Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Privacy, anyone?

Share what you want to share, but keep your phone number to yourself.

On of my Scandinavian male friends (Swedish, tall, quite good looking) had lived in China (In Suzhou) for about 6 months when he decided to get a gym membership. His girlfriend was still living in Sweden, so he felt that gym visits would be a good way to kill his lonely after-work-nights. A work mate recommended a gym that was located close to his house, and he joined. During his first month he experienced the usual, curious stares from the staff. He found them all to be really friendly, however, and didn't mind. Seeing that his Chinese wasn't really happening, and their English was quite poor they couldn't communicate very well.

There were always at least 3 pretty girls working at the reception, greeting him with smiles and giggles every time he arrived. He didn't take this too seriously, until the girls one day told him that one of their friends 'liked him.'

-Oh really, he replied, unsure what else to say.
-Yes, haven't you noticed? They said. Do you like her?
-I don't know who she is?
He said. And I have a girlfriend.
-Oh... you have a girlfriend?! Does she come here?
-No, she lives in Sweden.
-She is not in China?

The next time he came to the gym there was some serious giggling going on at the reception, and while the guy handed over his membership card, the girl who took it said:

-This is Candy, the girl who likes you! She pointed at a girl standing next to her. The guy didn't really know what to do.
-Eh.. hi..Candy!
He tried. This resulted in a laugh attack from all the girls.

The story repeated itself every time he came to the gym. If Candy was there they would all laugh as soon as he showed up. If she wasn't there, the other girls would ask him if he liked her. He kept telling them he already had a girlfriend, but they kept insisting on asking.

Still, he didn't really mind it, as he thought it was fairly innocent. The Candy-girl seemed sweet and she wasn't coming on to him in any other way than via her work mate, who were also quite innocent. So, it went on for some time.

Then, his girlfriend came to visit. He had already told the girlfriend about it all and she wasn't upset in any way. During the week she visited he didn't go to the gym as he wanted to spend time with her. After not showing up at the gym for 4 days, his mobile phone rang.

It was the girls from the gym, asking him when he was coming to train next.

He was somewhere between shocked and surprised to receive a phone call to his mobile phone from the gym, seeing that he had never given the girls in the reception his number, but figured it was a one-off. It wasn't. The girls from the reception kept calling and asking for him to come and train. It didn't matter if he said he was with his girlfriend/was too busy, they would still call the next day.

He started to get pissed off. Not because of the phone calls so much, but because they had just taken his private mobile number (which he had given when he signed up for the membership) and just used it to call and chat to him. Once his girlfriend left he started going to the gym again, and everything went on as usual. Only thing was that if he didn't go for maybe 1-2 days, the girls would call him and ask when he was coming next. Some days they even called him during the morning and asked what time he was coming to train that very day.

He tried to tell them to stop calling him. He also ignored a lot of calls, but they just kept calling and calling. In the end he got so angry that when they called he said:
-I am not coming to train anymore, ever, and hung up.

He kept his promise (by changing to another gym) and for a week his mobile phone was silent. Then it started ringing again.

-When are you coming to train? the girls asked.
-I have changed gym, so I will not come and train at your gym again. So you can stop calling me now.

In the end, the guy wasn't happy with the result. His new gym wasn't as nice as the old. But he simply couldn't handle the fact that they just used his private number like that. This has personally never happened to me, but then again, I barely never write down my phone number when signing up for things. (also, I have 2 numbers, and my private number is very sparingly passed around). It's just amazing that there is barely no privacy act at all over here. The girls coming on to the guy -fine, no problems. But them calling him -without him personally giving them his number, but with them simply taking his mobile number from their membership database- well, that's worth questioning.

What do you think about people using your phone number (for private matters) that they have accessed via a membership database? OK or unacceptable?


Anonymous said...

Wow, that sort of thing has never happened to me! :)

It's a breach of privacy, but if the gal was pretty, I might not mind ;p

Being Scandanavian really makes a person stand out. It's the hair.

Have you ever considered dying your hair a dark brunette to see if you get less attention Jonna? You've mentioned a few times about people walking up to you or staring, taking photos etc. See if there is any difference with the attention you get.

Have a good one!


Anonymous said...

This happened to a friend of mine here in Shanghai as well. Not in the same extreme extent though. He's blogged about it too.

I seriously don't think they care about respecting your privacy here, or maybe they simply don't understand that this is something you just don't do.

Unknown said...

I would mind but it never happen to me.
I think your friend is being too nice, he should have made a complaint to the manager in the first place. Surely it would solve the problem. Don't you think?!

Jonna Wibelius said...

lygcgsun -sure he should have. He's just the very typical, quiet Scandinavian kind, who would rather die than make a fuss of something. His loss, I know.

Anonymous said...

Completely unacceptable. No doubt!

Anonymous said...

In the US, definitely unacceptable. I don't know if this is typical in China though, so maybe a case of just adapting to the culture. But so far the comments seem to be a lot of "never happened to me" so I am gonna guess that isn't the case. I would have probably done the same as him and just switched gyms.

Anonymous said...


This is China.

Tina said...

Okay a couple of things here, first of all, Chinese will continue calling until they get a hold of you. If you don't answer, the phone keeps ringing probably because there is no voice mail.

This has happened since the day we moved here.

I'm actually surprised this has not happened to you, as it happens to everyone we know. I thought it was just the custom here, and have learned to accept it. If I don't want to answer the phone I don't.

As for the as the women, I know many male friends who find the Chinese women quite aggressive once interested. The women we know are looking for a way out, and or think laowai's have money. Some have harrassed these guys at work.

I am not generalizing about Chinese women, merely observations and conversations with friends who have befriended some of them here in China.

Now, is this different from anywhere else in the world?

Definitely not, it happens more times than you may think. I have had lots of male friends who cannot get rid of women they just met and were being kind to them.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that must have been pretty upsetting for your friend.

I had a similar problem with a sort of stalker-wannabe last time I was in China (this was about eleven years ago). But in some ways it was my own fault as I was dumb enough to give him my number. He usually called around midnight, which was kind of creepy. It took a long time to shake him off.

A friend of mine was also pestered for a while, by a different guy.

Your friend's experience makes me think of something that has often struck me: it seems that perhaps there's a widespread cultural understanding that "no" doesn't really mean "no."

A former student of mine once wrote an essay about an experience he had on a trip home for the Spring Festival. He had made a long journey by train from Beijing to the county town nearest his home village and he planned to walk home from the train station, a distance of just a few miles. It was a clear, frosty night and he was really looking forward to the walk. But then a cab driver started following him, trying to get his custom. Although my student politely told the driver several times that he wanted to walk, the driver followed him for two or three miles, coaxing and cajoling. Finally the cab driver gave up, swore loudly at my student and took off. He never got his fare, but he did manage to completely ruin my studen's walk home.

The really funny thing is, I remember my student's remarking that the driver had a right to try to make a living and he just wished that he could have been left in peace. I was amazed at his tolerance -- to my mind, there was simply no excuse for that cab driver's behavior.

Of course, it's quite possible that my student is just a much nicer person than I am, but I also think it's likely that he is geared to expect this kind of no-holds-barred approach, because after all it's fairly common.

And I wonder if this is at least partly because of China's history of terrible poverty? When there isn't enough to go round, surely people tend to develop an aggressive side? I once saw customers at a state-run steamed bread shop knock the counter over in their eagerness to be served. It was an awful sight.

Jonna Wibelius said...

flyingfish -wow, that is quite some story! I think u r right about a 'no' not always meaning 'no' in China. Especially when it comes to people trying to sell u things... Gosh, they never give up do they?

Another quite funny thing about this no/yes thing... I have actually realised that many of my Chinese friends answer 'yes' when they mean no... eg:
Me: so you don't like this movie?
Friend: Yes. (meaning: no, I don't like it).

Unknown said...

Regarding the yes/no thing,I think it is due to the grammar difference between Chinese and English. I do that too sometimes.

In Chinese:


Anonymous said...

It is true, chinese people sometimes say yes to please someone, but then actually do opposite.

I have this one girl who have been calling and sending message to me for about two years, and even if I changed number three times, but she still in some wicked way find the new one anyway. It wouldent bother me too much if it wasent for the fact that she keeps giving away my number to all her friends as well. But most of them live pretty far away, so I dont encounter them daily, and ignoring the messages is not that hard anyway.

But I find it more anoying when people try to help you with anything all the time, because they think a foreigner can not do a single thing in China without being robbed, kidnapped, cheated, hit by a car or get lost etc etc

Anonymous said...

My girlfriend's gym sends SMS services to remind her to go to classes she's signed up for, and occasionally call to remind her if she hasn't been for a while.

It's part of the service to guilt her into going I suppose.

Maybe the phone calls aren't related to the girl?