China Elevator Stories

“My Friends Are Eager To Meet You”

Being introduced to people in China is different from what I know from Austria.


Ruth Silbermayr-Song


In the summer of 2012 I visit my friend in her hometown Changsha. She had told me before that everyone is eager to meet me. Her grandparents (especially her grandfather who had helped me find my Chinese name according to traditional 生辰八字 principles, or Four pillars of life in English), her mother, her friends.

On one day we go to her grandparents’ place. Another day we meet up with friends for Karaoke. And yet another day we meet up with friends for dinner. The reaction is the same no matter where we go and no matter with whom we meet up. There hardly seems to be any reaction at all. Nobody seems to be interested in getting to know me in a way I’m used to. No questions, no talking – I’m present, but I feel invisible at the same time.

I talk about this with a friend from Switzerland who encountered the same situation a few years ago. A few years back, while she’d been staying at her Chinese in-laws’ home in Yunnan’s countryside, people would make surprise visits. Somebody she didn’t know would come by and visit, mainly to get to know her – the Swiss girlfriend of a guy from their hometown. It terrified her – having to meet all these strangers plus spending time to get to know them, when she would have rather spent this time on her own because she needed to prepare for her exams. When she went downstairs  into the living room to meet them, she discovered that nobody would ask any questions. She found out she only needed to be present and that was it. There wasn’t much talking required, neither did she have to answer many questions. She was really relieved after she realized not much was asked from her besides showing up and saying hello. She still had enough time to spend on her studies.

My encounters in Changsha prepare me for visiting my in-laws and all my husband’s relatives less than a year later. I don’t expect people to ask many questions when we introduced to each other. You go somewhere to visit and then you can just sit down and watch TV, read a book or even lie down on a bed and relax.

Have you ever been surprised about cultural differences like these?