Is there real friend­ship be­tween Western­ers and Chi­nese?

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Tiara Lin

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.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Peter C. Espina/GT

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