Presumably, you chose a Chinese woman to be your future wife because you have a sincere appreciation of the rich culture and history of China and the inner beauty and greatness of its people. So when it’s finally time for you to visit your Chinese love, or perhaps to start a new life in the Middle Kingdom, here are some things that you, being a laowai, should not do.
A “lawaoi,” by the way, is the name that the Chinese use to refer to any foreign visitor to their country. And it doesn’t matter if you have lived in China for a decade or more, if you’ve married a Chinese woman, and have fathered Chinese children, you’ll always be a laowai. This does not mean that you’ll never be welcomed; you will eventually be welcomed as a member of your wife’s family, your local community, and the place where you work. But you won’t really be one of them because, obviously, you’ll never be Chinese.
Your choice to live among them, or even if you will just be interacting with them during a very limited time, means you have to adapt to and respect their ways. You are their guest, after all. So what are the things you should refrain from doing?
Firstly, if you’ve put off learning even the most basic Chinese words and phrases for as long as you could, stop! Sure, many Chinese know how to communicate in English in varying degrees, especially if you’ll be visiting/moving to a highly urbanized and westernized area; but don’t expect everyone to know English. And don’t be lazy just because your Chinese girlfriend or laowai friend can translate for you. When you learn their language, you not only honor your Chinese love but also her people.
Stop judging, comparing, and complaining. Chinese people don’t fall in line; they drink and drive with their hands perpetually on the horn; traffic rules are merely suggestions; the men spit and pee just about anywhere; children pee and poop just about anywhere, as well; the air pollution is very bad; food safety is a constant and very serious problem; it goes on and on and on.
Sure, there are many bad things in China; there are many bad things in your home country, too, and in any other country for that matter. Maybe during very bad days, it’s nearly impossible for you to appreciate the other side – the better side – of China, but it’s always there just the same. You had and still have very good reasons for choosing a Chinese wife and starting a new life in her country. Things are the way they are in China, learn to accept it; the sooner you do, the happier you will be.
Don’t just live in your own, little world. Don’t just stick to your country’s food (if you’re lucky enough to have easy access to it, that is); be adventurous and try the local specialties. Don’t ignore local and national happenings; watch the news, read the newspaper, talk to your neighbors about upcoming holidays and events. Don’t choose to ignore Chinese customs; show genuine interest by talking to your Chinese love, a co-worker, or a neighbor about some of them.
Especially if you’ll be staying for an extended period in China, or relocating there, you will miss a lot of the things back home. You don’t have to completely abandon your old life and become a totally different person; but your new experiences, your immersion in Chinese society, will certainly change you and you should let it, but make sure it’s for the better. Accepting some of their ways doesn’t necessarily mean you’re turning your back on some of your long-held beliefs and principles; being open to new things is simply an opportunity to learn and improve.
Certainly, avoiding these behaviors will make your relationship with your Chinese love, her family, and her people a smoother one, and the cross-cultural challenges easier to handle.
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