My Chinese roommate is friendly, kind and intelligent, but we both agree that we have our differences.
When we first met two and a half months ago, the first words she said to me were in Chinese, but she saw my face (clueless), and two minutes later she began to communicate with me in incredibly good English. We went for dinner together that night, she introduced to me my favourite drink (honey grapefruit tea,蜂蜜柚子茶）, and then I barely saw her for one or two days.
When she reappeared, we stayed up talking until four in the morning. I found out that I had already been introduced to her boyfriend, but she hadn’t told me who he was. I found out that honey grapefruit tea is a popular drink from Korea, that she comes from Sichuan, that she studied Environmental Engineering and that she had never learnt how to use chopsticks properly. I found out that in China, it is not considered rude to lean over someone’s plate to get some food on the other side of the table, and that staring and spitting are both common occurrences on the streets here. That night, I played a board game with six or seven other Chinese students. That was the night I learnt how to say “very awkward”! (很尴尬）. She said she wasn’t sure whether she should ask personal questions because she had learnt ‘Westerners’ find it uncomfortable.
Recently, I’ve become friends with some Chinese students in the building. They tell me that ‘How old are you?’ is never an inappropriate question, that the expression ‘How are you?’ is particularly stupid. They explain that it’s okay to interrupt someone else’s conversation to change the topic, but never your own conversation. They always feel they need to fill a silence, even among good friends, and sometimes become exhausted from speaking English. We rarely drink alcohol. We sometimes cook hotpot. We often chat until the early hours of the morning, and we often find differences between Chinese and ‘Western’ culture. But, we always, ALWAYS learn more about each other.