Difference is my hobby, but unity is my philosophy

When I decided to come to China I have to admit that the idea that my romantic prospects might be somewhat less dim than back home was not the most insignficant factor in my decision. But perhaps so as to make it impossible to forget that, as an ad for a Martin Walser exhibit that I saw in Munich once informed me, “Nichts ist ohne sein Gegenteil wahr”, I’ve really had a lot of drama this year, although I suppose it’s more exciting than none at all. I met one Chinese girl with whom I wound up having a messy break-up even though we had never actually gone out. She tended to criticize everyone in sight, but the worst was her ranting about the “dumb shits Americans,” how the southern Chinese are all shifty and untrustworthy and how she wished America and China could be physically joined by squashing Japan in the middle. She also claimed that relationships between Chinese people and Americans couldn’t work because of cultural differences, even though she asked me out when drunk one night. Say what you will about political correctness in America, but anything that makes one reflexively hesitant or cautious about making cultural generalizations left and right can’t be all bad.

I also managed to step right in the middle of another messy break-up between a Chinese girl who’s a friend of mine and an American teacher by breaking down and telling her about his continued dealings with a previous girlfriend. I had to choose in favor of honesty and the person that I respected more, but the bearer of bad news in those situations is never popular. Not to mention that they got back together a week later, so the net result of my intervention for them was practically nothing. And finally, another American teacher asked me out after New Year’s despite knowing that I already had a girlfriend. She also apparently regards relationships between Westerners and Chinese people, specifically between Western men and Chinese women, as bad news, claiming they’re inherently unequal and borderline-predation on the part of Western men, since apparently no Chinese women could possibly turn them down. I pointed out this was fairly condescending to Chinese women (which admittedly doesn’t by itself make it untrue), and furthermore that at least one Chinese girl has told me flat-out that she will only marry a Chinese man and that most of the others I’ve met are deeply suspicious of the prospect of a relationship with Western men. I’m in fact dating one of the few that isn’t, or at least hasn’t expressed any such feelings, and in a perhaps not unrelated story is probably the one least prone to cultural generalizations. Nevertheless, I know cultural differences deeply divide those they affect, and I’ve noticed a couple myself, although it might seem hypocritical now to point them out after criticizing the generalizing of others. In any case, couples, particularly girls, in China seem to find it much more socially acceptable than in the West to dramatically pantomime the state of their relationships in public for all passers-by to see. I’ve seen girls sitting on park benches with their boyfriends but fully turned away from the guys, who try to grasp their hands and plead. One time I saw a girl biking along and sobbing, which looked very sad and touching until you noticed that she had a full cup of something in one hand and was steering with the other, quite a feat of balance for someone so carried away by emotion. It’s apparently customary for boyfriends even in college to pay for most of their girlfriends’ clothes and expenses, to the point where a survey on the spending habits of college-aged men found that the number one expense, taking up more than 50% of the total, was girlfriends. To me this seems likely to lead to an inherent imbalance, setting up men in a quasi-indulgent-parent role, with women as their spoiled children, which might explain some of the self-dramatization. It’s hard to say (for what it’s worth, my own girlfriend is against this practice).

So I certainly don’t deny that cultural differences exist, although I think one must be careful to remember that social customs vary but personality traits and types, as well moral quality, seems to recur and distribute themselves pretty evenly everywhere. Cultural differences are not, however, insurmountable, nor are they the only important difference between people. Because they are but one of the vast array of differences in personality, background and comprehension that we surmount every day in reaching beyond ourselves to make connections with others, or fail to and founder in isolation.

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