Making (and Keeping) Chinese Friends

Making (and Keeping) Chinese Friends
Jan 21, 2011 By Mary Katherine Smith, eChin ,

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.

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.

Check, please
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.

Related Links
What's the Problem with Foreign-Chinese Friendships?
Lost in Face?
Working in a Chinese Office: Five Keys to Success

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well i am new in China and have to live there for long time due to my business commitments , if you can guide me about culture , learn chinese language ,how to make friends , do,s and dont s

Jul 15, 2011 16:28 Report Abuse