“My friends are eager to meet you”

In the summer of 2012 I visit my friend in her hometown Changsha. She had told me before that everyone is eager to meet me. Her grandparents (especially her grandfather who had helped me find my Chinese name according to traditional 生辰八字 principles – shēnɡchén bāzì in Pinyin or Four pillars of life 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 exams. But when she goes down to the living room 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 anymore. You go somewhere to visit and then you can just sit down and watch TV, read a book or even lie down 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? I’d love to read your thoughts.

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4 thoughts on ““My friends are eager to meet you”

  1. When I visited my inlaws in Shandong, many people visitid us, everyday. I was just told to attend the meetings, just being around the living room or the court. I started by saying “ni hao”, this pleased them. But then I tried to ask some question like “what’s your name?”. And nobody ever replied to this question, just ignored it and kept talking to my inlaws XD. So yes, I felt like being ignored a bit, but as you say this is not as stressing as starting over conversations with strangers.

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    • What did they say to your in-laws? They might have commented on you asking them what their name is or asked about your Chinese or similar stuff. One friend of mine in Yunnan told her relatives that I understand Yunnan dialect (I only understand bits and pieces), it was a nice gesture that would make her relatives open up to the idea that they could just talk to me like they’d talk to anyone else.

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  2. It is kind of nice, in a way, that when you come to someone’s house, you don’t have to be peppered with questions…you can just eat, relax and do as you like. It’s so much easier than socializing in the West, in some respects! 😉

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    • I agree, it can be nice in some respects, but if you want to talk to someone and are being ignored completely it makes for a weird situation. I’ve found that often people will ask the Chinese person who introduced me to them things about me, without asking me directly. So it seems they still want to know things about you, but would think it’s inappropriate (or that my Chinese isn’t good enough) to ask directly.

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