I’m often asked by my readers about culture differences between me and my husband and I always respond with ‘I probably have more culture differences between my mother in law and me than between us’. And every single time this question comes out we wonder: what was the most shocking to us?
Before being with me my husband dated a European girl as well, lived for few years in Australia then in America – I thought me, my family, environment I was raised in won’t be surprising. On the other hand, besides having few Asian friends, I got thrown in at the deep end. A friend is different than a partner, not to mention dealing with all family members. Sing is a Hongkonger after father and Shanghainese after his mother so on my first ever trip to Asia I was clashed with two cultures!
Finally, after hours of thinking we came up with the list of things that personally we weren’t prepared for visiting each other’s homes. It’s not only about culture, but mostly about our families, the way we got raised, the environment we grew up and all the other things that affected us. It’s all based on our personal experience and it doesn’t apply to everyone but it was nice to use our brains and share our thought with each other and now with you!
Surprising things for me:
- Even thought Hong Kong and Mainland China are pretty different, my Shanghainese part of the family could easily fit into Hong Kong. You would recognize them only from the accent. Their behavior is very westernized, I didn’t expect it at all – I was prepared for some good, old, stereotype burping and squatting, loud talking and it didn’t happen.
- Welcome to China where planning is made up and invitations don’t matter. In Poland it’s a common courtesy to inform people about meetings at least some time before it happens, in Shanghai we tried to make some dates or fun time just for us but it always ended up with a phone call at random hour saying ‘Come eat’.
- 88 year old superheroes. No, it’s not really a positive thing: ask anyone in Poland and they will tell you that elderly in my country have some super powers once they see an empty seat in the bus or tram. Usain Bolt cannot match them. That’s why I thought they were the strong ones, but once we went to China I noticed we are like less hardcore version of Chinese. An old man, looking like he has seen the opium wars with his own eyes, just crashed me trying to get into the public transportation. Then there’s even more shocking part: in Hong Kong EVERYONE lines up. Growing up in the place where everyone is fighting for a spot I went to the most crowded place in the world and those people politely lined up. That’s really amazing and I still think about it.
- Double standards, double standards everywhere. While writing this blog I often go to Hong Kong/Taiwanese/Chinese forums to get people’s opinions on some topics and t strikes me how people still have double standards. And it’s not only forums but opinions of people I know. Most common I’ve heard were ‘Asian girls date white guys because of love and Asian guys date white girls to show off/cannot handle an Asian girl’, as for guys it was ‘I can sleep with who I want, she cannot ask me about it but I can dig until I get an answer. The best answer is she’s a virgin’. I can see it by Sing – we are married for almost two years but he will keep asking me about a coffee I went with a guy-friend X years ago. Sadly, but it’s another case where Poland is similar to Asia – if a girl dates a foreigner it’s for his penis or money, but a guy dates foreign girl? Go get her, you lucky bastard! Just to be sure I don’t need to worry: has anyone of you seen Sing on RedTube or Forbes Richest People list?
- Parents are too into their children, especially sons. First I thought it’s just my mother in law – she’s so in love with my husband that every message she writes to him on Whatsapp she starts with ‘小寶貝’ – little baby. If you don’t remember Sing turns 28 later this year. But then looking at my husband’s friends and even the Shanghainese family: all of the mothers are in love with their children much more than Western parents are. All of them are adults now, some of them are also married and I see their mommies putting straws in their drink for them, tying the shoes, peeling the fruits and they don’t do anything in the return. For me it’s shameful to let almost 58 year old lady to carry heavy groceries but when I punch Sing to go with me and help her she will yell at him and run (!) with the groceries to home. Another freaking Usain Bolt. I could expect people being little bit spoiled but they made it to a whole new level. It also reminded me Sing’s first meal with my parents – for last meal we usually eat sandwiches, my mom put all the ingredients on the table (think of home version of Subway) he looked at the table, at me, again at the table and whispered to my ear ‘I never made a sandwich in my life‘. I had to make it for a guy that has 2 engineering degrees. How difficult can it be?
- People serving food wear masks – you don’t see it in Poland, you can see them wearing gloves but I never seen anyone wearing a mask. Also in many places you can see your food being made and I just love it. In Poland places are hidden, if you’re lucky you can smell it or hear it but you don’t see delicious roasted duck hanging near you. I would love to see it more often back in Poland.
Not the longest list you could read. Now take a look on Sing’s list – as a Cantonese guy when I asked him about the culture shock the first few things he mentioned were connected to food and eating. What a surprise. I let myself make some comments on his thoughts.
- Dessert is right after dinner and always sweet. Portions in Poland are smaller than the American one, but how can you handle another food right after you just ate? My mom always waited few hours and gave me fruits as a dessert, maybe some egg puffs but not a cake or cookies. Then you don’t know what you’ve missed. We have an extra stomach developed by mother nature only to get a cake. I actually married you just because I can eat your desserts *insert evil laugh*
- Food is always creamy instead of solid discrete pieces. One piece of rice is one piece of rice, one veggie is one veggie, one piece of meat is one piece of meat. But Polish food has a lot of mashed things, creamy things. It’s tasty but for Asian people texture means a lot, it’s half of the taste from the meal and you’re taking it away. Excuse me, ever heard of congee? Doesn’t look so solid to me.
- Family day is very important for Polish people. My ex girlfriend comes from France and her family was never close to each other but Lina’s family was very close to me from the very first day I met them. Even thought as an Asian I’m not really touchy her mother greeted me with 3 kisses on the cheeks and a hug, her dad hugged me as well. Later meeting my family for the first time they were the same. I can even joke they have been more intimate with my parents than my parents been to each other in front of me. And every single time I visited Poland we just HAD to go there every single day, be with them for a while, eat a meal and play some games. My mom still remembers when you told your mom ‘Yellow’ in Shanghainese while playing UNO… Never forgive, never forget.
- Holiday is very important. At least in my family we haven’t spend any holidays together for a long long time, birthdays don’t really matter but it’s a really big deal in Lina’s family. ANY HOLIDAY – birthday, name’s day, Easter, anniversaries, Christmas, child’s day.I don’t know who was more shocked – me knowing that you can celebrate so many things or her mom once I told her there’s no name’s day in Asia. Any occasion is a good occasion for some family time and cake. Do you know the joke: What’s the difference between a Polish wedding ceremony and a Polish funeral? There is one guy who doesn’t drink in the funeral.
- Parents are much less sticky but also less willing to support financially. Some people might complain our parents love us and spoil us too much but who would complain about getting everything they want? But in the end you need to repay the debt and listen to them (or at least pretend you’re listening). Polish parents won’t let you starve or be homeless but they have a rule ‘once you’re married you belong to each other, you were old enough to get married and start adult life, you should be prepared’. Won’t work in Asia.
- Very openly express willingness to split the bills and responsibilities. I think everyone have seen at least once in their life Chinese people fighting over the bill. I hate the wallet dance, two people faking they want to pay for the meal. In Poland if you want to pay you just pay, no ‘No, no, I pay – Don’t be silly, I will pay’. If you want to split you just split and no one gives you that weird look. Personally for me I hate if someone pays for me, I can pay for someone and it makes me feel good but the other way I just feel uncomfortable.
- Poland is more conservative than the West. It’s just my personal though but from my experience and experience of other people I know Poland is way more conservative. I don’t know the reason, maybe it’s because of the strong influence of church, way of raising, or personality but Eastern and Central European girls are closer to a conservative Eastern ladies than sexy Western wamps. More focused on the family than carrier and fun. My bullpoop detector just exploded. Do you even realize we had a ‘celebrity’ that showed her vagina on the red carpet? And the other one had sex in jacuzzi in the reality show. It’s all in people’s character.
- ‘Face’ is not only Chinese thing – if you ever have a chance to see my wife with her father you will see how he always tell her to behave, to sit this way not that way, to do this, to do that in the end to make the best impression on people. As far as I know my father in law he’s the same, he cares so much about what other people will say about him. There’s even a Polish phrase ‘zastaw się a postaw się’ that is like English ‘keep up with the Joneses‘ so basically there may be no money to live on but there will always be enough money to dazzle your guests.
- Older generations in Poland also eat chicken feet. Even Lina’s mom told me her outside grandma 阿婆 (yes, because remembering her name is just too much to do) really loved to make and eat them, usually in a jelly. For my face once I found the truth about chicken feet-love in my family click here
Besides those we couldn’t really think of more things. In the end the biggest shock to us was that actually we are very similar, raised in the similar ways and environments – I was brought up in a quite conservative family and Sing was abroad so long, it affected him the way he’s now little bit Western inside and that’s what made up so easy to get along. I think that mix of culture and personal experience is just wonderful.
What was the most shocking to you when you went abroad? Share your experience, I’m so curious! :)