Chinese people ought to open their hearts to foreigners

By Eka Valyavskaya Source:Global Times Published: 2018/5/31 18:38:40

Let us talk about friendship. How many friends do you have? And if you are Chinese, how many of your friends are foreigners? I am assuming the proportion would run to just a few.

After four years as an expat in China, I only have a few Chinese friends. But I wonder why. I am not an introvert. I have dozens of international friends. I am a very friendly, open-minded and easy-going person, but it did not help me to find more Chinese friends.

As I have learned from my observations, Chinese people are, generally, better at making friends than Westerners. While Western people become friends with people just as fast as they unfriend them, Chinese people take their time before letting someone get close to them.

But when they finally do, they take the friendship very seriously. Chinese friends certainly will always be there for their friends, willing to help each other out anytime, anywhere, with anything.

The importance of friendship in China is evident even from a linguistic point of view. For example, tongxue, which means "classmate" in English, is not just a person from school. For Chinese people, classmates are so much more. They are your second family, equal to siblings.

Chinese classmates will share happy times together as well as support each other when one of them is frustrated or absolutely helpless. I really like this attitude. Actually, I had the same relationship with my classmates back in Russia, my home country. But for some reason, my Chinese classmates are different.

When I first came to China to study, I was excited to find Chinese students in my group. They were nice and kind and also curious about having a foreign "tongxue." They looked at me shyly and listened carefully and politely when I was trying to speak Putonghua.

But unfortunately, they never took me really seriously when it came to developing friendships. I could feel their apprehension as well as a bit of arrogance in their attitude.

There were only two foreigners in my group, me and another Russian girl. She had a lovely personality as well as an excellent command of Putonghua. But when I ask her if she had any Chinese friends, she explained that she had the same problem as me. "I have been in China for eight years, but most of my friends are not Chinese," she replied with a sigh. 

One of the reasons why Chinese do not often make friends with foreigners is, of course, the language barrier. It definitely makes communication weird and challenging. But the problem runs deeper than that.

The truth is that foreigners in general do not have a good reputation among the Chinese. Some Chinese think Western women are too fancy and unreachable while Western men are perceived as arrogant and exploitative. But this is a misconception and a generalization.

Yes, some Western women, especially those who follow their husbands to China on corporate expat packages, are aloof. And yes, many Western men in China tend to take advantage of local girls. But most of us are ordinary, nice people with same emotions, problems and dreams that Chinese people have.

The fact is that a large number of expats in China are quite keen on breaking out of their respective foreign communities to make friends with the Chinese and integrate into local society and culture. Chinese people, therefore, need to open their hearts and minds to foreigners beyond using them for language lessons or showing off at social events.

Eventually, one person at a time, the cultural gap between China and the West will no longer exist.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Illustration:Lu Ting/GT


Posted in: TWOCENTS

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