For a 30 year old guy to talk like that, is lame. Westerners would never take a girl on a date to use such petty things to squabble about, as a means to flirt. This guy is blowing the date.” Then, much to my surprise, she chuckled to herself. I guess she thought he was cute.
The boy and girl bonded, because she also started talking about how these people in the group are 牛逼. But unlike Westerns couples, they were sitting very conservatively, not flirting at all, really, in the conventional Western way where you would be touching hands and showing affection.
This date scene I have seen countless times in China. It is the old tale of proximity, where in China, to woo a female, you have to be around a female, and she has to be willing to be around you. Then you just talk about crap for 2 months until you get used to each other, and stumble into a relationship.
Western people don’t play those games. If we like each other and we want to take the next step to have sex, we call it out for what it is, and we have sex. There is no cultural influence in liberal Western society to force us to make conservative decisions, as there is in traditional Chinese, conservative society.
The Inter-Racial Date
Going on an inter-racial date also has its own unique cultural characteristics. This, however, is a tale for another day.
The author of Diary Of A Mad Chaos from 1996 to 2018, The Lost Years book, Wubao In China (猎艳奇缘) book series, and Foreigner (华人) an exploration of race relations in Australia. Fluent in Chinese Mandarin, Macedonian, and English, the author currently resides in China, Guangzhou where he continues to make comparative analysis of the cultural differences between Eastern and Western societies.