Culture Clash: Wedding Planning – China vs Germany


Calendar august wedding China

I wanted to scream, I wanted to bang my head against a wall, I wanted to explode. The six month mark to the date of my wedding had just passed and I was freaking out. You see, for all the interesting, bemusing and incredible cultural aspects of China I get to experience by being in an intercultural relationship, there is the dark side; some aspects of local culture my German-wired brain simply cannot wrap its head around. One of them is organising. We love organising, us Germans. Ask anyone anywhere who has ever worked with a German, and they will respond in a fashion similar to the following: “What, oh Germans? Yeah, yeah, great cars. Very organised people.” As I said to Mr. Li in one of our conversation in which I was trying to explain my rather sudden bouts of bridezilla syndrome: “Germans love organising so much they want to have babies with it, little organising babies.” Incidentally, he found that image rather comical, which helped to deflect the approaching conflict. But there it is. Organising and Germans, the greatest love story since Kate & Leo.

Now, I am a bit of peculiarity, which I blame on my English heritage (though Mr.Li I am sure would hold my scatter brain responsible). When it comes to organising I seem to have slight schizophrenic tendencies. If my brain deems something only minorly important or can justify procrastination on getting it organised, I will for the life of me not get my s…tuff together. However, if anything shows up on my priority radar, then I kick into über-organising mode, which in all honesty is probably a speck scary. I will get obsessed with organising a task and want to complete it immediately. Yes, in elementary school I was that loser who finished her homework for the entire week on the first day when we had our so-called “weekly task plans”. Later on, though, my split organising personality appeared. As soon as any science except math was involved, organising monster would mysteriously crawl into a cave only to be seen again when the next art project began.

As I mentioned right at the beginning of this blog, this Chinese wedding was initially not something me nor Mr. Li wanted but against gentle nudging from mother-in-law no one really stands a chance. She just wraps you right around her little finger. So after it was decided, I told myself there was no point in moping about it. If we are doing this wedding, we are doing it right! (Another one of those mottos I am sure was invented by a German). Hence, the Über-mode.

Chinese Organising Style

What this meant was that when we had decided this wedding was going to happen sometime in August last year, I would have loved to get the organising underway within a week. Alas, I had not considered the big, unmentionable C-word…cultural difference.
I am now going to drift into sweeping generalisations here. I apologise in advance. I would like to argue that a majority of Chinese people I have met are not into timely organising. I have come to this conclusion through countless interactions with Chinese clients, including government employees, all of which looked something like this: half a year in advance the project is discussed and broadly agreed upon. Then nothing happens. No necessary material is provided, no steps taken, in fact not one sound is made to suggest the project will come into fruition. Until about a week before the deadline, when you suddenly get a bunch of stuff thrown at your face plus the expectation that a project that should have been three months in the making will be completed within the next seven days. I am not saying this is terrible; I have actually observed quite a few interesting results from this way of doing business, the main one being that Chinese people are incredibly reactive. They are able to produce acceptable results in the shortest humanly possible amount of time. Hence, it is no surprise that the country is currently making headlines for building a 57-floor sky scraper from scratch in 19 days in Changsha, Hunan province. That should give you an impression of just how quickly Chinese people can come together to create something enormous.

Clash of the Titans

When this cultural trait does present a problem is the moment you combine it with the German über-organising mode. This will without fail turn into an explosive mixture. Both heads and tears will roll as these two very opposite worlds meet. I wanted to decide on a definite wedding location asap, after all wedding invitations could not go out without a wedding location and all my friends and family abroad needed to book their flights as soon as possible. Hence I turned into a really pushy bridezilla, while my Chinese family thought I had gone mad, after all there was still so much time to book the venue!

As if that was not enough friction, I almost had a heart attack, when MiL informed me that we should find a wedding planner only six weeks before the wedding. I almost passed out. Who on earth could arrange a wedding in such a short time?! Let me tell you who; Chinese people.

The additional problem that we face is the fact that I am not physically present in Hohhot, if I were, then I could swing my backside down to all those hotels, wedding planning companies and whatever party involved I have forgotten. However, since I am not around, my poor MiL has been schlepping herself around the city from one location to the other in search of the best place. And because she is such a nice person, she will of course check out every possible wedding location. I’m a terrible person.

However, I am happy to announce that despite the odd bit of drama, surprisingly through bouts of über-organising mode, it seems everything is slowly coming together; and there are still five months to go to the wedding. Touch wood!

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