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Friday, August 24, 2007


Making friends

I have been thinking more of the effect of the single child policy on the personalities of Chinese people. I am also trying to understand why it is that, compared to most countries in Southeast Asia, I don't find the Chinese particularly friendly. I should qualify this statement. The Chinese are not unfriendly. They do not usually do anything negative. It is as if you don't exist or perhaps they simply have no need for you. This, at least, is my personal experience in the cities that I have visited.

My reasoning is this. Each Chinese child grows up with two doting parents who they share with no siblings. Probably both of these parents work. I am not sure what the situation is with professional child care but what I see as I stroll around town is children and grandparents together, sometimes just the grandmother and sometimes both grandparents. Each child as well as having two parents also has four grandparents to themselves. There are no cousins. And we all know how much grandparents love to lavish attention on their grandchildren. I guess Chinese grandparents are no different.

A child in most other countries has to compete for attention with their siblings. As we grow up, each of us learns the skills we need to get the attention we need. Sometimes these skills are negative ones like throwing tantrums but hopefully we learn some positive communication skills like; make eye contact, smile, say 'hello', pay a compliment. And by practising these skills we are being friendly.

A child from the single parent family has no such needs. They have no one to compete with. There are six people waiting to give them attention. The communication skills that many of us define as 'friendly' are unnecessary to these people. Therefore if I want to make friends in China it is up to me to take the initiative. The challenge is to master enough Mandarin language to do so before I leave.

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