Tag Archives: Cultural differences

Wedding Guests: China vs Europe

Right, so finally it’s time to get back on topic: WEDDINGS! That is after all what this blog is all about, isn’t it? The only excuse I have for not keeping up my writing until after both weddings have happened is that now I have both wedding experiences; the better to compare. This is what I intended all along! *wink wink*

So, this is the first in what I think will be many comparative posts on our two weddings: the wedding guests.

Now, if you’re not already aware, there is a difference between your average Chinese wedding and you average European one (and by average I mean non-celebrity, mere mortals like myself) in terms of the guest list. While in Western media there is an on-going joke about how everyone wants to be invited and how the guest list gets out of hand at a wedding, generally I have found that most weddings of my friends and family have fitted into the reasonable-sized category. Mostly around 40 to 70 guests, I’d say. At our German wedding we only even had 25 guests; and that nothing to do with us wanting to save every Yuan we could and all to do with the fact that we decided to keep it highly exclusive, VVIPs only, you know, like the highly exclusive people we are. (You think they bought it?…No? Damn.)

Now in China, even daring to consider having such a small number of people at your wedding is an irredeemable insult to your ancestors. And you ancestors’ ancestors. And you ancestors’ ancestors’ accountant. Again, it’s all about that face, ‘bout that face, no trouble. Hoping Meghan Trainor won’t throw a copyright lawsuit at me for borrowing her legendary lyrics for inspiration. Anywho, digressing again. At a Chinese wedding, lots of people equals face and so the more people attend the wedding the better. Not only that, there is actually a financial incentive to make it as bloody big as possible.

Let’s have a wedding to make some money!

What on earth, financial incentive?! Yes, indeed. While in the West, we are busy losing hair about whether or not to invite Great Aunt Beryl, because that will mean another 60 or so Euros each to pay for her, and her husband and her two brat kids, in China you’ll be sure as heck hoping that Great Aunt Beryl brings her cousin twice removed and their whole clan. Because of the Chinese tradition of giving red envelopes filled to the brim with cash, rather than another embroidered gold toaster to “start married life together”, a Chinese wedding is seen by many here as a) an opportunity to make rather than spend money and b) earn back the money that they’ve spent on other people’s weddings – as you did with Great Aunt Beryl’s two brats. I have to say, they’re really onto something there and thankfully my mother decided to “go Chinese” in terms of wedding presents in Germany and our 25 exclusive guests generously followed suit. Thank you for that!

Intimate Affair vs. Catwalk Spectacle

Now, if you are more of the type of person who prefers an intimate affair for a wedding with just your closest friends to give it all more weight and meaning, the Chinese way certainly isn’t for you. In China, the parents-in-law will literally invite anyone and their dog (as long as the dog brings its own Hongbao of course), with the big company bosses being particular favourites since they rake in the most money. It means that on average 200 people will show up at your wedding, 90% of which you’ve never met before in your life. Especially from our Western perspective, we can quickly feel like this makes the wedding incredibly impersonal and just doesn’t feel right. Indeed, Mr Li was completely won over by the intimate ceremony idea. To this day he will tell anyone who is willing to listen how he much prefers the intimacy of Western weddings.

On the other hand, if, like me, you enjoy feeling like an A-List celebrity walking down a huge catwalk with 200 pairs of eyes on you, this will probably be one of the best days of your life. Especially considering that people even paid money to look at you, it’s almost like you’re Beyoncé…well, minus the voice of an angel and the sexy dance routine. One thing’s for sure, you’ll never get this much attention again!

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Feeling like Beyoncé – if only I could walk sexy in this dress..
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New Year, New WWAM Project

Hello My Dears,

And a wonderful New Year to you!

As we are getting settled into the fact that it is no longer last year, we realise that the world is still very much the same. Except for one little detail: the launch of our new WWAM BAM! website, a page about Western Women dating or married to Asian Men.

I am super excited to be part of this blogging collective among a stunning group of talented bloggers (or should it be bloggerettes?) and authors, including Susan Blumberg-Kason (author of Good Chinese Wife), Jocelyn from Speaking of China, Becky of BeckyAnces.net, Ruth of China Elevator Stories, Kimberly of Nama Mama, and Susie of the Daily Susily.

Here’s a quick idea, what it’s all about:

We are a group of women from a Western background who are dating or married to men from an Asian culture. AMWF (Asian Male Western Female) couples, or WWAMs (Western Women Asian Men) as we prefer to call them, have in the past been few and far between but in this increasingly globalized world are becoming more common every day. Still, there are cultural differences that such couples will face and our site is here to help you navigate them. At the same time, we make it our mission to weed through the racism and stereotypes about Asian men and culture out there. We all know the truth is never just black and white (or yellow for that matter).

Aside from gripping personal experiences of relationships with Asian men and their families, and of raising AMWF children, this site takes a look at the portrayal of Asian men in Western media and reviews AMWF related productions. We furthermore will spotlight the amazing women out there who have made Asia their family; past and present.

We’re on the lookout for Western women who love Asian men and writing. You could be a regular contributor or even just a one-time guest poster. If you’d like to be a part of our new group blog, email us at contact@wwambam.com.

We look forward to seeing you on the WWAM side!

Find us on   Facebook    Google+     Twitter    and    Instagram wwambam-pink-light

A Love Letter to my Chinese Mother-In-Law

Looking back at some of my posts, I realise that most the quirky anecdotes and the weird stuff tends to involve her, my MIL. That might give the impression that we don’t get along but that’s actually not the fact at all. The main reason that most of my funny and weird China stories, such as rearranging wardrobes, happen with her, is simply because she is the Chinese person I am closest to and spend the most time with. Mr Li doesn’t count, as his long time in the West and my terrible influence have turned him into as much a confused culturally non-identifiable mashed potato as I am. After five years of having him in my life, and thus her by association, I have come to learn a few things about her in relation to other Chinese mothers-in-law that make me thank my lucky star that she is indeed the MIL I ended up with. So, here we are. My love letter to my MIL:

Being Supportive of us Dating

To start off, I have to say cudos to my MIL for never once suggesting to my husband that dating a foreigner was something bad. I know a few other WWAMs, such as Jocelyn, whose potential parents-in-law had misgivings about their son dating a Western woman, since we stereotypically tend to be seen as “loose” and heartless monsters who will abandon their duty to look after their parents. My MIL was never anything but welcoming to me, even when I could be a total bitch when I was struggling with culture shock.

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The day we got our certificate

A Strong Woman to Look Up To

I think one of the things that I really appreciate about her is the fact that she is a business woman, who owns her own kindergarten. In a country, where still the ideal role of a woman is to take care of the family members, young and old, it is rare to find a woman who has such a successful career, and a family. Actually, being a divorced woman in rural China in the 90s – that’s some pretty tough stuff –  and she has been through some really intense shit in her life. But she came out of the other end a strong and successful woman, a total trail blazer. I have only two words for that: Absolute Awesomeness.

Giving us Space

I find one of the common worries of dating Chinese men can be the fact that many Chinese family members, particularly the mother, struggle with the concept of personal space in the way we Westerners think of it. Most Chinese parents expect their sons to live in the same city as them, many even on the same street or (scary thought) under the same roof. However, this, from what I hear and experience myself, can lead to conflict very quickly, as two strong headed women from two different cultures often tend to have clashing opinions. Our husbands, the poor sods stuck in the middle, are often not outstanding at managing these cross-cultural issues either. I’m therefore incredibly glad that my MIL is accepting of the fact that we won’t be moving to Inner Mongolia and have our own lives.

Not Pressing Us on Children

While the rest of the family is a different story, I am incredibly lucky since my MIL doesn’t put pressure on me to have child. This is very uncommon in China, and I think it has to do with the fact that my husband’s parents are divorced. Maybe she wants to see if we can make it last? Who knows. All I know is that all I get from her in terms of procreational pressure is the occasional “Doesn’t your husband look cute with his little niece.” Thanks MIL, I really do appreciate it.

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After marriage pressure comes…baby pressure!

Being OK with Us Moving Back to Europe

This is a big one. Many Chinese parents I know of, and more so those with sons, are heavily opposed to the idea of their child moving to another continent, because “who will take care of me in old age?” So the fact that my MIL is totally on board with the idea of us returning to Europe at some stage (mainly for breathable air) is not a given. She went to Germany for the first time this summer and overall seemed to quite enjoy it. There is of course a possibility that she would like to join us in Europe but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

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Home sweet home.

Almost Always Picking My Side in Fights

This is a really interesting one. From the beginning, when Mr. Li and I tend to go at each other, I’d say 90% of the time my MIL would be the one to talk him down and who picks my side. Especially in the beginning of our relationship she was the reason we didn’t break up many, many times. I have actually had to force myself not to call her to knock some sense into him when we have had the occasional fight. This has been a massive help to me, since I am aware that especially when it comes to cultural conflict, it’s an easy thing for the Chinese relatives to gang up on the foreign partner. It’s probably the same the other way around. So her being able to see my side is something I really appreciate about her.

Spoiling Me

Yeah, I have to say, my MIL tends to spoil me rotten. She will always buy things that I don’t ask for and often even feels the need, when she buys endless stuff for Mr Li, to buy me something too so I don’t feel left out. She will go out of her way to make me comfortable and constantly feed me food, if I let her. When you are in a country far away from your own mum, it does feel nice every now and then to be showered by such affection.

Being Pretty Cool to Travel With

I think this is the funniest one in a way. After Mr Li and I got married in China last year, I went on a 2-week honeymoon not with him but with my MIL. He was working as usual, the workaholic. And it was actually pretty awesome. She never travelled much in the past but is now in a phase of her life where she is really enjoying exploring the world. And so I know that if I ever want to travel to a cool place and my hubs is busy, I can just ask her if she wants to go. And actually, she is as active as I am, so she is totally down for a busy schedule and looking at loads of places, as opposed to my little couch potato of a husband ;P

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Our MIL-DIL Honeymoon at Qinghai Lake

So, yes, while at times certain elements about Chinese culture drive me insane, I have to admit that overall I have been incredibly lucky with my MIL. She’s definitely not what you’d call a traditional Chinese mother-in-law!

Cultural Differences in AMWF Dating – A Deal Breaker?

 

Cultural differences; they’re such a big deal that we devote entire blogs to them. And often they are responsible for some of those “bang my head against a wall” experiences; but are they truly impossible to overcome?

Recently, when Mr Li was complaining about how I’m a lazy slob, whose idea of cleaning up is gathering all my clothes in a large pile and chucking them into my walk-in wardrobe, I couldn’t help but feel amused at how banal this little spat seemed. In fact, it was very similar to ones I had had with German ex-boyfriends in the past. And that’s when it hit me; Mr Li and I have somehow managed to pass that initial culture shock and have entered the phase where most of our irritations about each other involve our daily routine on the one hand and political disagreements on the other; things that most mono-cultural couples argue about.

A Rocky Start

This wasn’t always the case. In fact, in retrospect I feel like the first year of our relationship we mostly spent arguing due to cultural differences. Whether it was about the fact that I would tell my girlfriends about our fights and thereby “air our dirty laundry in front of everyone”, or that he would say some things that were highly insensitive in my own culture; for the better part of two years there was no shortage of things to fight about.

Then, around the two-year mark we hit a low point and almost broke up. What saved us? Well, as fate would have it, China did. By coming here, I finally learned how utterly clueless I had been in terms of understanding Chinese culture. Here I was, having studied the language for years, having been surrounded by Chinese friends, and still I realised very quickly that in terms of cultural understanding, I had only scratched the surface. And while right in the beginning of our return I really struggled with some of the changes in behaviour Mr Li exhibited, brought on by a Chinese surrounding, after a while we both managed to settle in and become more comfortable.

Then, Mr Li had the glorious idea of getting involved in Couch Surfing, where he met a few “real Germans” for want of a better word, and our relationship once again progressed to a whole new comfort level.

The reason, I would say, is that both of us started to realise that certain behaviours of our partner were actually culturally influenced, and this realisation meant that, if this was not a deal breaker, we could stop fretting about it and accept that if we wanted to date someone from that culture, this was just part of the package deal.

The other reason however was that in the face of people from our partners’ background we actually noticed how much the other had adapted to our own culture and how accepting and culturally sensitive they had become compared to other, less experienced people from their cultural background.

Most importantly as time went on, we figured out how uniquely fitted we were for each other, and that our relationship worked mainly because we were both stuck somewhere in the middle.

So, yes, cultural differences are something that can put a lot of strain on a relationship, if they are not dealt with; but ultimately if you are willing to put in the effort to understand your partners’ culture (and of course they yours!), and meet them half way, then there will come a day when the worst of your fights is who forgot to turn on the washing machine in the morning,…again. (Yeah, it was me.)

That being said, this is coming from the perspective of a childless woman who is not living with her Chinese in-laws; that, my dears, is a whole other story.

 

 

 

Getting Over Bad China Week – Dealing with Cultural Exhaustion

Skating in Nanjing

So, that bad China week was really and truly awful as just about everything seemed to be going wrong. This made me incredibly irritated and in turn meant I felt incapable of dealing with my Chinese surroundings. Many expats experience these types of phases long after they have survived culture shock. It was not until I read this eye-opening post by Linda Living In China that the coin dropped; I was at the time experiencing a phase of cultural exhaustion. Thanks Linda for enlightening me – you might have well saved my marriage before it even started!

Cultural fatigue is a state in which everything becomes too much and you feel so exasperated that every little thing seems to be enforcing your negative view of the situation and your surroundings. You become so angry that you start shouting at the stupid drivers that honk at you while you are crossing a green light. You want to slap the people that just push into the queue in front of you. And you want to throw something in the face of those people who stare at you and then shout “Laowai” in your face.

At some point you will become aware of how deeply unsettled you are. For me it was a situation on the bus, as I was once again trying to get out of my window seat. The guy next to me was a rather bodily man in his fifties, who as pretty much a majority of Chinese people do, only swivelled about an inch to the side to “let me pass” if you dare call it that. I pushed and nothing happened, with both of us being of the fleshier persuasion, there was just not enough room. He swivelled a tiny bit further. In the end I pressed my big bum into his face, though my Chinese friend thinks that this was probably a joy for him rather than a punishment.

However, I was also holding a pair of skates in my hand, which I almost smashed on top of his head as I was trying to drag my arm across the minor space between big man and the seat in front of him. For a moment there I seriously considered hitting him on the head with the skates. That was the second I noticed I really need to deal with my frustration; if only because I do not want to end up in Chinese jail for causing death by skate.

How to deal with cultural exhaustion

On days like these it is really important to try and get back on track emotionally.
The first step is to be aware that this is actually what you are experiencing. In both Linda and my case this cultural exhaustion appeared about 1.5 years after we had moved to China, maybe this is a common time span? The initial culture shock tends to occur approximately six months after you arrive but once you are over that, things slowly start building up again.

Luckily, just being able to put a name to what you are feeling helps. It makes you realise how much you haven’t been yourself but also that this is not just your individual issue.
Linda then suggests that you need to accept and admit that you will never fit into the society of your host country and that this is ok. This will take the pressure off for you to try so hard to do everything right, as that is simply not realistic. This I think is a very important factor why I even got thrown into this cultural exhaustion mode in the first place. Trying to organise a wedding, I was suddenly dealing with businesses in Hohhot, which is still a third tier city. Standards are simply different. Trickery and unprofessional behaviour are more common. It is a reality I just need to learn to accept.

I have also come up with a number of my own coping mechanisms, which in combination and over a bit of time will hopefully help restore your love and passion for China.

Number one is to remind yourself of why you love your host country by doing all the things that make you happy. For me that entailed getting amazing Chinese food from my favourite restaurant, strapping on my skates to whizz along the newly constructed, luxuriously big roads at the Olympic Stadium and going for a relaxing climb at the rock-climbing gym; something I have taken up since moving to Nanjing.

Number two is to surround yourself with the right people. Do not go to tourist hotspots where you will find a lot of people exhibiting the type of behaviour you might find hard to accept such as spitting, peeing in public or staring at you and commenting on the fact that you are a foreigner. Instead, spend time with the Chinese people you have positive associations with, Chinese friends on the one hand but even more so the shop owner who gives you money off for your loyal custom and has a chat with you about your daily life, that security guard who knows your routine and laughs when he see you marching off with your skates in one hand (hopefully not to murder anyone) or the guys at the rock climbing gym who comment on your absence and include you in their delicious group lunch. These are the people who make my day, because in this huge city, they are still so friendly and personal.

DO NOT under any circumstance try and hide away from people in your flat. This will just make you brood and stew in your own depression, a mistake I often make. I know it is difficult to find the motivation to go out there when you are so vulnerable. But you must do it. Or you will end up going home.

Finally, your option is to go the other way and just give yourself a good blast of home by eating at your favourite Western restaurants, binge-watching your favourite TV series from home and talking to all the people back in Europe or whichever part of the world you are from, parents and friends, who love and support you.

Most importantly, always remember that it is likely just a phase and that it will pass and then you will once again be able to marvel at the wonders and the craziness of China.

Bad China Week 3 – The Engagement Pictures, Ghosts and the Fires of Hell

Wedding pictures

Thus concludes my triple blast of Bad China Week moments. After being branded as a lawbreaker of minor import and living through the accidental destruction, perceived repair and ensuing redestruction (wait, is that even a word?) of my engagement ring, the final straw were the engagement pictures.

Aside from the eccentric decoration and theme of my wedding, what I was looking forward to most since this whole wedding fiasco started were the engagement pictures. I just love, love, love the idea of getting all done up and professional photographers having you pose while you look like a fabulous movie star with her handsome hunk of a husband (I’m sure I will suddenly and miraculously transform from klutz to princess through the mere presence of cameras…no, really, I am!).

That describes in a nutshell the engagement pictures. They are also used in the wedding display, and for me personally my opportunity to experience the Old Shanghai style I originally wanted for the wedding but in the end let go.

The very first issue was the decision where to take the pictures. Inner Mongolia had exciting grasslands but would require both of us to fly there just for one weekend, a huge waste of time and money. Next option was Beijing, with a very professional standard of photography yet as is custom for a first tier city horrendous prices. The best deal I could find was still 5 000 RMB for a set of pictures. In addition, the North-South divide once again reared its ugly head; while the company in Beijing said they could do Old Shanghai style, it just wasn’t very convincing, which is when it hit me; Northerners have difficulty doing a convincing Southern style. It seems that if you hear a stereotype often enough, you will actually start to believe it yourself. So the decision was made, Nanjing it was, with added bonus that they are cheaper than the capital.

After lots and lots of research on Dianping, my favourite app in the whole wide world, I found a company in the South of Nanjing that will hopefully be able to meet my requirements of glam but inexpensive. If you can call RMB 3 700 for a photo session inexpensive, that is. Yet, still a lot better than what the competition had to offer and the reviews seemed convincing.

Now we faced the issue of finding a date to take the photos. This is one of those moments when long-distance relationships simply suck, as it has proven an incredible task to get the shoot organised. Were we in one city it would simply be a case of taking a day off on a weekend to get it done; yet now the local climate, traveling and conflicting schedules are making it next to impossible. Oh, and the superstitions of course.

Nanjing is very particular when it comes to seasons. Up until beginning of April it is about 5C°, then you have a two to three-week window with a comfy 20C° and a humane level of humidity, and by the end of the month it has skyrocketed to summer temperatures of 40C° and humidity levels of over 90% (and no, that is not an exaggeration). Therefore it is crucial to find the perfect opportunity between freezing off the tip of your nose or keeling over from heat stroke, when the cherry blossoms are blooming and outside shoots will not potentially render you incapable of attending your actual wedding.

The added problem is that while I love hot and humid, Mr.Li having grown up in dry Inner Mongolia with -20 degrees winters absolutely despises the Southern climate and will start sweating waterfalls once it gets to 25 C°. He also launches into endless moaning about the heat, which on a stressful day such as the wedding shoot, which will include changing outfit and getting make up done seven times, is really not very constructive. So, in order to avoid major drama and possibly death by high heel, we needed to squeeze into the minimal spring window.

I thought I had found the perfect date when I realised beginning of April was a long weekend. Initially, Mr. Li agreed to take the photos then; until he found out that this was actually Tomb-Sweeping Festival, when ghosts walk the earth and Chinese honour their ancestors by cleaning their tombs and burning paper money and paper iPhones so the dead will be comfortable in the afterlife. “NO, NO, NO, we can’t take pictures during the Tomb-Sweeping Festival,” Mr. Li protested vehemently. “That is when all the ghosts come out and they will show up in our pictures and bring us bad luck.”

At this point, my fuse just busted. Here I was trying to align all the atmospheric factors to make this as painless and conflictless as possible, and now ghosts were occupying my perfect picture weekend?! Yet, Mr.Li was insistent, and indeed, when we went to 798 Art district during the festival, there was not one couple taking wedding pictures to be found, an irregularity that Mr. Li saw as proof that Beijingers shared his superstition. When I told all my colleagues down here in Nanjing about this, they all shook their head in disbelief. They had never even heard of such a belief. The good old North-South divide, ruining lives since the beginning of time. It can’t have been the urban rural divide in this case; though often lower tier cities and rural areas are much more superstitious than the big urban centers, Beijing is hardly what you would call rural.

So, back to the planning sheet. Next opportunity was the 18th April, sitting perfectly between our two visits beginning of April and 1st of May weekend, also still in the blossoming Nanjing spring, and far enough from the fires of hell to appear in May.

Again, it was not to be. The company was already fully booked. So, I took the next appointment on the 25th April, knowing full well that there is a big chance that Mr.Li will be moving from Beijing to Shenzhen that weekend, meaning we would have to postpone yet again. Though, with the looming danger of taking pictures in suit and make-up in the scorching heat, he seems rather eager to get it wrapped up before May if at all possible.

The photo fiasco concludes the bad China week, by the end of which I was just about ready to pack my things and hop on a plane back to Europe. I felt like everything I touched in relation to the wedding was just ending in disaster, a feeling that is still quite present in light of my recent wedding company experiences.

Bad China Week 2 – The Engagement Ring

Attachment to material items cultural difference China west
So, aside from my little run-in with the law, another factor that contributed to my Bad China Week (BCW) was my engagement ring.

I explained the history of the ring in a previous post, but in short my parents brought it over from Germany. Mr. Li proposed mid-November. And then, a month ago, after four almost blissful months of wearing it, my hamfisted self somehow managed to get it caught and one of the stones came out of its setting. I have to say, seriously disappointed by the infamous German quality that people in this country so adore. Luckily, the freak accident happened while I was at home and the stone, despite being about the size of a molecule, was found. I taped it to the ring box to make sure it would not get lost and then left it there for a month.

The reason was that I was in two minds as to whether it would be better to send it back home to Germany and get it fixed, or just find a local jeweller, pay a few kuai and not have to worry about an expensive piece of jewellery getting lost in the black hole that calls itself delivery service.

Then this weekend I decided it was time. I packed my ringbox in my back pack and ventured to the “jewellery street” of Nanjing, Taiping Nan Lu, which houses what is truly an army of stores selling everything from diamond rings to jade bracelets. I went there after I had been rock climbing in my sports gear looking like the world’s biggest schlub, a pair of dirty roller blades in tow, which probably explains the looks of disgust as I marched into some of the more glamorous establishments. I was a little tempted to scratch my non-existent testicles just for show.

All the bigger jewellers turned me away because the ring had not been bought at their store. Snobs.

All of the smaller jewellers were out for lunch, and as the staff informed me, might return at any random point in time but they couldn’t really say. Great, thanks for the help.

After an hour of dragging myself from one store to the other I finally walked into the right one, or so I thought. The “Shifu” did not ask any questions, immediately got to work and five minutes later after seemingly expertly have pressed and pushed the stone into place, handed it back to me. He did not even accept payment. I was so elated I asked for his business card and then posted this lovely story on WeChat (China’s number one social media app).

Then, half an hour later I met up with my roller blade date, and dramatically pulled out my hand sporting the engagement ring, just to find that the stone was again not in its casing. I had managed to lose it on the metro, confirming my suspicion that anything that’s free cannot truly be good. Of course the poor jeweller wasn’t to know this was going to happen and in all fairness, other stores had looked at the ring in wonder since the entire set-up seems to be different than they are used to in China.

Still, I was heartbroken. I had set out in the morning with the quest to fix my ring. Now, not only was my ring not fixed, I had also lost the stone. My emotions were on a serious roller coaster.

Calling Mr. Li did not help either, except giving both me and my friend another insight into the differences between our cultures. “Oh it’s just an engagement ring, it doesn’t matter, why even bother getting it fixed” was his reply to my request that he go look for the receipt.
Usually when I get angry I argue a lot. Yet, this time I was so livid, that I barely was able to speak. He sensed it and quickly asked me to put my friend on the phone.

She then had a very productive conversation with him in which she explained that the engagement ring is very important to us and we often wear it our whole lives. Whereas he said that in Chinese culture once you wear the wedding ring, you don’t tend to wear the engagement ring anymore (although I am fairly certain that my married friend is still wearing hers, sometimes I feel Mr. Li, having lived abroad for 6 years, is not very in touch with the China of today).

In a later conversation with another female Chinese, she was also very calm and nonchalant about the ring fiasco, leading me and my roller blade friend to theorise about Chinese and Western people’s different attachment to material items.

For us, it is all about the emotions. If a materialistic possession has an emotional meaning or a fond memory, we might keep it until it is completely destroyed, even if it looks and possibly smells disgusting, simply because it has a meaning attached to it.

In China, people tend to want the newest of the new, as a way of showing status and gaining face. There seems to be less of an emotional attachment with material items than a functionality to display wealth and success. Hence, if a ring breaks, it is not a big deal; you simply buy a new one. This is possibly a healthier attitude insofar as it keeps you from hoarding, in terms of financials though I definitely think the emotionally attached camp clinging on to their 20-year old teddy bear with only one eye and stuffing popping out of his bum, wins.

Long story short, I still am unsure as to what to do with the wedding ring. Mr.Li and MiL both were so kind as to look for the little red bag in which I was convinced the ring receipt was stowed away and while they managed to find the bag, the receipt is currently still successfully hiding away.

Part of me really wants to agree with Mr.Li and simply forget about it, as this ring is turning into just another nuisance adding to my already cramped Things To Do And Freak Out About List for this wedding. In all honesty, each time someone shook my hand the stones in the side would pierce my middle and pinky fingers causing excruciating pain. I guess that’s an argument for the Let It Go camp, isn’t it?

Yet, my German and my sentimental sides just can’t bear the thought of a technically brand new, beautiful and rather pricey ring just sitting on the shelf, gathering dust and mocking me with its gaping hole where once was a stone like a toothless grandma.

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!

Jet-Set Wedding (Part 4) – Singing in the Hallway

Import products Hohhot
I don’t know about you, but where I come from, big occasions are celebrated with alcohol (hmm, that makes my family sound like alcoholics doesn’t it…naaaah, we’re good…I think). The idea that after getting married I wouldn’t even get to toast with my new husband was simply inconceivable to me; therefore, I insisted rather passionately that we attempt to purchase sparkling wine in Hohhot. While part of me worried that I was being too optimistic actually believing we would find something as scarcely imported as bubbly in the city of Hohhot, where the definition of Western restaurant still encompasses the coronary killer trifecta Maccie D’s, KFC and Pizza Hut, as it turned out I had underestimated the third tier city. Third tier it might be, but it is still the capital of Inner Mongolia!

While we for a split second considered the 29 RMB Chinese-produced sparkling wine, which had alarm bells running overtime in my mind, Mr.Li’s eagle eyes spotted the Italian imports on the top-most shelf of the imported alcohol section. And so we walked out of the supermarket with a red sparkling wine produced in Italy and some paper cups. I have never been happier in my entire life! I did feel a little concerned as to whether red wine in combination with my wedding dirndl was really such a good idea but as I said to Mr.Li, “We love living dangerously, we are such daredevils!”

After a short pit stop at the Li flat during which I grabbed a change of clothes since we had decided to spend the afternoon at my favourite massage parlour in the entire world, we then returned once again to the b(r)at cave to await the appearance of our kind registrar Lord Lazybum from Bedfordshire.

We arrived at the offices at 2pm, and so had a half hour wait ahead of us. It was a very entertaining thirty minutes as Mr.Li stole a chair for me to sit down (he can be such a romantic when he wants to), we listened to what was going on behind the closed doors of the administration office – a group of guys sounding like they were having a serious argument, while they were in fact just playing cards while listening to really, really old Chinese music and then, in the second instance, Mongolian tunes; at which point I wrapped the folk style scarf that I bought years ago in Sichuan province’s Tibetan valley Jiuzhaigou around my arms and developed a “Mongolian style choreography” dancing about in the hall. Other highlights included us finding a song with the word waiting with it *whatever you say, whatever you do, we will be right here waiting for you…*, awkward looks from an office worker at our singing and dancing in the hallway and finally the arrival of Double-O Zero, the undetectable agent, aka the registrar.

Jet-Set Wedding (Part 3) – Part-time Bureaucrats and the King of Pandas

Restaurant Inner Mongolia

After we managed to acquire our translation, we were off to the registry office. Since I am a foreigner, said office is not just the regular registry office but instead a “special one” across town. We found out just how special it was when we arrived to find that the registrar was not there. Mr Li’s mother had been trying to contact the kind sir since Saturday to no avail and repeated calls to his office on Monday morning while we were getting our stuff done were of course to no more successful. His colleagues tried to appease us by informing us that due to the fact that about only 50 marriages between foreigners and Hohhotians take place a year, the registrar worked on a part-time basis and was currently “in the countryside”, which is probably code for sitting at home drinking tea doing absolutely nothing at all.

I think the question I ask myself most whenever I deal with bureaucratic entities in China is how on earth this country still keeps running considering no one in the administration actually ever does any work. Then again, it is probably necessary for them to be Lazy Larrys so that they can employ five people to reach the productivity rate of one regular person, in order to keep everyone employed and unemployment rate up.

After calling the Prince of Pandas, as he shall henceforth be known, he suggested we come back at 4.30 since he, and I quote, “might be around then.” But, you know, he couldn’t be sure of course, and it wasn’t like we had a plane to catch. A call to his supervisor though seemed to take care of the small issue of when he would bring his derriere into work, thus we were given an appointment at 2.30pm and left the building accompanied by a lot of swearing on my part. To my German genes, these situations are infuriating to say the least, and it is all I can do to keep myself from getting physical. With regards to our new appointment we were told to be absolutely on time, since the registrar had to leave at 3pm for another appointment (read more tea slurping, maybe some TV or card games).

So, in the meantime, there was nothing much we could do except go for a delicious lunch at a nearby Mongolian restaurant. I consider myself incredibly lucky insofar as I am a massive fan of lamb meat, or a lamb fan, and Mongolia is to lamb as Germany is to sausages. We had a most heavenly lunch of oven-roasted lamb and stewed lamb with glass noodles and Sauerkraut, which for some strange reason is identical to German Sauerkraut. A frequent subject of speculation between Mr.Li and I is how the Kraut ended up in two countries so far apart and which country had it first.

To my utter surprise, I even managed to not get any grease or sauce all over my dress (you would be just as astonished if you know of my unique talent to get food everywhere while I eat except in my mouth, apparently, like a toddler just with slightly longer arms).

I also steered clear of the Mongolian milk tea; for some strange reason, people in these parts of the world think it is a great idea to add salt instead of sugar to said beverage; a concept, which I with my bourgeois European taste buds simply cannot accept.

After posing for some slightly surreal pictures in my German dirndl and Mr.Li in his black suit in a Mongolian restaurant, it was time for our next quest; celebratory alcohol!