How Expats Can Find and Keep Chinese Friends

How Expats Can Find and Keep Chinese Friends
Sep 14, 2022 By Mary Katherine Smith , eChinacities.com

There are few things more annoying than when a young Chinese student interrupts your quiet afternoon at the coffee shop to ask if they can be your friend, AKA practice English with you. While some Chinese may be overeager to make your acquaintance, you’ll find befriending coworkers, classmates, neighbors, or whoever, may take a bit more work. Here are a few ways expats can find and keep Chinese friends.

find and keep Chinese friends
Source: Helena Lopes

Where to start

Making Chinese friends is a great way to get to know China and get more involved in the local culture. But where to start? Other than work or school, you’ll want to seek out people who have common interests, preferably near where you live. Sitting at home, ordering waimai and watching Netflix isn’t going to do you much good.

Basically, you need to get yourself out there. Go to networking events for your industry, attend cultural events or get involved with a sporting club. You’re bound to meet Chinese people eager for a foreign friend, and not just because they want to use you as a walking dictionary. On top of that, you can always get chatting to people in coffee shops and bars. Say you like something they’re wearing and ask where they got it. Ask if they know any good restaurants nearby. There are plenty of ins to choose from.

Language barriers

The most difficult thing about making Chinese friends is probably the language barrier. If you have no Chinese language skills at all, you’ll need to find Chinese friends who have a fairly decent level of English, unless you’re both very patient, expressive and, dare I say it, desperate. Expats living in the deepest depths of a Chinese village somewhere may end up making friends without a common language and, as a result, learn Mandarin very quickly. Obviously this has its upsides, but it’s pretty hard going for a pretty long time.

Unless you’re in that situation, you’ll work out quickly whether you’ll be better off communicating with your new acquaintance in Chinese or English. Even if it’s the latter, however, do your best to learn from them and use the Chinese you have when you can. It’s all too easy to allow your new friendship to be conducted entirely in English if your comrade has the language skills. But that’ll do nothing at all for helping you develop yours.

Check, please

Almost any China travel guide will tell you of the Chinese custom to treat. Expect to encounter a bit of banter every time the bill comes. Don’t feel bad if your Chinese friend pays for the first meal, but be sure to remember that it’s your turn next time.

While your Chinese friends probably won’t keep a tally of who’s paid the most for what, make an effort to keep it more or less even to avoid your Chinese friend “losing face”. Keep in mind that they might not be able to afford the same places as you. A bowl of pasta for 100RMB might seem cheap to you, but your Chinese friend could probably get three meals for the same price. While you may think treating your friend to expensive food, drinks and other activities will endear you to them, it may actually backfire and result in them feeling as though they can no longer hang out with you.

Give warning

Making friends always takes time, but making Chinese friends often requires less time but more scheduling. One of the things I love most about my friends from home is the spontaneity of our friendships. I can call them up on the day to see if they’re free to go out to the bar, the mall or watch a movie. Usually, there’s always some takers.

I’ve found Chinese people are somewhat unaccustomed to this spontaneity and unwilling to make plans on the hop. It’s usually best, therefore, to set up a date at least a few days in advance. Such forward planning is just considered polite by Chinese people, who, thanks to work, family and study commitments, are often more time-poor than us fancy-free expats.

Be prepared to try new things

Now that you’ve found a few Chinese friends, it’s time to show them that you appreciate their interests and are willing to experience their culture. It’s no secret that karaoke, known as KTV here, is a favorite pastime for the Chinese. If you want to keep your Chinese friends, therefore, you might have to swallow your pride at some point and show them you’re game for a singsong, even when sober!

Think of a few songs that will be crowd-pleasers for an international audience. It pains me to say it, but that obscure rock song from home will not get you nearly as much love as Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On. If you have some Mandarin ability, singing a popular Chinese song will really blow your new friends’ minds.

Likewise, try to keep an open mind about other aspects of Chinese society, especially food. While some things your friends eat might turn your stomach a little, don’t visibly turn your nose up. Even if your toes curl at the thought of stinky tofu or duck tongue, at least try a bite to show your Chinese friends you respect and are interested in their world.

Don’t moan about China

In can be hard for Westerners adjusting to life in China. Even after multiple years here, cultural differences and aspects of daily life can still baffle and confuse. But just like you shouldn’t insult people’s families, sharing too many of your frustrations with your new Chinese friends may raise some eyebrows.

The Chinese are a patriotic bunch who tend to be a little sensitive about perceived “China bashing.” So when you’re asked if you like China and Chinese food (this will almost definitely be among the first questions put to you), do yourself a favor and answer in the affirmative.

Expect bluntness

Although China is a country obsessed with “face,” its people can be terribly blunt at times. Questions about your salary, rent, relationship status and even fertility are all fair game by Chinese standards. You may find yourself receiving plenty of unsolicited advice, such as that you should get married and start a family soon before you get too old.

This directness can err on the side of being offensive to the Western ear. If a friend from home told you that you looked like you’d gained weight or pointed out your pimples every time you got one, you’d probably write them off pretty quickly. These kinds of comments are largely acceptable in China, however, and are really more of observations than criticisms. Often being told you’ve gained weight is even meant as a compliment.

The bottom line is, making and keeping Chinese fiends isn’t always easy. With a little patience and understanding, however, beautiful cross-cultural friendships can be forged that will make your time in China easier and all the more enjoyable.

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1 Comments

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Blondie_
comment|85614|1651013

many chinese only want foreign 'friends' for status or how 'useful' they can be (usually financially), hence the (childish) demands from them to 'be my friend'. It is rare that friendship with a chinese person will develop beyond the superficial. Any lasting friendship i have with a chinese person developed organically and was never 'forced' through networking. When 'respect for culture is all one way - 'respect' for chinese 'culture', and a complete disregard to any aspect of your culture, this is not 'friendship' but cultural bullying. I don't need a condescending article like this to tell me 'how to make friends'. I am an adult.

Sep 19, 2022 16:13 Report Abuse

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