Is there real friendship between Westerners and Chinese?
Once upon a summer time, I met an American girl named Nikki studying Chinese at my university. We used to hang out all the time. She is the kind of friend that every girl wants: the funny one. She knows all the jokes and stories, she makes fun of her life in China and she is the one you can chill with even when you feel down.
One year I invited Nikki to go home with me for Chinese Lunar New Year. My parents were excited, as it was the first time I brought a foreign friend home. Even though Nikki’s Putonghua was not that good, she made a good impression simply by being polite and respectful. At the dinner table, she put food into her mouth without asking what it was. My mom loved her. She loved Nikki so much she gave my bedroom to her and ordered her only daughter to sleep on the sofa.
Nikki went back to the US after that summer, and I never heard from her again.
From time to time, my mom would ask how Nikki was doing. I said I did not know. I don’t blame Nikki for ghosting me. That was before Facebook, Instagram or even email.
Many years later, I left China to study abroad and made tons of friends from all over the world. My foreign friends were kind, but I still felt a distance between us. I can’t help but wonder if there can ever be real friendship between Westerners and we Chinese?
What is friendship? The Oxford English Dictionary says “The emotions or conduct of friends; the state of being friends.” In both Western and Chinese culture, we have similar proverbs when it comes to the importance of friendship, such as “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” However, there is a cultural gap between both sides.
Chinese people value friendship highly. As you know, Chinese are known as extremely hospitable and openhearted. They refer to anyone they know as a “friend.” What they do not tell you, however, is that there are different types of friendship and they treat them differently.
One type of friend in China is a “close acquaintance” who only occasionally eats and drinks and hangs out with you. In the West, they are called “a fair-weather friend.” Nikki was that kind of friend. Despite our language barrier, we had a lot of fun together.
The second type of friend in China is a “real friend” who is practically your family. Only real friends can enter your inner circle, where assistance and special care are always provided. How close can a “real friend” be? “Man, I’d stick knives in my ribs for you” kind of closeness.
Friendship in the West is mostly pursued for fun, as those people tend to make friends with anyone whom they share the same values or interests. When a foreign friend of mine asks for favors on behalf of his/her friend, I often have to clarify if that person is a “close friend” or just a friend, then I will decide how much I will help.
Of course Westerners and Chinese can be good friends. But the depth of that friendship is different. So how will you know how I feel about you? Well, the moment I stop being polite around you, you are
my real friend.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.