Being introduced to people in China

In the summer of 2012 I visit my friend in her hometown Changsha. We became friends while she was studying in Vienna and I was working there. In the summer of 2012 we’re both in China at the same time. She had told me before that everyone is eager to meet me. Her grandparents (especially her grandfather who had helped me find my gorgeous Chinese name according to traditional 生辰八字 shēngchén bāzì principles, or Four Pillars of Destiny in English), her mother, her friends.

One day we go to her grandparents’ place. Another day we meet up with friends for Karaoke. And yet another day we meet up with friends for dinner. The reaction is the same no matter where we go and no matter with whom we meet up. There hardly seems to be any reaction at all. Nobody seems to be interested in getting to know me in a way I’m used to. No questions, no talking – I’m present, but I feel invisible at the same time.

I talk about this with a friend from Switzerland who encountered the same situation a few years ago. A few years ago, she’s staying at her Chinese in-laws’ home in Yunnan’s countryside. Every now and then somebody she doesn’t know comes by and visits, mainly to get to know her – the Swiss girlfriend of a guy from their hometown. It terrifies her – having to meet all these people and spending the time it needs to get to know them at a time when she would rather spend time on her own because she needs to prepare for her final exams. But when she goes downstairs to meet them, nobody asks any questions. She finds out that she only needs to be present and that’s about it. There’s not much talking and neither are there many questions. She’s relieved. That way there will be enough time to spend on her studies.

My encounters in Changsha prepare me for visiting my in-laws and all my husband’s relatives less than a year later. I don’t expect people to ask many questions when we get to know each other. You go somewhere to visit and then you can just sit down watch TV, read a book or even lie on a bed and relax. It’s really not a big deal.

Have you ever been surprised about how getting to know someone is different in different cultures?

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8 thoughts on “Being introduced to people in China

  1. I experienced the same in my boyfriend’s hometown. It was Chinese New Year so people were visiting each other, taking gifts and greeting. Neighbours just came buy and talked with my in-laws. The only common thing in both cases is that I had to be present, just standing there.

    Every time I tried to say some of the few words I know in Chinese, just to say “hi, my name is X, nice to meet you. What’s your name?”. Then they just laughed and commented something to my in-laws, but I never got any answer to my question. I wast just part of the furniture.

    I had a really good time there, enjoying New Yea and also thankful because I was not expected to talk to all (any) of the visitors.

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  2. Unfortunately, I have had the opposite happen – I am expected to talk and play cards and laugh at jokes (which can be tough when in local dialect) and eat – eat constantly. I don’t have pressure to arrange anything or help with food preparation or plans, but I definitely have to participate. I think I would like your way better!

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      • Yes, agree – that is one thing that is wonderful – the longer I am with my husband, the better my Chinese, the more I understand his jokes. I married someone with a “great sense of humor” but only had a whisper of it at the beginning.

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  3. For me it is rather the opposite. Everytime in China people come to me, tell me weird stories, try to teach me songs and ask just too much for my little Chinese knowledge to handle.
    Not that its happanes on a daily basis but once a week some friend of the family (or somebody similar) will come, ask me first few standards like name, what I work etc and then start with trying to arm wrestle with me, teach me some songs which are rather ambiguous and and and…

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  4. I hate when you’re being interrogated by people you hardly know but also strange to just be there, I don’t think I would mind that too much though…

    An instance of when I was introduced to a Chinese man always makes me chuckle, he was extremely shy at first but he had a burning question to ask me: ‘Do you go to Starbucks?’. No one would ask that at home with the same curiosity.

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