BigWorldAndSmallWorld Blog

East vs. West

Posted in East and West by Administrator on the October 7th, 2011

In my life, I had the pleasure to occasionally notice the differences when Chinese culture crashed with American culture.
Once I went to YMCA to exercise. I was there a few minutes early so I started to chat with the instructor. She was a happy grandmother with seven children and three grandchildren. I was surprised to know she had that many children, but I was happy for her. She asked if I had any children. I answered: yes, three boys, two teenagers and one 3-year-old. And I told her my oldest and the youngest is about thirteen years apart. She replied that her oldest and youngest are also over ten years apart. Then to my surprise, she asked: is the little one from the same husband? I instantly felt very uncomfortable even though I knew she had no bad intention. Yes of course, in my case. I could not help but thinking such a question would never have been asked if she were a Chinese, no matter how curious a Chinese was. What if the child is not from the same husband? This question would cause a Chinese person to lose face which would be a big no-no in China.
Would you marry your husband because he was No. 1 in the class? Many American wives would not use this as their criteria to select a husband but Chinese women would. In fact this probably would be their number one reason why they marry their husband. My American friend has a Chinese friend who was married based on this.
My Mandarin Chinese class student asked me if somebody ask somebody else’s boyfriend the “男朋友boyfriend” implies intimacy in China. I would say yes. In Chinese culture it would be considered that way while in America boyfriend can mean just male friend. So when you ask a Chinese lady: is he your boyfriend? You need to be very careful. You don’t want to imply something more.
Even though I haven’t heard the saying in China: Grass is greener at the neighbor’s, but I know the Chinese are much more likely to compare themselves with others including their neighbors, coworkers and relatives. It is very common for the Chinese to think others are making more money than they do; therefore they like to ask how much you make when they barely know you. In this case, you might feel uncomfortable to answer. What would you do? Smile and not say anything, or give a rough figure that this type of job offers.
“你吃了吗?Have you eaten yet?” is a common conversation starter among Chinese people. It is often asked regardless the time of a day or how you may answer it. If you say No, it doesn’t mean the Chinese would like to go to eat with you. Remember this is just a conversation starter!