All a bit foreign

Meeting people in Shanghai is always a bit odd. In our home countries, we innately know the culture and customs, as well as how to immediately read a book by its cover and realize ‘what kind’ of person we are meeting.

Here, we more regularly meet people from all over the world. And there is no designated ‘expat custom’ for meeting people. We may come across people in work settings, bars and nightlife, through other friends, sports… then after meeting people a few times you may feel as though there is a connection there – be it with someone who might be a mate or friend, or with someone who you might get flirty with.

Meeting them again – outside the circle in which you first met, just the two of you – means that there is always a risk that nothing will click.

The first meeting can often be painful – will there be a hand-shake, a hug, a hug and a kiss, two kisses? There is then the need to gauge – if you are a polite human being – what acceptable level of swearing, racial slurs and rude jokes that you can get away with.

Having a potty mouth, this can sometimes be a problem for me. I may refrain too much from swearing, so that the other person feels they need to do the same.

British people should also NEVER meet each other with two kisses on the cheek. When I went to university, there was always a set of particularly asshole-y students that, although the uni was a very normal one, believed that they were very posh, countryside style old-money yuppies who naturally kissed on the cheek at every meeting, be it at the cafeteria or the corridor before a lecture. It was shudder-inducing.

Anyway, Brits are not good at doing this, and you can always tell a Brit from the way they greet in Shanghai – ideally they will stay sat and offer a wave. Or, they will go a little overboard and offer a physical greeting when there was no need for one.

So, at times in Shanghai, you may meet someone and find that in reality there isn’t really anything between you. Often, this still doesn’t stop people. The desperate need to be in a ‘circle of friends’ is so great that people will act all chummy with many fake friends that they don’t really like at all.

If you are one of the few people who doesn’t need that kind of safe ‘attention’, then the next question is how to handle such meetings after they go awry? Firstly, do not feel the need to schedule a second appointment. This is done by NOT being available for online chatting on msn, Skype, gmail etc. Such tools are horrible, because they mean that it’s very easy to chat to someone and then feel heavily obligated to suggest ‘so shall we meet up for a coffee?’.

Not being on these messaging platforms means that both parties can more easily ignore each other and pretend that the whole attempt at friendship never happened.

Keep trying through – there ARE real people and real friends out there, they are just very difficult to find in a city over-crowded with ego-maniacal, shallow and fake expats. But that does make the good ones better!


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Categories: Expat Life


Foreigner in Shanghai


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