When first coming to China, you imagine that in less than a year all you will be fluent in Chinese, you will only eat Chinese food and you will only have Chinese friends. If all of these were true, there would be no language barrier and no need for foreigner hangouts.
In general, the Chinese are the nicest and the politest nation I can think of, but the truth is that it’s rare for foreigners to have many Chinese friends. And when I say friends I don’t mean girlfriends/boyfriends, language partners or coworkers – I mean best friends.
Of course, the general friendship depends on a person, such as Personality, surroundings, and motivations. Once you have Chinese friends, the first obstacle that you need to overcome is the language barrier. The second, nevertheless, is actually the biggest – the cultural barrier. Here are some main types of friendships with Chinese:
A one-sided friendship is, sadly, one of the most common types of friendships with Chinese. It usually happens in the first stages of your arrival in China and is very common among students and those who come to China for a short period of time.
In this scenario, they are excited to have you, a foreigner, as a friend – they can practice their English with you and ask you to take them to “foreigner places” because they want to have as many foreign friends as possible. But this one-sided approach can go both ways. You can practice Chinese with them, ask for assistance with language problems, and sometimes use their friends to see how local spend holidays such as the Spring Festival. The friendship is not necessarily harmful itself, it does not mean people do not like each other or is strictly utilitarian, but this friendship usually is not so deep and you cannot imagine hanging out with them all the time.
Coworkers or “Guanxi” Friendship
In the Chinese world, it is always important to have connections, especially when it comes to working. It is a nice and respectful relationship, just not enough to be friends. If you are doing business in China, aside from having money, it is important to have friends that fall into the guanxi category. If you have a few Chinese friends that might help you with a favor or two, you are unstoppable. Like any relationship you have with your coworkers or acquaintances in any other country, this type of friendship is based on favors, you scratch my back, I scratch yours.
Friendships with overseas Chinese are the most common friendships among Chinese–foreign relations, aside perhaps from dating. Overseas Chinese, or Chinese that studied abroad, are much easier to get along with, for foreigners living in China. Because they lived or studied abroad, it makes it easier for both of you to communicate on a deeper level than “let’s have a drink”. They are also interested in your culture, but generally not to use you for your knowledge.
The real friendship between foreigners and Chinese, despite all these other types, is very possible, just not as common as we might want to it be. If you find a friend that you have fun with, share secrets with, and it perhaps looks like the friendships in the TV show “Friends”, then who cares about stereotypes? It is important to know that this type of friendship does exist, and you can start one that fits your expectations if you want to.
In brief, if you truly want to have Chinese friends, do not be scared, and do not think too much about the cultural differences – just enjoy your time together.