Making Friends in China: Piece-of-Cake or… Nightmare?
Are foreigners in China enjoying the same active social lives as back home? Or are they spending their Friday nights in social isolation?
The Chinese people in general are very friendly especially to foreigners. For sure you’ll experience some awkward moments here and there when you’re trying to talk to a Chinese. There are so many differences with western countries, and almost everything is in Chinese!
But actually, having a social life in China isn’t difficult at all. Here are some challenges you will encounter along the way.
Perhaps the most obvious and difficult problem you’ll face when making friends is the language barrier. Many Chinese, especially adults and elderly, have very little to no knowledge when it comes to the English language. That’s because during their time in school, English wasn’t part of the curriculum. There were no kindergartens that offered English lessons and private training centers were scarce. Most who learned English did so by themselves with a dictionary or by watching English movies. And most adults simply didn’t learn English at all.
Is it possible to live in China even with little to no knowledge of the Chinese language? Of course! Many foreigners come to China with zero Chinese literacy and frankly, it won’t be a problem at all. That’s because there are now apps which can translate English to Chinese and vice versa. And if you can’t pronounce the words clearly, the app can pronounce them for you. No need to speak at all!
Moreover, there are dozens of books out there which you can use to teach yourself Chinese. They come with audio lessons and practice so you know exactly how to pronounce the words clearly with correct pitch or intonation. Chinese is very complicated but learning a few words and phrases can help a lot in your day to day life. Still, learning with a teacher is recommended for correct pronunciation.
Once you’re in China, you’ll find out how convenient it is to live in this country. Everything can be accessed using your phone. Take for instance when you want to take a taxi. There’s an app called DiDi which allows you to book a car at a cheap price. It has an English version so even if the driver doesn’t speak English you know you can get to the place where you want to go without any mistakes being made.
When it comes to simple daily tasks (going to the supermarket, etc), hardly any language is needed.
There are Chinese people who would gladly talk to you in English and even approach you to make friends especially if you’re a foreigner. However, many are very shy. They are conscious with how they speak English especially with their limited grammar and different pronunciation. Many of them can write in English very well, especially those in high school and college, but the lack of opportunities to practice English prevents them from using it with confidence face to face.
Having different cultural backgrounds can prevent you from making friends. The Chinese people have a unique culture and traditions and some of them may clash with yours. For example, you won’t find them celebrating Christmas. They also don’t celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving or Memorial Day though they have holidays they observe every year like the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year and the National Holiday every first week of October. The differences in your beliefs may pose as a hindrance but as long as you respect each other, there’s no reason why you can’t have meaningful friendships.
On the other hand, Chinese people, especially teenagers, are fond of anything foreign like watching the latest Hollywood movies, downloading the new Taylor Swift song, and even celebrating western holidays in their own little way. For example, despite not having Halloween or Christmas as part of their culture, there are private schools that celebrate them in the same way they’re celebrated in the United States.
Another way to get closer to people is by joining social activities. China is famous for its cultural celebrations and one way to make friends is by taking part in these activities. For example, you can observe a dragon boat race or accept a colleague’s invitation to join his or her family for the Chinese New Year.
China does have some restrictions on freedom of expression which you may find bizarre. It’s important to note that you must follow the customs of the country. Sometimes you may think it goes against what you’ve grown up to value back home but remember, each country has its own history and culture. It’s probably the same way for foreigners when they travel to your country.
Making Friends in China Is Challenging and Rewarding
The obstacles mentioned above shouldn’t prevent you from making friends in China at all. Chinese people are naturally friendly, respectful, and easy to get along with. One of the things you can do is to show them that you’re just like them. Always approach them with a smile on your face and encourage them to speak up. They tend to apologize for their bad English a lot but as a friend, you can offer to correct them or assure them that there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Living in a whole new country like China brings with it a lot of challenges. The good news is that once you’re in this country, you’ll realize how easy it is to socialize, make friends, and survive even with the cultural and language differences. In the end, it’s all about learning to adapt and enjoying your new experiences. Friendships with people from a different culture are sometimes challenging, but getting the chance to experience a different way of life is even more rewarding.