Can expats have real friendships in China?

Few things are more frustrating than a young Chinese student interrupting your coffee shop day to learn English with you. While some Chinese may be eager to meet you, befriending colleagues, classmates, neighbors, etc. may require more effort. How may expats make Chinese friends?


Making Chinese acquaintances is an excellent method to learn about China's culture. But how? Other than job or school, find folks with comparable interests around you. Waimai and Netflix won't help you much.

Get out there. Attend networking gatherings, cultural activities, and sports clubs. You'll find Chinese hungry for a foreign buddy, and not simply as a walking dictionary. You may also meet folks at cafes and pubs. Ask about anything they're wearing. Ask about local eateries. Ins are plentiful.


Language barrier makes making Chinese friends tough. If you don't speak Chinese, locate Chinese pals who speak English, unless you're both patient, expressive, and desperate. Expats in a Chinese hamlet may make friends without a shared language and learn Mandarin rapidly. This has its benefits, but it's a long haul.

Unless you're in such circumstance, you'll swiftly decide whether to speak Chinese or English with a new friend. Even if they don't speak Chinese, try to learn from them and apply what you have. If your new acquaintance speaks English, it's simple to speak just in that language. That won't help you build yours.


Nearly every China travel book mentions the ritual of treating. When the bill arrives, expect banter. If your Chinese buddy pays for the first lunch, don't worry; it's your turn next time.

Your Chinese pals usually won't keep track of who spent the most for what, but keep it even to prevent "losing face." Don't assume they can afford the same locations as you. 100RMB may sound inexpensive to you, but your Chinese buddy may have three meals at the same amount. Treating a buddy to pricey meals, drinks, and other activities may backfire and make them not want to hang out with you.


Making Chinese acquaintances takes less time but more planning. I enjoy my home friends' spontaneity. I can phone them to ask if they're free to go to a bar, shopping, or movie. Always a taker.

Chinese folks aren't used to spontaneity and don't like making last-minute arrangements. Setting a date a few days in advance is recommended. Such prior preparation is deemed nice by Chinese people, who are typically time-poorer than us fancy-free Westerners.

Try something new

Now that you've made some Chinese acquaintances, show them you're interested in their culture. Chinese love karaoke, or KTV. If you want to maintain your Chinese friends, you may have to swallow your pride and sing while sober.

Think of foreign crowd-pleasers. That obscure rock tune from home won't earn you as much affection as My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion. If you can sing in Mandarin, you'll wow your new pals.

Also, have an open mind regarding Chinese cuisine. If you don't like what your pals eat, don't show it. Try stinky tofu or duck tongue to show Chinese friends you respect and are interested in their world.

Don't bemoan China

Westerners may struggle adapting to Chinese living. Cultural differences and everyday living might be confusing even after years here. Sharing too many complaints with new Chinese acquaintances may raise eyebrows, much as insulting people's families.

The Chinese are sensitive to "China bashing," so if you're asked whether you enjoy China and Chinese cuisine, respond yes.

Be direct

Chinese folks may be outspoken despite their obsession with "face." Chinese norms allow questions about income, rent, relationships, and reproduction. Unsolicited counsel may include getting married and having kids before you are too old.

Directness might offend Western ears. If a buddy from home said you looked fat or pointed out your acne, you'd probably ignore them. These statements are more observations than critiques in China. Weight gain is often a praise.

Keeping Chinese friends isn't simple. With patience and compassion, you may form cross-cultural friendships that make your stay in China more pleasurable.

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