Saturday, May 4, 2013

Unmarried Men in China’s Big Cities

Ever since my trip to China, there has been overwhelming advice from Suzy’s Chinese friends and family to watch out for other women if I go back. And it’s not a subtle part of discussion that just happens to come up ... as soon as I indicated I may want to live in China for a while, it was the first thing that came up. 

Mostly I’ve been thinking about going to Shanghai, but I’ve been told Shanghai women can be quite aggressive when it comes to trying to date someone. To put the local culture into perspective, I remember stopping by a local Christian Church in Shanghai as we were touring through the city. Suzy was eventually approached by two older women from the church where she was first asked whether I was a Christian. After replying yes to the women, they replied “Ahh ... foreigners are good. Where is he from?” Suzy replied “America”. “Ohhh ... American is good”. Suzy then began to be pummeled by a series of questions. “Does he pay for everything? When are you getting married? Will he be providing you a home? Will he be giving you a car?” Once Suzy translated this for me, I began to laugh a little and I debated having her translate back that my faith lies in the relationship, not in my material possessions. Needless to say, it provided a perspective of expectations from Shanghai mothers. 

For the most part, I’ve been told that if a man in Shanghai doesn’t have a certain level of income, a car or a home, a woman in Shanghai will not even consider dating them. I’ve been told that there are much more single women in Shanghai than men, which is why they tend to be more aggressive on the dating front, but in reality I think it’s because many women in Shanghai automatically disqualify a large population of eligible men. Ultimately, this means that if you do have a home, a car, and the right income, you are highly sought after. Being a “Lao Wai” automatically gets you through most of those stereotypes as a lot of foreigners in Shanghai are expatriates on a work sponsored business visa. Foreigners also have a different salary bracket for a lot of companies as opposed to local contracts.

So taking this into perspective, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to ease Suzy’s fears. If not married and I tell others that I’m already in a relationship, I'm told this has little effect. In fact, it might be perceived as a game to Chinese women where they think you might be leading them on. When asking some of her Chinese friends the best way to handle the situation, they gave me a few interesting suggestions. 

  • Tell them I have no money, no job, and no car. This automatically disqualifies me from their stereotypical search process.
  • If they don’t believe I have no money, no job and no car, tell them they aren't good enough and / or insult them. A stereotypically beautiful woman in China is skinny and pale skinned. Tell them they are too dark or fat or imperfect. 
  • If all else fails, tell them I’m gay. 

While I’m still debating how much this actually true when it comes to living in Shanghai, it was interesting to say the least that every Chinese female (friends, parents of friends, parents ... even random people) mentioned to watch out if I traveled abroad to China. Makes me curious as to whether or not others have experienced this??? It’d be good to hear some stories to put it into perspective. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Chinese / American Relationships ... what to expect

If you are interested in what a foreign relationship between a Chinese citizen and American citizen would be like, you will find there are quite a few cultural differences you need to be prepared for:

1.) Chinese people tend to hide relationships from friends and family until they’re serious.

Now before looking too far into this one, it is not an act of shame or embarrassment leading their motives. By the time the decision is made to reveal a relationship to friends (and more importantly family), it is an indication that the Chinese person in the relationship may be looking down the road to marriage. 

As an American, meeting family is more of a standard ritual of dating and relationships tend to not be as hidden. Being more casual and nonchalant about meeting friends and family can confuse a Chinese person, however. Be careful if you say you would like to meet their friends/parents or vice versa. To a Chinese person, they will likely translate this into a subliminal message of “let’s get married”. If the relationship starts Stateside (in the U.S.), Chinese people may be more understanding of American culture and may not look into it too much when meeting friends, but family is still treated much more seriously. 

2.) American culture tends to appear less transparent for a boyfriend/girlfriend to a Chinese counterpart.

I’ve found that many Chinese people tend to be confused as to whether or not they are in a relationship with an American that they’ve been courting. From a Chinese perspective, relationships are almost a territorial display and it is more customary for a Chinese male to clearly indicate that “you are my girlfriend”, removing any question or doubt. Americans may be less formal, in fact, it may be somewhat of an assumed relationship based upon some of the activities that occur. If you are a Chinese person and an American asks you to meet the family or they want to spend a lot of one on one time with you (for example, at a dinner, movie, going out for a walk, etc.), it’s pretty safe to assume they are treating you as a boyfriend/girlfriend. For American men, my advice it to be a little more upfront to a prospective Chinese girlfriend. If they have to ask if they are in a relationship, it is extremely embarrassing for them. Even if that is not you’re intention, it may be good to put it out there to remove any doubt. 

3.) Be prepared for marriage well wishes from Chinese friends. After meeting friends and family of the Chinese person in the relationship, it usually means the Chinese person is prepared to be bombarded by questions on when the marriage will be and potentially when you will be having kids. As an American, be prepared for those who may also speak English, as they will most likely ask you the questions as well. It can be quite a cultural shock at first if you are unaware of the custom. 

4.) As for family, be prepared to provide a life plan to Chinese parents. 

In Chinese culture, there is an understanding that by a certain age, you are to hit milestones in life (for example, being married by age 26-27 and having a child by age 30). It is much more of an agenda than a loose structure. If you are walking down the road to marriage, lack of a plan can frustrate Chinese parents. 

One of the main drivers behind this is China’s one child policy. Because family’s can only have one child in China, everything is placed upon that one child: the family name and reputation, the expectation that they may have to take care of their parents when they get older, and even overwhelming financial support to buy you a home and car after you get married. Needless to say, there is a lot of vested interest in the relationship on the Chinese parents behalf. To the American in the relationship, you need to be very cognizant of how much stress this can put on your Chinese counterpart. It is extremely stressful for them! For their parents, they are asking because their motive is to figure out the best way they can help you. 

Keep in mind that you also need to understand some of the older, more traditional, generations in China. Marriage in older generations was often determined by a parent based mate selection model, where parents of the bride and groom would have already determined that they were to be married. China still has remnants of this as you can see “marriage markets” set up in local parks by the older generations (parents and grandparents of a Chinese male).  If you are a Chinese male pushing 30 and not yet married, you may find your family posting your information (job, where you graduated from college, personal income, etc.) on a community board as an attempt to find you a spouse. Older generations in China were accustomed to having a plan made for them. For the American counterpart, don’t be surprised if Chinese parents start making plans for you. The best way to help ease their stress and frustration is being as straightforward about your plans as possible and letting them know how they can help (that is, if you are serious about marriage).

5.) Beware of multiple relationships.

Growing up in an American high school, I remember the term “playing the field”, meaning you court several people at once in hopes of a relationship regardless of whether you were currently in one or not. For Chinese people, this appears to be common among the younger generations. As an American, if you have a lot of friends of the opposite sex, be prepared for jealousy if you are spending time with them. If you are a Chinese woman, some may expect to be pampered more and may play the field to seek more attention. This can often lead to seeking the help of several males at once to get the attention they need. If you’re courting a Chinese woman, be aware that you may be one of several people in their queue. 

As for American men in China, you may start to realize Americans are fairly popular. Don’t be surprised if you are aggressively approached by Chinese females, especially in big cities. Some of this could be for prostitution purposes, others could be for bragging rights, or maybe even a serious relationship. China is extremely competitive given their large population, so the fact that you may already be in a relationship will likely have little effect on dulling their efforts.