Friday, January 16, 2009

"Not romantic? Dump him!"

It all comes down to this... every single time!

I was chatting to my Chinese friend Rocky (alias the Hunan boy) the other day at the gym when he suddenly asked:

-You Na, when are you getting married?

(I guess it's only in China that this question is so normal that you don't even feel that someone is intruding on your private life)

-Not anytime soon, I answered.

-Why not? You have a boyfriend, right?

-Yes, I do. But he's not really into the whole marriage thing.

Rocky looked revolted.

-Not into? What do you mean not into?

-Well maybe he doesn't want to get married? Well at least not now. And neither do I
, I quickly added.

-But... you guys have been together for a long time, right?


-So you should get married?!

-Hm... marriage isn't such a must-do where I come from as it is in China,
I tried. Rocky looked completely oblivious to what I was saying.

-I think you need to raise your demands! He suddenly said. You should demand that you guys get married.

-But... like... I don't want to demand it. I don't even want to get married? Well not now anyways.

-Of course you do. Aren't you romantic?

-Well, sure... I like romance... at times! But I seriously don't see marriage as the most important thing in life.

-Is your boyfriend romantic?

(I guessed I couldn't just say "He's from Finland" here and get the "ahhh OK I see...." -response that I normally get from people. Having a boyfriend from the country of vodka and sauna sort of speaks for itself, but I had a feeling that Rocky knew very little about Finland and Finnish people.) No... he's not that romantic. But neither am I. It's OK.

Rocky looked even more disgusted than before.

-So he doesn't.... look after you?!!!

-I don't need any looking after! I am an independent woman
(holy crap -that's a cliche I never thought I'd speak out loud. Thank lord I said it in Chinese and not English).

Rocky still looked as if someone had punched him hard in the stomach.

-You see, I said, eager to try to redeem both myself and my boyfriend before we turned into cactuses in Rocky's mind. I know that Chinese girls like to have a boyfriend that looks after them.. that calls them all the time.... that carries their handbag...

-...and their shopping bags!
he added. (I had to concentrate hard to force back the laughter).

-But where I come from it is different.

-So men from your country aren't romantic?

(What's with the whole generalizing all the time?! ALL men from Scandinavia aren't romantic just because my boyfriend isn't?! Sure, Scandinavia isn't the most populated place on earth but there are still quite a few people living there!!?!)

-Eh Yes. They are. It is just my boyfriend that isn't. (And some others I am sure -but I didn't say this)

-So why don't you choose someone else?

Oh loooooord... I give up. Talking about marriage and romance with some Chinese people is like having a conversation with a wall. If they guy/girl isn't according to their standards (a guy should make money, have a good education, be tall, carry women's handbags/shopping, and be romantic. A woman shouldn't drink alcohol or go to nightclubs, be thin and not taller than the man -a good job/edu helps too I suppose) it is as if they think: "so why bother, get someone else?"

-You should raise your demands. Rocky said again before I left the gym. Ask for more. Say you want to get married. Say you want romance.

-Mmm sure.
I murmured, mastered a smile and left.

I'm thinking about getting myself a fake engagement ring in order to avoid this conversation to take place again. You think my boyfriend would freak out?


Anonymous said...

Jonna, you deserve a halo for not slugging him right there. Honestly!

One thing I think sometimes works when you are dealing with people who can't seem to conceive that there could possibly be a worldview that is different from their own and yet equally valid is not to try explaining (which, as you say, is often like talking to a wall), but rather to send their comments and questions right back over the net at them. Like, "What makes you say that getting married is romantic?" Or, "Why do you think my boyfriend should carry my shopping bags?" When I use this kind of Socratic-method-type approach, I make sure to remain non-confrontational. I play it very cool, as if I am really interested in hearing their answers. Really, though, all I am trying to do is get them to talk themselves into a corner, which they eventually do -- they have to, because their positions are untenable, based on totally specious assumptions. Sooner or later they find themselves saying, "Well, because! That's all!" Even if I don't convince them that they are wrong (and I usually don't), at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that they do not feel happy about the conversation -- it never feels good to find yourself floundering and unable to answer someone's questions -- and they think twice before engaging me in that way again.

Little Tiger said...

aww.. I kind of feel sorry for Finnish people after reading your post. It looks like they get a hard ol' time among Scandinavians! :)

I usually get the same reactions when discussing marriage and sex before marriage with Chinese people. Actually, their views mirror those of my parents and others of their generation. From what I gather, one year of dating is a sufficient amount of time after which to get married.
I suspect people's attitudes to such issues among Chinese people will change in a generation from now though.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking about getting myself a fake engagement ring in order to avoid this conversation to take place again

ha ha .good idea.

Anonymous said...

Big sigh Jonna. The irony is, there is very little romance involved in Chinese marriages, it's all about practical issues like he has a good job and is not a playboy, she is well educated, they are similar age. Love rarely has anything to do with it.

And this inbuilt programming that all the Chinese have is worrying. I am over 25, therefore I must get married. Just imagine how much crap I deal with being over 40 and not married - and let me tell you I am a LOT more happy than most married Chinese people I know. So which is the better lifestyle!

Sorry, rant over.

Mark said...

Ah - Other then the feeling of needing to be married (the pressure of which still exists in a lot of countries) is the issue of what is romantic... To Rocky carrying bags and being married is romantic, instead of telling him that you're boyfriend isn't - explain that you want different things and what is romantic to you. I think having someone who'll spend all weekend watching sports on the television is romantic - and luckily my wife agrees with me.

I think that most everyone living in China will run into people confused about these differences in love, marriage and romance, just as a lot of us had to listen to the same sorts of things from our grandparents - same as Little Tiger noted. I'm thinking that it's the 30 years that they were cut off form the world, another generation and it is my belief that they will be marrying for love and willing to wait until they find that, instead of just grabbing that romantic one that carries their bags and is willing to marry them.

Anonymous said...

It is good that you are observing the difference. But why you seem always frustrated? Isn't it part of the reason why you live in China. To experience the difference, to understand a different culture, to connect to the people and see where they come from?

Plumflower said...

Dagens garv, helt klart! Tack för en (också i övrigt) underhållande blogg!

Anonymous said...

Your observation of Chinese mindset on marriage and romance is true but sad. It's just Mainland Chinese as some comments here hav alluded to. Chinese in Taiwan and maybe elsewhere are the exact same. I should know because I have Taiwanese in-laws. Yes, husbands are expected to carry their wife's hand bag, shopping bags, do the house chores, cooking, laundry and mopping the floor. This is a very prevalent attitude among Chinese from Taiwan.

Here is another observation. Most northern Chinese don't expect house chores from men. Northern Chinese men in generally are more macho than southern Chinese. I have also heard that Shanghai ladies don't do house work. They expect their men to do for them.

I think Asian parents in general are more materialistic when coming to picking their spouse. And that definitely can affect their kid's decision in picking spouse. I don't want to overgeneralize, but just watch some Koreann soap. Parents always forbid their kids to marry into families that are poorer than theirs even when their prospective son-in-law or daughter-in-law is promising.

In Chinese society, parents assume too much power over their kids' life, even that of grown kids. ***Sigh***

Anonymous said...

hahahahahahahaha jonna
tell rocky that you want to ride a few more horses before you decide who to marry.

just to see his jaw drop!!!!


Anonymous said...

Regardless of him being Chinese I think some of the questions he asked were very much to the point and your discomfort and feeling of pressure suggest this is not without justification. Do you feel secure, do you enjoy and have romance, does your spouse take care of you?

Just like with the Chinese "Have you eaten?" "Walk slowly" I think it's their way of showing they care for you, not about enforcing their ideas of romance and marriage upon you. I think that friend, in his own way, was genuinely concerned about you and how you feel in the relationship, even if it did have a strong cultural flavor to it.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Maybe I come across as more offended as I was in this post... Rocky is my friend so he can get away with saying the silliest things, however, it is getting a bit tiring to constantly be asked why me and my bf haven't gotten married yet. I came here in 2006 and since then, every Chinese person that I've worked with, have asked me 'why we aren't already married?' (since we've been together for a minor lifetime.. ehum... 3 years?!) It's just getting a bit tiring to always have to explain and no one understands when I say 'we are not that into marriage'.

As little tiger pointed out, this attitude will probably change with time, and the reason why they get so shocked is because marriage is what you SHOULD do over here... no second thinking about it. And asking if you're married is like Filli said, just like 'asking if you've had lunch'... But to me (being a quite private person when it comes to my personal life) it is getting tiring to the verge of me considering a fake engagement ring.. think how nice?! No more comments... ahhhh! (Although if I had the ring I bet people would start asking why we don't have a baby yet... hehe).

I am not always 'frustrated' as some anonymous person pointed out. But I have been in China for more than 2.5 years, so sometimes I (like any other person) get sick of things here too, even though I most of the time regard it to be an exciting/interesting adventure to be in living in China. The culture differences between China and where I come from and huge... some thing I love, like: the attitude to food (-eating is the most important thing!), how friendly and helpful people can be, how people take care of their old ones, etc, and some things I don't like: the pushing, cutting in line, and constant talk about money and marriage.

We are all different and let's face it -it would be weird if I just loved everything about living here. I don't know any lao wai who does. Obviously the number of frustrating things are not so severe that I would consider moving home because of them (if that was the case I would have already been long gone). Just sometimes things gets to you. Yesterday was one of those days.

Anonymous said...

Marriage is a chore in Chinese culture! YOur conversation kind of reminded me of Sex and the City the movie where Carrie was doing ok with her wedding and then she freaks out and demands so much more from Big. Don't do what looks good on the cover. Do what's right for your heart. But i am sure you already know that! :D

Anonymous said...

You Na, You Na,
Will you please Marry me??
I do have a very special cheezy smile.
:=)) :=))

Romeo2 of Suzhou

Anonymous said...

I think your reactions and arguments are due to the comtemporary scandinavian way of cohabitation. With a divorce rate above 50% many people are worried and hesitant regarding marriage. In additon, it is also comparatively easier to break up with someone in a cohabitant relationship in comparison with a marriage since a marriage will require a complete commitment from both involved. Sometimes I ponder if this has something to do with the scandinavian mentality of being individualistic and independent which apply to both genders, as to realize oneself is the most important task in order to achieve the "meaning of life". Moreover, it could also be related to the "grass could be greener on the other side"-attitude some people may possess, since marrying entirely based on love is still far from the truth in spite of what hollywood movies will try to portrait.

Anonymous said...


Jonna, it took me awhile to figure out why there is no Chinese J sound in your name. Youd think I knew better from going to college in Minnesota but that was decades and decades ago. I attended a Swedish wedding there once. I swear it is still going on somewhere. Concerning the Daxi Yunnan thread did you pick up any Puer while you were there.


Nerissa said...

Hahaha..I couldn't help laughing-- I remembered turning I guess from my normal color to red or blue to violet when my Korean students once asked me to "pause" the discussion for awhile and interrogated me with this issue--right--you are right--talking to people like them seem like talking to a wall and in the end they always think, we or I should change the way I think and that I or people who think like us are pathetic....

Koreans being influenced by Chinese culture have this culture...

Gunes AKDOGAN said...

It is such a normal thought for a Asian person about marriage :)

In Asia marriage is the most important part of community. Because whole country is made by families come together. It is like a glue that sticks whole country together :)

And it is so normal for an European person can not understand it clearly. :)

It in not that one way is better than other way. It is only a culture difference. :)

It is a must-do to travel to other parts of the world and talk with people about this kind of things. Makes your mind wide open :)

Unknown said...

hahaahha naurattaa! :) Silly silly thing! No wonder my few experiences with Chinese women have gone bad. I did not commit seriously enough after dating 2 months! Boy, this is one funny in good and in silly way. I will post this to my Chinese friends.

Greets from a Finnish xpat dude in BKK. Happy new year of Ox there! :)