The challenges of pursuing a romantic relationship across the cultural divide
In commemoration of our oneyear anniversary, it seemed fitting to reflect on the journey of dating a local Beijinger. Like any inter-cultural/inter-racial relationship, we have had our fair share of miscommunications and misunderstandings — while also putting forth our best efforts to make accommodations for each other’s cultural backgrounds and personal quirks.
Throughout the course of my dating GL, he and I have heard comments that my he is “lihai” for having a foreign girlfriend and conversely I am “cool” for dating an Asian guy. Sweeping these superficial observations aside, I’m here to tell you what it is like to be living in China and dating someone who happens to be (surprise!) Chinese.
Let’s start with the tough stuff — in short, the areas where I have found there to be the greatest cultural gaps. Those are 1) breakfast and 2) family obligation (filial piety sounds too corny).
No, I will not be having noodles for breakfast
Food is cultural experience. The land where our ancestors lived was suitable for some crops, and not hospitable to others; our mothers fed us particular foods as we grew up, and the chemistry of our digestion has come to expect these select flavors at different times of day. However you care to explain it, humans just want to eat what they have come to know.
Prior to coming to China, I had not considered myself a picky eater, but now I embrace being perceived as “picky” as a regular experience. The fact that my eating habits are something that is observed and commented on by others is one of my least favorite things about living in China.
As an example, every day like clockwork, I have cereal with banana slices and milk at my desk while I read the news. My colleagues call me mai pian (wheat flakes) in recognition of my consistency. Why do I have the same thing every day? Because it is delicious and I am used to it.
This kind of steadfast adherence to eating a particular food at a particular time of day has baffled my boyfriend. He insists that “any kind of food can be eaten at any point during the day” and believes he can enlighten me to this fact. To my ears and stomach, this idea seems blasphemous and just downright wrong.
While he is generally able to adhere this, I have seen him balk and get a little picky about his food, but only when we have been outside of China. We were in the United States once and I had picked out an old-fashioned Americana cafe for breakfast. Pancakes, scrambled eggs, orange juice — I was in culinary heaven! Perhaps he was feeling tired that day, or we had been away from Beijing for too long, but he just wasn’t feeling it. Noodles, long and thin, was what he really wanted.
Needless to say, we had an early lunch that day. When you are spending a lot of time with a person, you