Tag Archives: International relationship

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

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Culture Clash – How Different Communication Styles Turned Me Into A Monster

Confusion

Source: all-free-downloads.com

In 1976, Edward T Hall introduced us to the idea of high and low context cultures. Almost 40 years later, these differences can cause a simple conversation between me and my Chinese family to end in the most confusing misunderstandings; often funny, but sometimes a little worrying.

According to Hall, on the spectrum of communication styles, high context context communication, which is especially common throughout Asia, is not to be taken literal. Rather, while a person might be saying something, their meaning is actually entirely different and one needs a certain cultural and context understanding to decipher the message.

For example, a Chinese person would never say that they cannot be bothered to meet you, instead they might come up with an excuse such as “I am sick” in order to not hurt your feelings.

My former flat mate once complained that our electricity bill was very high one month and it was Mr Li who has to enlighten me that what my flat mate actually meant with her complaints was that she wanted me to pay a larger part of the bill.

Low context culture on the other hand is very direct. People will tell you what they are thinking, even it might be hurtful to your feelings. Some people appreciate this communication type, because it is simpler and one need not guess the opposite person’s meaning. However, to a person from a high context culture, this type of communication can often seem downright rude.

On the spectrum of different communication styles, Germany would be placed very far on the low context end, while China is on the opposite side, the high context end. As you can imagine, this can lead to strings of misunderstanding when two people of opposing styles are involved in a relationship.

Most of the time I have no clue what I’m saying

When I was preparing my trip back home to Gremany for Christmas, my Chinese mother-in-law (or MIL) gave me a list of items to bring back to. China as long as my arm. As mentioned previously my parents live in a small town, where the availability of luxury items and high-end fashion is rather limited.
While I did promise her I would try my best, I explained to her that but there might be a number of difficulties and detailed what they were exactly (such as the non availability of Louis Vuitton in a small German town of 2000 inhabitants).

Suddenly I got a dispirited message from her saying it was fine and she would just go to Hong Kong to get the items. That was when it hit me; she thought I didn’t want to help her. Coming from a high context culture she interpreted my telling her about possible problems relating to helping her as excuses I was thinking of because in truth I didn’t want to help her at all.

To make matters worse, it is unthinkable in China to refuse a request from your elders, especially parents or parents-in-law. When you are told to do something, you do it, no questions asked.

“Oh no, she thinks I’m a horrible monster!!!!” Was my instant, panicked reaction.

While I quickly sent a message telling her about all the solutions I had for the problems, I began to wonder how this whole misunderstanding had come into existence.

Especially, since when it comes to favours, I often noticed that Mr. Li seemed to think I didn’t want to help him, so why was it exactly that my Chinese family seemed to think I am such a terrible villain?

Overpromising vs managing expectations

While it will often happen in China that someone enthusiastically promises to do something for you and then never pulls through, in Germany this is less so. All over the world, the people I meat tell me their major impression of Germans is reliability, and I would agree that many of us (of course not everyone) makes it a point to keep our promises.

A Chinese saying ironically describes this very well:

说话算数 To put into action what you say (or promise).

So, how did we Germans get to be known for our reliability? By not overpromising and by managing expectations.

Whenever anyone asks me for a favour the first thing I will consider is whether or not the request is realistically achievable. If I feel that there might be issues on the way I will tell my opposite, in order to make clear that I will try my best but the venture might still fail, so they do not get their hopes up and are disappointed in the end.

Hence, when I tell you that these are the difficulties I might encounter, I am doing it because I do not want to disappoint you, and in general I don’t want to disappoint you if you mean something to me. Therefore in my own cultural context, my hesitant reaction is just an expression that someone is important to me, because it matters to me that they see me as reliable and someone who is true to their word.

However, in the Chinese cultural context, my reaction means I am a rude, selfish monster.

Luckily, my C-MIL (Chinese mother-in-law) is a super cool unicorn who didn’t seem to harbour any grudges. But just in case I have sent Mr. Li for a little cultural intervention, to explain to her that she should forgive me for being a German bratwurst.

6 More Things I Love About Being In An Intercultural Relationship

Welcome to Part Two of why it is seriously amazing to be in an intercultural relationship.

Dried lemon China

7) The local experience

Having a local partner also means opening the doors to an entirely different experience in their country; the local experience. All the small pains of being a foreigner in China, spending extra money simply for not being Chinese, not knowing how things work and what to watch out for; they suddenly all disappear as you gain your very own cultural adviser who can make sense of the chunks of confusing information being chucked at you in your new surroundings.

They know where the good and cheap restaurants are, where to look for flats, how much you should be paying and who is trying to trick you. It certainly helps you get the best out of your China experience.

8) Showing them the China we love

An on-going joke between Mr. Li and I is the fact that have seen more of the country than he has. Indeed I spent a majority of time during my study abroad experience in Beijing in 2010 just traveling to all corners of the country. This also means I know a thing or two about where the amazing places are.

I really enjoy taking Mr.Li to different parts of the country and showing him the sights I have seen or discovering entirely new places together. It is such a gratifying feeling to see him marvel at a Chinese city, a new dish or local culture he never knew existed in his own country.

9) Simple Dating
In the Western world, the initial dating phase has become synonymous with constant agony of the unknown. Being stuck in dating limbo might last weeks or months depending on how confrontational one is. In the past it was single, courtship, marriage; now you find a confused jumble of marriage, relationship, casual dating, one night-stands and the epithet of our generation’s unwillingness to face serious commitment, Facebook’s “It’s complicated”.

China on the other hand takes us back to the days when dating was simple. While a conservative form of casual dating is slowly emerging on the mainland, over all you will find Chinese people to be very serious daters. Mr Li said to me on our first hangout as friends (or inofficial date if you like) that his parents wanted him to marry a foreigner. That did enough to scare me off for the next three months but luckily he is a stubborn little thing.

If they like you, they will not mess around. If they like you, they are in it for the long haul. No nights lying awake thinking “he loves me, he loves me not”, no endless discussions with your friends dissecting his every text message for clues as to what his intentions are. It’s much more simple and painless.

10) A whole new world of entertainment

Whether it is watching an American blockbuster and chasing it with the latest mainland human drama, listening to One Direction getting their girl stolen and then switching to Joanna Wang’s (王若琳)raspy voice declaring her love for a certain red flower, or watching Dinner for One on Western New Year’s Eve and the yearly Chinese New Year show roughly a month or two later. Going out with a Chinese constantly gives you access to new material you might have never discovered on your own.

Sometimes it can seem that your tastes are very different, and you might find yourself questioning whether you really have that much in common, but once you start digging you will soon discover a connection over the most unlikely pieces of art, music or film you could imagine.

11) Holidays
Who doesn’t love a holiday? What do you love more than a holiday? Two of course! International relationships between Europeans and Chinese have the major benefit of giving a you the opportunity to celebrate Christmas and Chinese New Year on top of a big host of other exciting holidays to lounge around and eat yummy food. Who could say no to that?!

Also, because Chinese don’t celebrate Christmas and we don’t celebrate Chinese New Year, you will never have the “do we spend the holiday at my parent’s or yours?” fight. International couples for the win!

12) Amazing food

Need I even explain this?! What is better than having a local take you to the best restaurants and showing you the best local dishes you might never have set eyes on without him?!

Nowadays, when I find myself nibbling away on a pressed hawthorne stick or some tempura-fried spicy seaweed, I stop in my tracks and notice how many of my favorite foods I only discovered through Mr.Li. That is enough to enrich one’s life to last an entire lifetime!

Missed out on Part One? Simply click here to catch up.

6 Things I Love About Being In An Intercultural Relationship

After the rather ranty previous post (I just had to get that off my chest), I figured it was time to give myself and you, dear reader, a little motivational boost. What better way than to remind myself of all the great reasons I agreed to get married to my inofficial fiancée in the first place?! A big thanks to Vicci, who brainstormed with me and added a considerable amount of ideas to this list. Because of that I will split this post in two, so welcome to Part One:

Intercultural relationships

1) Learning something new every day
Although it might sound a little cliche, one of the things I find most exciting about going out with a Chinese person is that I feel like I am constantly learning something new, about him as a person, the Chinese language, Chinese culture, you name it. This makes the whole relationship incredibly interesting.

Mr. Li’s favourite remark concerning my learning habits is:

“I always have to watch my language around you, you are like a child, you pick up all the terrible language I use.”

Especially since I feel very passionate about Chinese language and culture, going out with a Chinese person allows me a deep insight into it and a close connection with it, it would be almost impossible to gain otherwise. For this I will be forever grateful.

2) Seeing your own culture with new eyes
One of the most challenging but also rewarding aspects of my relationship with Mr.Li has been not only understanding his culture but also re-evaluating my own, very confused background. It is not until I have to explain certain German or English customs to him that I realize how culturally influenced my view of the world and behaviour is and at the same time how difficult it is to put a cultural label on certain habits. After all, who is to say where an individual person starts and where culture begins?

Recently Mr. Li has started to meet more Germans through Couchsurfing and comes to me with his questions about our culture. This has been especially fascinating to me, seeing him taking his first steps in the German world like a small child, trying to understand our communication styles and realizing that some of the things we say might sound incredibly rude, but we really don’t mean them that way.

Moving to China has helped me further understand and accept his culture and it has done a lot for our relationship after we managed to get through the initial hump of culture shock and finding our feet in a new life, a new culture and a long-distance relationship. Now I feel we are stronger than ever.

I am hoping that the more he is in touch with German culture the more he might discover certain similarities in our behaviour, which in turn might help him accept more easily the things that I sometimes do, which he finds frustrating. We shall see.

I am not counting my UK side into this because he has spent six years in the UK and so is pretty familiar with the culture there. Also, I consider myself about 70% German, since I grew up in Frankfurt and spent more time there than in the UK. Finally, I believe that the British culture is actually a lot more similar to Chinese than one might initially think, with its politeness and etiquette, especially when pitted against the rough but loveable honesty and straight-forwardness of the Germans.

3) Telling our family-in-law about our culture

Because China has mainly followed an isolationist policy and international cities hardly exist in China, many Chinese especially from smaller cities have no idea what your home country is like.

But they are really fascinated by it and eager to discover what life is like back in your country of origin. This kind of interest is really flattering and it is a feeling of joy that someone can get so excited simply by listening to you share stories about your own culture.

4) Fitting in between
This is a very personal aspect to do with my background, but I have a hunch that any of you out there who spend a lot of time studying the Chinese language and immersing themselves in the culture might tend to experience something similar after a while.

Growing up I never really fit into my life in Germany. I would make jokes about how

“I’m too polite to be a German but too rude to be a British”, “I am German, except for my British humour” or I am “70% German, 30% English”

(whoops, I did it again, didn’t I) to brush off the very real consequences of being a child of both worlds. Of course, Germans can be very polite and funny, and my German-to-English ratio tends to shift depending on when and where I am, with whom and finally in which mood.

But there is at least some truth to all my silly jokes in that I have never really felt at home in either culture. In Germany, I always thought of myself as the English person. But after living in the UK for two years, I finally had to admit that I was rather un-British in a considerable number of ways. Add my China obsession in the mix and the confusion is complete.

Mr. Li, having been sent to the UK at 16 years old, spent a majority of his formative years in the UK and going out with me has only made things worse. Hence, like me, he often finds that he doesn’t fit into his native Chinese culture, while at the same time he can’t say that he is British either.

In my opinion, our sharing of this experience of being stuck in the middle and having nowhere really to call home has in no small part founded a strong basis of why we get along so well.

Both of us tend to be just a little of place and awkward with our own cultures. At the same time, due to the distance this creates, we can both critically examine our own and each others’s culture and feel at home nowhere and anywhere at the same time. Actually, we do feel at home. With each other. (Okay, enough with the sappiness now.)

5) Cultural Epiphanies
It doesn’t matter whether you have been together three days or three years, the most uplifting feeling of success is what I refer to as cultural epiphany. These are the moments when you finally realize or learn something about your partner’s culture that suddenly explains all those silly little fights you had, where one of you got offended by something the other did and neither of you really knew why exactly you were fighting.

Even after three years of going out with Mr. Li I still have these unexpected moments of clarity, more on that soon, and it is incredibly important for them to happen for the success of the relationship. I think I can honestly say for the first two years of our relationship neither of us really had a clue what we were doing. I personally a was, despite my advanced Chinese language level and what I told myself, almost entirely ignorant to many of the characteristics and intricacies of Chinese culture.

How do you make these epiphanies happen?

While they are crucial in understanding and improving an international relationship, it is hard to trigger them. They might come any day, any time at the most random moment. Of course there are three major elements that help you get there – living in the foreign culture, interacting with as many locals as possible and talking to those locals about behaviour by your partner you don’t understand. While this can be sensitive in China due to the face issue, it has been mainly through talks with my female Chinese friends that I have been able to comprehend some of Mr. Li’s behaviour as stemming from his upbringing.

6) Getting past the culture

Once you have gone through an initial phase of adjustment, it becomes easier. Friends of mine confirm that the first months of the relationship were not easy simply because both sides were struggling to understand that certain behaviour by their partners is not necessarily viewed as negative in their partner’s culture.

I think on a small scale this is a case with all relationships, since we all have our individual habits and views our partner might find difficult to adjust to. In intercultural relationships there might just be more of them.

But don’t give up if in the beginning you find yourself struggling and having seemingly petty fights. Once you have managed to work through the cultural epiphany process and the cultural differences, the biggest epiphany will be that at the end of the day none of it matters. “Cultural barriers” is just a term and idea we created; and I maintain in most cases, they are just in our minds.

This is it for Part One, Part Two soon to follow.