Already Anticipating Reverse Culture Shock

Lu Laoshi had the first of his lectures this semester and it was on Intercultural Communication. Honestly speaking the first time I heard this term I thought it was going to be someone clearly stating the obvious effects of mixing two cultures, and that psh I didn’t need that.  But I went anyways mostly because CIEE was offering free pizza. Turned out to be one of the best talks I’ve been to. It is always interesting having someone analyze a process that you know you have gone though. Lu Laoshi talked about how when you see something you aren’t used to, the first thing that registers in your brain is “STRANGE” because you have no where else to store that event. That is how I spent the first few months of my time here in Beijing… saying HOW STRANGE that person is and HOW ODD that person is dressed, and as I made more Chinese friends and took more Chinese classes, I was able to start to understand why things happen the way they do. The other day I was out to lunch with two friends and we each ordered a plate of food not planning on sharing it, but halfway through the meal I caught myself saying “多吃” which means “eat more” and offering my plate to my friend. Would I have ever done this in the US? Well, if you know me, you probably already laughed. No, there is no way I would have ever offered my food to someone else. But here I’ve noticed, and Lu Laoshi pointed out, that the meaning of 朋友 or “friend” has a much deeper meaning than in English. If I said “I have a friend that goes to Minnesota….” that could honestly mean I’ve met them at a party twice and we added each other on Facebook. In Chinese, though, friend means someone you are willing to lend large sums of money to, to not ask questions when they need somewhere to stay, to joke with and discuss global issues with, a friend is more of a sibling. I’ve always been the type of person to maintain a few really close relationships rather than a lot of mediocre ones. So I guess in this way I was Chinese before I even got to China… but I think this want to be uber close with someone you feel you have a connection with can be the biggest cultural difference, at least for young people. When I meet a nice Chinese student and they want to meet up they will text me or call me right away to set a date, a lot of times I think Westerners will think “woahhhh dude slow down a little” but in Chinese way of thinking they are truly interested in getting to know you and not trying to be super over the top.

Cultural differences between the US and China have really never ceased to intrigue me, and as China becomes more and more of a world superpower, Americans will have to understand what it means to be Chinese if we ever hope to have good relations. You can come to Beijing and look at the spitting, stealing, and pollution, but if you are masked by that will you make it impossible for yourself to see the friendships, ancient customs, and sincerity of the individuals you group together as one in the same?