Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Socially different


Just the other day at the gym one of my trainer friends, Yin, spotted me.

-You Na, You Na!!! (You Na =my Chinese name) He yelled and came running over. I have some great news for you! GREAT NEWS! I've found you a friend!!

-Ehhh... you've found me a friend?

-Yes, don't move. Stay here! I will get him!


Yin ran off and I watched with fear as he approached two guys in their 30ies that were busy at the bench press. Yin didn't care that they were in the middle of some manly work-out routine (I am something between scared and amazed of how ignorant some Chinese people can be to what is going on around them when they want to do their thing) but simply grabbed one of them (fortunately not the one lying with heavy weights on top of himself... pew!) by his arm, said something, and started dragging him towards me. The reluctance was mirrored in the guy's eyes as he tagged along, and eventually was pushed up in front of me, kind of like an animal being sold at a Farmer's Cattle Market ("Here you go. Our best cow. Milks five times a day. Barely makes a sound. She's reliable.").

-You Na, this is Juha! He is from Finland! And Juha, this is You Na, she's also from Finland!

-Eh... pleasure,
said Juha, reaching out his hand hesitatingly and looking completely uncomfortable (this sort of introduction goes against all social rules in Finland. And in Sweden).

My turn to be uncomfortable:

-Actually, Yin, Juha... I am not from Finland, but from Sweden.

(New fear mirrored in Juha's eyes. There's a lot of complicated history between Sweden and Finland, not to mention some sensitive ice-hockey Olympic Game's results that I won't go into any further in case some Finnish person is reading this)

Yin looked completely oblivious to what I'd just told him. It became obvious to me that he thought Finland and Sweden were kind of the 'same place' even though we acted as if they weren't.

-Well yes, what does that matter? Juha finally said and tried a stiff, fake laugh. It was painful to watch.

-Yeah, well it is pretty much the same to the rest of the world isn't it? I (fake) laughed along and Yin was looking delighted.

-So you two can be friends! He said, before he walked away.

We smiled as if we didn't know what else to do. Truth to be said, we didn't.

Once Yin was gone we both excused ourselves and went back to what we were doing before being introduced to each other, and I saw Yin watching us with a rather confused look on his face. I bet he was wondering why we weren't bonding, why we weren't laughing out loud together or planning to go to some restaurant and eat Swedish meatballs.

Well, if this situation took place in Scandinavia and it was me introducing two Chinese guys (especially if they both came from the same city) to each other at the gym, they probably would have been over-thrilled and exchanged phone numbers at the spot. One of my Chinese friends once told me that meeting another Chinese person when you're in a foreign country can be like winning the first price in a lottery: it's such a total bliss. He then asked me if it was the same for me when I met fellow Swedes in foreign countries.

-Hm.. it depends, I said. If both of us are drunk, or, if it is midsummer we might bond. If not, we probably won't even talk to each other.

-Strange, he said.

And I agree. But that's just how it is.

56 comments:

flowrgirl1 said...

got to love those moments.

Pagani said...

Hmmm... well, if I were wandering around Sweden, I'd be happy to meet another American.. or a Canadian, for that matter.

Maybe I have something culturally in common with the Chinese that I didn't know about before.

Or, maybe Swedish people are way weirder than I thought? :)

aFlemm said...

I love meeting other Canadians abroad.

I was in Paris on Canada day and met a very nice couple. We chatted like old pals.

I've had a similar situation though, where I was introduced to an American and expected to bond instantly - being from the same continent and all ... not exactly how it works eh? The fellow who introduced us (German) was also confused as to why we weren't best friends

Love the blog by the way, read daily since discovering it.

Virgin Blogger said...

Wow, that's like if I found a Korean guy and tried to hook him up with my Japanese friend. Awkward.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Virgin blogger -exactly! We don't even speak the same language in Finland and Sweden, Finnish is like Russian to me.

Woai said...

It's more like finding an Indian and a Pakistani from the Kashmir region and introducing them. Stand well back!

Well to be fair, it sometimes might work. I wouldn't be too upset to meet another Brit, but the point is, coming from the same place will be less relevant than individual personalities. You can be from the same place and still have nothing in common. Even for Chinese this can happen if say, one was a waitress in a hotel and one was a property developer or something from Shanghai.

What's funny is how your well meaning Chinese friend was so excited about the whole thing.

Jonna Wibelius said...

woai -yup, and also the way he just walked over to the Finns and dragged one of them over despite he was in the middle of his work-out routine. Guys normally don't like to be disturbed while working out.

JE said...

It's interesting how different cultures differ so much.

kanmuri said...

I am usually happy to find a Canadian person in Japan. But often, Japanese people seem to think that because another person is white and works in the same prefecture, I know them... Most Japanese people are also really happy when they find other Japanese people in foreign countries... I guess in most case that it is because it gives them some stability. The worst thing for Japanese people is to be in places where they don't have a manual on how to do everything.. so meeting another Japanese person gives them the chance to recreate the Japanese society, on a tiny level. Of course, not everyone is like this, but most of Japanese people are.

m--e said...

Does it say something greater about the cultures? As in, Asia cultures are more community-based, have a stronger cultural identity and so are so happy to meet someone from their country randomly?

Western cultures are more individualistic, therefore will meet people but feel no need to befriend them just because they are from the same country?

I also wonder why foreigners are such a big deal in China. Smaller cities I can understand, but in Shanghai? We've all had people point and shout "laowai" at us. I try to imagine the reaction in America if I pointed to someone and shouted "Chinese!" I think the reaction would be "So what?"

SUNJUNE said...

you na is a beautiful Chinese girl name. 于娜 or 余娜? How to write it? haha.

Nice to meet you. I'm Chinese and new to your follower.

Enjoying your life in China.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Sunjune -我的中文名字是友娜。发音是跟我的瑞典名 字 (Jonna)比较一样。

m--e -yeah, I also wonder what the big deal is all about. I feel everywhere I go in China my actions are watched. People are just so curious about what I buy/eat/say and then they often laugh a little bit about it,as if I am acting completely weirdly/looking like an alien... Although Shanghai is way better than Suzhou. Take a walk on a street in Suzhou and you'll have at least 3 people yelling 'HELLO!' to you.

Anuz said...

loved the way you write.
I must admit, all culture have different way of getting introduced, even in my country there are so many different states, each has very distinct culture so if you happen to meet someone from your state, you may react in any way depending. but I like chinese way, natural and simplest.

Juan Louis said...

Hahah, being from Hong Kong, I definitely know what you're talking about. Chinese people are very socially different, I think for the most part in bad ways, but sometimes you just gotta love it.

Nnantor said...

Right here in the good old US of A, I landed at the airport in Des Moines, Iowa from New Orleans. I looked around me on the far right and spotted the only other African American in the terminal. We waved to each other and shouted 'How you doing?' as if we were long lost cousins.

njd said...

HAHAHAHA - It is funny how many of us experience the same awkward moments in China!
Although awkward, this is one example why I love so many Chinese. He went out of his way to do something that he thought would bring you much joy and was genuinely excited about it! I find it refreshing after I am done being awkward:-)

zxlin25 said...

love your blog!
i am a chinese boy.want to make friends with you!

Forever HL said...

hi...^^
is the guy in the photo Juha? ^^


lui~

Jonna Wibelius said...

liu -nope...and the girl in the photo is not me.

Sunny said...

The poor fellow must have been really disappointed. Cross cultural communication has to be taught down there too.

sour said...

haha! oh my gosh, so awkward!!
that's hilarious.

Steph said...

So funny! I live on an island off the coast of Xiamen, where I know every other American who lives here (it's less than 20). Every once and a while, I'll spot a new 外國人 and my immediate reaction is to strike up a conversation and ask how they came here...I forget that for that person, I might as well be another tourist. I've had to hold myself back on many occasions. :)

ぺてこべ said...

Gahaha! This is a great story! I live in Taiwan and I'm Japanese but I often face such awkward moments. May I use it as a reading material for my Chinese-speaking students?

Tarja said...

Hi Jonna! Yes, there is a finnish person reading your blog. What a great blog =) Sounds to me Juha was thinking whether he should punch the chinese guy or not. I don't think that he was thinking anything against you just because you are swedish.

Finns do greet each other in Shanghai, even if they are strangers. That's my experience =) I don't know about Suzhou.

Eeva said...

I can so imagine the situation! But it depends on the situation. Forced to socialize -> bad, bump into someone by accident... might be better.

And hey, at least this Finn can take a few ice hockey bunches ;o)

Jonna Wibelius said...

Moi Tarja :) (that's about all the Finnish I can master even though I lived in Tampere for 1 year, shameful, I know...) Glad to hear u like my blog :) I hope I didn't offend u by bringing up the ice hockey although seeing you're not a guy you probably don't take it as seriously as my bf does.. anyways. There is a large Finnish community here in Suzhou and Finns often get together to have dinner (and a lot of drinks, hehe) so I think when it comes to life here in China u guys are way more social than us Swedes.

Tarja said...

What can I say about ice hockey.... The only sport that I watch is the ice hockey games Sweden-Finland =) So, it is a delicate subject, but no I'm not offended. I still have my sweet memories from the year 1995. And not so nice memories from the following years... =)

Anonymous said...

Jonna, what a insightful observation!!! I am Chinese and have to admit that I did that to some American friends many years ago when I lived in China (before I moved to America). Honestly, some Americans thanked me for forcifully introducing them to each other because some ended up being good friends in a foreign land. I guess most of the time, it was rather awkward. Interestingly, now I am on the receiving end of this awkwarkness. I have met quite a few internationally minded Americans who sometimes try to introduce me to Asian friends of theirs. Onece one gentleman told me the name of a Malaysian friend of his and told me to remember it so that I could look it up in the phone number to hook up with him. "The Malaysian man and his family are just great people, you know. You must meet them." I know this American gentleman meant well but I would never want to look up someone in the phone book just because he is Asian. That's just hilarious, riducolous but well meaning.

As for Chinese getting excited meeting other Chinese in a foreign country, that is very true to a certain extent for some Chinese. I think that's very unfortunate and even narrow-minded. If we could all step outside our comfort zone, we might be able to find a whole new world and new adventures in life. We can even learn from each other's cultural differences and become better people. For example, I have learned from my American friends about the importance of sports for kids because sports build up kids' confidence and self esteem. Our kids are active in sports and have thrived through sports. So our kids aren't typical "Asian type" who is only being pushed around by parents for academic excellence. Likewise, typical American parents can learn from typical Asian parents on getting their kids to be a tad more focused on academic work and to believe that 30 minutes of homework a day for a second grader isn't too much.

Whenever you talk about cultural differences, your observation is awesome. Keep it coming.

Anonymous said...

First off, I love your blog! Thanks for devoting so much of your time to sharing your adventures and encounters in China.

I am always happy to meet other people who speak English when I travel abroad, however not neccessarily other Amercians. There have been times that I don't wish to be associated with obnoxious "tourist" Americans. I am a traveler and like to blend in and try not to fall into the negative sterotypes that many people have for Americans.

Philip Brightmore said...

Midsummer!! lol.

You know, it's funny. I was just talking to my friend Paul, I said, "Paul, when the heck is midsummer?" He just stared at me with his glassy, blind eyes and said "Midsummer is exactly what it sounds like. The summer solstice. Longest day of the year. It falls on June 21st this year." But I didn't hear a single thing he said because...I was already dead.

It's sometimes nice to meet people with your citizenship in foreign countries. I like that.

Love,
Philip Brightmore

Chocolatesa said...

Lolll!!! Very true, my mom is from Sweden and she's told me about that too :P

mohsen said...

hi you have a really interesting blog Jonna

i am a painter .

Anonymous said...

Interesting read. Sometimes we should just forget about nationalities and mingle. We are all earthlings.

april said...

Cool post! I love to read about cultural stuff like this!

Just Breathe said...

This gave me a much needed giggle this morning :-) I lived in Japan and remember similar instances. Oh the wonders of cultural differnces!

Pienovski said...

I came over from Sunny's. Your name caught my attention. Sounded Finnish. :)

I started my travels from Finland, then went to England, now in United Arab Emirates, working as cabin crew and travelling around.

Your blog is very interesting. I will be back.

Ida

George said...

I love this post man. I can't imagine how you must've felt - its like one of those ally mcbeal moments.

sidewayys said...

i like the blog. really interesting look chinese culture.

Reggie said...

Love your stories of everyday life. You always have great pictures to illustrate your blog updates. How is it you always have your camera with you?

Anonymous said...

Well, the only way for two Scandinavian strangers to bond is to drink a lot of beers and spirits together, however do not be surprised if they don't remember each other's name the day after, including their faces haha!

Anonymous said...

Pagani -- me, too. i'd think i'd just chat for a few minutes at least, ask them where they're from & stuff. i'd just be happy to hear a familiar accent! maybe it's different when you speak a different language.
but i guess it would depend on how friendly the other person looked also.

Jonna Wibelius said...

ぺてこべ -sure u can :)

Anonymous -I know the intention is nice and also kind of natural. I bet my trainer friend Yin is one of those people who would have been delighted if he met a fellow Suzhou 'ren' when he was abroad... But I guess we are all different. When I lived in Australia I was first happy to meet other Swedes but then after a while I sort of felt 'nah... I'd rather hang with locals now when I have the opportunity. If I wanna hang w Swedes I might as well just go back to Sweden..' Nowadays I am happy to meet fellow Swedes but one thing is for sure: just coz we both live abroad doesn't mean we have a lot of stuff in common. Although people often may think so.

Reggie -hehe... I don't always bring a camera around but I try to take photos as often as I can as I tend to blog on a daily basis and I know that people love pix :)

ぺてこべ said...

Thank you very much for your kind permission!

Just to add... I always enjoy meeting Japanese people when I'm abroad. But I've noticed not many of them do. It seems that there are some who purposely avoid meeting their countrymen while aborad!

As for intoroducing a Korean to a Japanese: My experience is that the Japanese would normally be more enthusiastic to have a Korean friend, not the other way around. And I have no explanation for the reason why. But this is what I've often observed happing while my nearly 20 years of living outside of Japan.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Ive visited both Finland and Sweden and one of the striking differences other than landscape was that all over Sweden they spoke English as a 2nd or third language but in Finland only in Helsinki I found it easier to communicate, yet the friendliness of the Finns made up for the lack of words.. I guess your chinese friend wanted you to feel more at home introducing you to another Scandanavian?? Maybe he needs an education on history!!

Jonna Wibelius said...

Anonymous: Helsinki is the best place in Finland.. there u can speak Finnish, Swedish or English... try the same in Tampere (where I lived for 1 year -it's actually Finland's second largest city) and you'll hit a dead end. Sometimes when I called the taxation office in Tampere they hung up on me just because I spoke English and they didn't feel comfortable answering me in English... hehe. But you are right. FInns are in general very friendly.. once u get to know them :)

Rebekah said...

Hilarious as always! Great stuff, Jonna. Keep it coming! I reposted this to ChinaTravel.net.

surekha tangri said...

I really like your stlye of writing,its very spontaneous and expressive
god bless

Phoenixkidd said...

That was hillarious Jonna, The Finnish language is so different from Swedish and you probably had to converse in the Lingua Franca, English, which could be very awkward. OF course if I was introduced to a Finnish or Swedish man working out in the Gym I probably would've just dropped to my knees or ran around the gym doing my happy dance, but of course I am gay.

renaye said...

i do understand ur chinese friend's confusion! asians tend to glue together and form their own community on campus whatsoever when they r the minority. me and other malaysians were very happy to have another fellow malaysian when we were back in campus. it just makes us feel 'yay we r not alone!' but it doesn't mean we don't go out and mix with others. :D

Xehania said...

I went to your blog through blog of note. I read every word - you are a very talented writer. You drew me right in & got me facinated, laughing & I couldn't stop reading. You are also quite the traveler. I am facinated by people like you who enjoy traveling so much. I am a homebody & do not like to travel. I do enjoy learning about new cultures, and customs through writings such as your own. Thank you & keep on having fun learning.

Bow_navywife said...

Very cool blog topic:D

kamz said...

Cool topic, I'd love to know more about different cultures from around the glode. Love you all.

Jono said...

I must say that when I'm in China I do all I can to distance myself from other foreigners and blend in. Until now, I never really paid attention to the fact that many Chinese are the opposite to myself - often preferring to mingle with their compatriots when abroad. Thanks for your insight!

Jonna Wibelius said...

Jono -I know... I am the same. I remember when I first move to London in 2001 though.. back then I was so happy to meet fellow Swedes... but that was the 'first time' I was living abroad... I guess many people go though similar experiences. Nowadays I avoid typical expat gatherings.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... Finnish are like Russian to you... that is an insult. Might not read your blog anymore ;) Would like to mention what Finnish think about Swedish but don't want to take that road. Have a nice time in China!

Jonna Wibelius said...

Anonymous: naaaah, come on. I love Finns. I lived in Finland for 1 year, my bf is Finnish, and after China I will prolly settle down in helsinki! Making fun of Finns is part of being a Swede.. just like Finns make fun of Swedes... No offense taken!