Because I’m a foreigner living in China, people often say how lucky I am to not be chinese. They don’t mean it in a negative way, but usually when some pressure is building and they don’t like it. Like, pressure to get married.
“You’re so lucky to not be Chinese. I’m only 25 but my parents are already giving me so much pressure to get married and have a baby.”
“You don’t have a car? Oh, your so lucky to not be Chinese. I need to buy a car before I can find a girl willing to marry me.”
As a foreigner I don’t need to abide by customary rules here. I can stick my chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice, disrespect elders, not eat all of the food given to me at a banquet, give a clock as a gift and all that rudeness will be forgotten with a simple “she’s a foreigner, she doesn’t know.”
And I have said it many times, especially in regards to marriage and filial piety. Many of my friends and students are miserable in their life choices, but it pleases their parents so they continue. “Glad I’m not Chinese!” I told my gay friend when he said he would marry a girl rather than come out to his parents.
But do I really escape the pressures of Chinese culture? The answer is no. Maybe I din’t have as much pressures, but living in a culture, and taking the time to understand it, kind of adds pressures that you never expected to crumble under.
I remember, even in the beginning when I knew very little of China, my ex would carry the bags after shopping. In China the men always carry bags, from shopping to purses. My ex fell under that pressure pretty quickly, because if people saw us walking, him with no bags and me with one or two, they would clearly disapprove. “What’s wrong with him?” you could hear them thinking. So he would carry the bags.
Or my age. In Hangzhou, I started lying about my age. Because the aunties on the street who would talk to me made a big deal out of me being over 30 and not married. I’d have to sit through conversation after conversation about all the single guys they knew who I could marry. (In China, being over 30 and not married is culturally verboten. You are seen as a freak or something is “wrong” with you.)
I find myself falling into this mind frame more than I’d like to admit. When I meet a single guy over the age of 28 I’m always on alert. “What’s wrong with him?” I find myself thinking. Cause if he was normal and cool and funny, he would have been married off long before.
But I hate that way of thinking! And kick myself every time I do it. Maybe the guy just likes freedom, maybe he is fighting his own culture wars and insisting that he does things in life in his own terms. I should be giving him the benefit of the doubt, but usually my first thought is suspicion.
And I’m not the only one. Recently Jocelyn over at Speaking of China wrote how the fact that she didn’t have a car to drive home for Spring Festival brought her to tears. She’s American and in America, owning a car is not at all a big deal. If you had to take a plane, or train back home for Christmas and had your parents pick you up at the station, not a problem. No one would think less of you. But in China, car ownership is a bigger deal. It’s a sign of success. Or if you don’t have one, it is seen as a sign of failure. And her reaction, her tears and frustration, was a reaction to culture pressures. Chinese culture pressures. I don’t blame her at all because I know how she feels.
Even the different local cultures affects me. In Hangzhou, on the bus, people were very stingy with giving up their seat on the bus. Only for a very decrepit person who could barely walk, would they do it. As a result, I found myself being stingy too. But here in Xiamen it is totally different. People pop up to someone with even a hint of age. Children as old as 10 gets seats immediately (even though many times they don’t want to sit.) People here are much more generous with seats on a bus, and as a result, I am too.
And I find myself admiring friends who buck convention. Like the couple where the woman is older than the man (crazy in China) or my friend who is mid-30’s and still single by choice. Or anyone who is divorced. I really admire them because I know how hard it is. And how much shit they have to deal with on a daily basis from a culture that dissaproves of their actions.
I’ll admit that part of the freedom of traveling is not being constrained by the rules of culture. There is a freedom of coming to a new place and just kind of blundering your way through things. But as you get more involved, and as you get a deeper understanding, things change. You slowly, and almost unconsciously, begin to adopt the unwritten rules of the culture you are living in. It’s not good or bad. It just is.
Preach, sister, preach. I felt like I would’ve turned into less of an asshole if I’d just originally moved to Taiwan :P.
Hey now, I said culture sucks you into the pressures. I didn’t say it would make you an asshole.That’s all on you! Hahaha
”养儿防老“ means “raising children for old age” which is one of Chinese traditional cutural.
People in Fujian province think it’s very important to have a son to carry on the ancestral line.You can see many ancestral shrine(宗祠) in Xiamen which shows how they pay attention to the family.
Another very enjoyable post! It’s very good you brought up the Chinese pressures we foreigners eventually also must shoulder, though in different ways and to different extents. I’m a lucky gal who gets both Chinese and Tibetan pressures, but I don’t let most things get to me (having a very relaxed husband who is happy to against his cultural grain if what is being requested doesn’t suit him helps).
It’s hard to to happily melt a person who loves garage sales and thrift stores into cultures who only value new and expensive things. That’s my biggest issue. If that’s the worst of it, then I guess I’m pretty lucky.
Really great post Becky (and thanks for the mention of my blog)! It’s nice to know I’m not alone in feeling these pressures!
Wonderful post! I think it’s almost impossible to not to feel pressure to fit in when you move to another country and try to fit in, or at the very least when you try to understand your new environment. I also think that foreign women have more pressure than foreign men when it comes to adapting. It’s just a theory based on experience, but I’d be interested to hear other thoughts on this.
I find it interesting that people in Xiamen are more generous in offering their seat to someone on a bus than the people in Hangzhou are. My late husband was from Xiamen (Gulangyu), and he was generous in every way. And yet, now that I think of it, he never let anyone take unfair advantage of him.
It’s puzzling to me that the Chinese in China are so dogmatic about certain things. There are so many of them, you’d think there’d be more variety of opinion. And they’ve been through so many changes in the past hundred years, you’d think that would make them less stuck in one way of doing things.
Fascinating. Sounds like Stockholm Syndrome, or growing up in a dysfunctional family. If you go to long without experiencing any other lifestyle, you start to think crazy is normal. Humans aren’t happy without feeling connected to others, and yet the options for friends are often limited.
I had a German History professor who was convinced “Dynasty” brought down the Berlin wall. Maybe China needs to license more episodes of “Sex in the City” and get away from the archaic undesirable spinster mentality.
Haha, interesting findings, although my parents didn’t push me to get married when i was 28(i got married when i was 29), and my wife is older that me, and when we get married I didn’t have car. I can afford a car but can’t get a vehicle license plate(you know I’m in Beijing). BUT, i did buy an apartment in my hometown.
Wow, thanks for the comments everyone! I can see this topic is something not only I have thought about, haha. Also, seeing as, so far, only women have commented I’m going to agree with you Susan. I do think women have a bit more pressure to “fit in” though we are excused from some things (like carrying the bags.)
Nicki, I also was really surprised about the bus situation. I’m not quite sure it is more respect for elderly like “achineseperson” said because in hangzhou they very much respect their elders, and family members too. There is just a slight more, how to say, “culture of kindness,” in Xiamen. Perhaps because it’s a more laid back city. Once when I was struggling with some heavy bags a (very healthy looking) Chinese woman in her 60’s stopped and asked if I wanted help! She actually offered to carry some bags for me! I feel like that wouldn’t happen in Hangzhou even though hangzhou people are nice in other ways.
And Kimberly, as a second-hand fan myself I hear you, though I have finally seen some second-hand furniture shops opening up. So maybe one day that stigma of “old=bad” will be gone.
Autumn, you know what is real Stockholm syndrome? The pollution. You think it’s not so bad and then you go to another country and you are dazzled by the brilliance of the sky and realize what a haze you have been living under for so long. 😉 And I think TV shows can make a big difference in the cultural mindest of a nation. Unfortunately, with the TV and movie industry under strict government supervision that’s gonna be a tough nut to crack. Maybe k-dramas can help, haha!
It’s difficult to explain the words “克己复礼”,means restrain yourself and you will be a real polite person who be admited by the society.Sorry for my poor English,it’s hard to understand for u maybe.But this thoughts no only in China,but also in Japan & Korea which came from one of a China ancient thinkers calls 孔子.Action same think same is consider the only right way to integrate into groups ,or you will be isolated by others.So they ask you why your behavior not likes others maybe because they care about you ,sometimes they just wanna comfirm whether you are the one of them subconsciously.Ashamed to admit ,but it really exists in the Asia modern society.