After living here about 1.5 years I can say that I’ve come a LONG way in terms of understanding the culture and language in Shanghai.
I remember when we first got here… I absolutely hated it. Not so much the people, the city or just being here but the fact that it was so foreign to me. I couldn’t understand anyone (which happens of course, in a new country) and some of the mannerisms caught me by surprise.
Then as I learned the language, I began to communicate more and saw a whole different side to Shanghai. I started to explore more, understand the culture and fell in love with the city which is now my home. There is so much good in Shanghai and I’m so glad that my eyes have been opened.
I hung out with some local friends recently and I honestly can’t tell if this is a personality thing or a cultural thing. But nearly every single time I hang out with them this is the typical conversation that happens:
Me: Aww thanks for inviting me out guys! It’s so nice that you think of me.
Friend: It’s not like you have any friends here or any plans so we know you’re free.
Ha. I can’t help but to laugh… it’s just so funny that they assume that I don’t have any plans, don’t have friends and that I’m just sitting around my home waiting for someone to call me. It’s so far from the truth, maybe when I first moved here I was free and bored but these days I’m actually settled in and quite busy.
So… yeah, I can’t quite tell if it’s a cultural difference or their personality.
Here’s another convo:
Friend: What language are you going to speak to your baby?
Me: Probably Korean and English. I think the hubs will speak Cantonese and English and we figured since we’re in China, he’ll pick up a little Mandarin just from living here and going to school here.
Friend: Your baby is never going to talk, he’ll be so confused and it’s bad that you think he’ll be able to understand all those languages. I think you’re wrong.
Me: Um… I grew up with multiple languages in my home and I was just fine.
Another instance is when I talk to a friend about how I want to wash my hair during the 30 days after birth and how it’s much easier to dry now that it’s short. My Hong Kong friends say it’s ok to do that because the non-hair washing tradition was because ladies had long hair and didn’t have a way to dry their hair quickly before they got cold again. So as long as I blow dry it quickly it’s fine.
My local friend here FLIPPED out on me when I told her that I want to wash my hair.
Her: NOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU CAN’T WASH YOUR HAIR YOU WILL GET SICK. YOU ARE GOING TO RECOVERY TERRIBLY, IT’LL BE YOUR FAULT!
I’m not exaggerating. This was all yelling and placing the blame is something I am quite familiar with in the Chinese culture.
My in laws have told me about certain foods being good for recovery and certain ones being bad. They have told me multiple times that if I don’t take care in what I eat that I can only blame myself in the recovery.
Seaweed = bad because it lowers your inner body temperature, it is a “cold” food. Not physically cold, the digestive process of seaweed will lower my yin-yang balance and I shouldn’t have “cold” foods.
Ginger = Good, cleanses and keeps your body temperature “warm”.
That’s just two examples. Now what makes me sad is that seaweed is in the “bad” category. As you know, I am Korean and one of the most prized and honored tradition is eating Korean seaweed soup. A lot of women eat this after birth to replenish their iron, help with their breast milk and nourish the mother. After a discussion with the in laws I have decided not to eat it. Not because I don’t want to, I really do. But because they kept telling me how awful my recovery will be and that if I want to, they’ll make it for me but to keep in mind everything they said about my recovery with seaweed.
If I happen to have a bad recovery, I don’t want them to blame the soup that my people eat so I figure… eh, 30 days and honestly, it doesn’t taste the same when a non-Korean makes the soup. So I’ll let my MIL do what she knows best and cook Chinese. I won’t deny I am a bit sad about not having the soup but I think this is better in the end of it all.
And of course my in laws are only doing what they know is best in their culture and eyes. So I understand it’s not personal… it’s cultural. It’s still hard to grasp sometimes for me, being non Chinese and being told all these things that I should and shouldn’t be doing. They do have a tendency to believe that their culture is right in everything (food, beliefs, health, medicine, etc). So it makes it hard to have a solid discussion about my culture and how they really don’t know too much about it but make comparisons. I can’t tell if this is cultural or if it’s a combination of them being old and cultural to be so pushy and opinionated.
But in the end, they are good people… and I want to stress how much they are helping us here. My MIL buys all the groceries, runs errands, get things that she thinks I’ll like to eat and she does the cooking and dishes. They do a lot for us and I am so thankful for that.
So yes. Cultural differences… still getting used to it. Be it Shanghai or my Cantonese in laws. I love both but I wonder if I’ll ever “get it” fully.