One of the most difficult parts for foreigners moving to China is leaving behind friends and family at home. And if you’re not living in a city with a large foreign population, meeting other foreigners and making friends can be difficult. However, one thing is for sure, there are plenty of Chinese people wanting to be your friend! Here are a few ways to help you along in your search for Chinese companions.
Photo: Steve Punter
Where to start
Making and keeping Chinese friends is a great way to get to know the culture and way of life more. That’s not to say that it isn’t somewhat frustrating when building friendships with the Chinese. What is more annoying than a young Chinese student interrupting your afternoon at the coffee shop asking, “Can I be your friend?” While some Chinese may be overeager to make your acquaintance, befriending coworkers, classmates, neighbors or whoever, it is a great way to learn more about Chinese culture and share Western culture.
But where to find said friends? Other than work or school, it might not be so easy. If you want to meet people who share your common interests, it’s probably a good idea to branch out in the area where you live. Sitting at home, ordering take away and watching DVDs isn’t going to get you anywhere. Going to events like networking get togethers or getting involved with a sporting club you’re bound to meet Chinese people eager for a foreign friend. And there are always the cafes, tea houses and, of course, Starbucks. If you are adventurous enough to meet some random people from a restaurant or at your favorite coffee shop, take some caution and read up on these common scams first.
Almost any China travel guide will tell you of the Chinese custom to treat. This definitely applies to your Chinese friends too. There will be a bit of banter when the bill comes around, and don’t feel bad if your Chinese friend pays for the first meal. However, it is important to know that the next time, the bill is on you. While your new Chinese friend probably won’t keep score of who has paid the most for meals, keeping it almost even will help you or your friend from losing face. On a side note, keep in mind that your new friend may not be able to enjoy the same things you do. With the significant disparity between Chinese and foreign salaries, sometimes your new Chinese friend may not be able to afford that 35 RMB frappuccino. Indulging in expensive food, drinks and other activities that may be out of the price range of your new friend will not bring you any closer and continuously treating them to more expensive activities may result in them feeling as though they’ve lost face.
Time is of the essence
Of course making friends takes time, but making Chinese friends requires a bit more effort in terms of scheduling. One of the things I loved most about my friends from home was their spontaneity. Calling them up right before to go out to the bar, go to the mall or even just to watch a movie was completely normal and usually they had time. But Chinese people are somewhat unaccustomed to this spontaneity and willingness to change plans quickly. It’s usually best to make set plans a day or so prior. If you want to bond with your new Chinese gal pal with a little shopping, better make the plans ahead of time. But don’t plan too far in advance. For example, if you make dinner plans with your coworkers too far in advance and a better offer comes along (say a dinner invitation from the big boss), someone is going to lose face over a declined invitation. It’s a bit tricky, but just know that your eager spontaneity may not be met with the same enthusiasm.
Test out your vocal chords
So now that you’ve made a few Chinese friends, now it is time to show them that you appreciate their interests and activities. It is no secret that karaoke, or KTV, is a favorite past time for the Chinese. So, if you want to win some Chinese friends, you might want to start practicing your singing abilities. When you do make your musical debut, be sure you have a few songs in mind that will be crowd pleasers. Singing an obscure rock song from home will not get you nearly the enthusiasm as Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” For those with some Chinese language ability, if you can sing a popular Chinese song you’ll really earn the points with the friends your trying to make. Even though you may not be dying to spend your evening off listening to your new friends try to sing, you’ll win them over by showing that you appreciate the same things.
It’s tough out there
There are some challenges when getting to know the Chinese people around you. First, and most obvious, is the language barrier. It’s hard enough meeting people and talking in your native language, but trying to communicate in a second language or with someone in their second language can be trying. Another challenge, and equally obvious, is the cultural differences. For Westerners adjusting to life in China, sharing too many details about dating and frustrations in the workplace with your new Chinese friends may raise some eyebrows. And lines can be easily blurred when trying to just “be friends” with members of the opposite sex.
Other challenges may not be quite so immediate, like the Chinese’s tendency to be overly direct. Inquiries on salary details, housing costs and other private, by Western standards, information is common grounds for questioning by the Chinese. It can even go so far as to ask and give advice on dating. One might tell you that they can find you a Chinese girlfriend and could even go so far as to tell you that you should get married soon. Their directness can err on the side of being offensive. If a friend from home told you that you looked like you had gained weight or asked about your unfortunate break out you’d probably tell them off and then write them off. Well these kinds of critiques are common nature in China and with the Chinese. Keep in mind that it goes both ways – you may do things that irritate them as well. Don’t give up with a little patience and understanding beautiful cross-cultural friendships can be forged that will make your time in China easier and that you may treasure for a lifetime.
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hey there,i am a chinese boy in southeast china,just like sum1 above said,we should make friends depends on interests,yep,my english is poor so i want to learn english from you,but actually,what i want to know more is western culture!so,i cansaid what i want todo is,culture exchange,and,make more friends! plz add: lovejuneye“at”hotmail“dot”com
Jun 15, 2011 18:16 Report Abuse
Hi everyone, I wish to go to China and make friends there, I have met some friends here in the US that are from China and we get along great. but that was here, I am sure it is different there. The comments I read about the guys not being as friendly is true as I have experienced this even here in the USA. The girls seem caring and the guys seem money driven. I cannot blame them as the environment they have to live in is tough. but, that said I still have faith that I will meet some nice people there and things will work out. People are people no matter were you go and if you treat them well then there should be no reason to trouble. If you would like to talk with me then you can email me and lets be friends....piece of cake right?
May 18, 2011 16:32 Report Abuse
I think it's easy for you guys from foreign countries to meet chinese and make friends with them,at starbucks, bookshop,when you playing basketball or doing some other exercises,etc, people in those place you meet will not be so utilitarian,you talk to them or they talk to you just because of the interests you both have,just talking and exchanging thoughts and argue if you do not agree,then you guys can know each other .I know that as a Chinese man,but just for man,for woman, I don't know .
Apr 20, 2011 23:15 Report Abuse
I am a Chinese who lived in Shanghai(non-shanghainese). Some semi experience crash on me as bove mentioned in Shanhai. I only want to say, they are typical Shanhainese that all Chinese konws. Anywany, if someone like hiking or any other out door actitives please e-mail me and plese let me joining in your gruop if this is possible. :-)
Mar 20, 2011 22:55 Report Abuse
In my country that is not seen as WISE. That is using people, and we don't like it. We will see the Chinese person as an acquaintance and not a friend.
Only having utilitarian 'friendships' is not wise. It is very 'short-sighted'. The wise person looks to the future, and not just what they can take from someone now.
A wise person learns to give first. Some Chinese are very wise in this respect. But many more are fools who think taking candy from a baby is clever.
Feb 11, 2011 19:32 Report Abuse
what i know about chinese is-- they just considered you as good friend if they can get something from you as foreigner! NO.1 is - help them improve their oral skills in english without spending money! ask them if they can help you improve your chinese! they will say YES but during the conversation it's you who will spend more time talking not unless if that chinese don't like to learn or maybe can't speak english. in other words chinese are so WISE!
Feb 11, 2011 05:08 Report Abuse
I've yet to make a proper Chinese friend. The only good Chinese friends I've had were actually from HK or Taiwan. I have made friends in Beijing, but it requires constant effort - one slight faux pas like asking them to meet up at short notice or invite to go somewhere they obv don't want to go and they are gone.
I had one Chinese friend who I got on with fantastically - then one day she just stopped texting me one day and answering my calls or emails. I eventually got in touch and she said she was busy. I have no idea what I did to offend her. The only thing I can think of is I had a Christmas party, invited her, but she never replied to say if she could come or not. Maybe loss of face made her want to avoid me, but I really don't know. Right now I'm just stick to my proper friends, who sadly all happen to be foreign.
Jan 28, 2011 23:38 Report Abuse
On one side I can make Chinese friends easy, but most times I find that they always want something in return. Also I find that many are too eager to make friends with white people, while ignoring other cultures.
Then I find some that don't care about color or ulterior motives. Those are the ones I keep. I have been here 4 years, and sadly maybe only have 1 or 2 Chinese friends.
I stay away from Shanghainese at all cost. I find them to be the most arrogant, ungrateful, and sorry bunch of people to walk the planet Earth. When my wife gave birth to our daughter, not one Shanghai person called me up and said congrats, after so many times I have helped them and consoled them when they were going through tough times.
Stay away from Shanghainese with a 20 foot pole.
Jan 27, 2011 19:19 Report Abuse
I have same experience with shanghainese.
Me and my chinese husband are actually living in shanghai but my husband himself is not shanghainese. not all of shanghainese are strange but most part i met. its kind of sad but sometimes i can understand them, coz of the hard life thei used to live.
Feb 12, 2011 00:55 Report Abuse
I think, chinese people are friendly especially chinese ladies. When you need some help like asking for some places, translation, directions etc, they are ready to assist u. But rare are the boys. But all in all, i like the way elderly chinese pple enjoy ur age time. Even they are old enough, wife and husband take care of one another. Thats motivated me alot and when i went to my country, i explained to my parent and they admire it. Through friendship with chinese pple, one can know alot about chinese culture. But the only thing is that, although one knows chinese culture, it seems no intermarriage in order to cross cultural heritage. But i believed in long run, china will become like any other developed country in the world with multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country.
Jan 22, 2011 00:25 Report Abuse