If you're wondering how to make friends, while living and working in a foreign country, you'll find out it's surprisingly easy. People automatically want to talk to you and hang out because you're a foreigner. In fact, I think you'll find that you'll be asked by almost perfect strangers to go play badminton every weekend. The trouble is, where do you go from there? How can you avoid the pitfalls of having misunderstandings from two opposing cultures? It can be a bit confusing when a friend looks upset when you ask to reschedule your lunch date. So for all of you newcomers out there, here are 5 helpful tips to keeping good friends in Tianjin.
I grew up in a very non-physical town in suburban America. You simply do not touch people, certainly not people you've just met. But in Tianjin, it's very normal. You'll see nearly every pair of girls holding hands or linking arms as they walk down the street. If you're friends, or even just a teacher walking with a student, don't be surprised if you find your hand is suddenly clasped in another. That being said, guys, don't try this with a girl or guy. That means you're probably dating, which let's face it, is just awkward for everybody.
I know for introverts this is a difficult one (speaking from personal experience here), but no matter who you are DO NOT CANCEL hangout days with people! If you do this, your friend will become terribly sad and quite likely be offended and angry. While in the West if you get sick or suddenly have a lot of work to do, people will understand why you cancelled to some degree as long as you reschedule. However, I've found that if you do this here, you really offend your friends! People look forward to spending time with you and changing dates means they have to rearrange their schedule again and get stressed trying to fit you in. Plus, many people will ask off work or work longer hours in order to meet up with you on Saturday. Be aware of their time constraints. Changing the days shows you aren't concerned with their busy schedules or their efforts to make time for you. So, don't cancel for convenience. If there's any way of you going, just go!
I know you're probably thinking, “Why on Earth would I just give somebody money?” But you'd be surprised how often it might happen. For example, I had a friend who helped me get to the hospital when I was really sick. She had to wait 2 hours with me at the hospital after getting off work at 10:00pm. It was already almost midnight when we got back, and I knew she had a long walk home, so I offered her some money to get a cab. She looked at me with such a stern indignation that I thought I had accidentally offered to kill her dog instead. She said, “Rachel, I'm your friend. I didn't spend two hours in the hospital with you so you could pay me like a servant.” While of course I didn't view her as a servant, my offer to show gratitude and make things easier for her was seen as paying for her friendship. I accidentally offended her in a pretty grave way. So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, remember this: if you want to show gratitude, you can't do it through favors. Instead, follow this next tip.
Gift giving is so important here I can't even describe it. People will give a gift for nearly any reason. If you're late for a meeting? Give a gift. Want somebody to do a favor? Give a gift. Somebody gave you a gift? Give two gifts right back. In America, I would feel fairly awkward if someone gave me a gift for waiting for them – like I was an angry wife whose husband needs to pacify with flowers and diamond earrings. I would feel like they didn't believe our friendship was strong enough to suffer something so minor. However, that's not really the intention. If someone gives a gift, they're just wanting to show their gratitude for your friendship (and admittedly yes, sometimes to pacify and repair the relationship if you're angry.) Even if it's something small like a little snack, give your friends something. I've found the best way to do this is to buy food. Pay attention to the things your friends really like. Then, when they help you out or if you just want to make them feel cheered up, go buy them that ice cream or bean bun or whatever it is they love. It doesn't have to be big - you'll be surprised how much it means to people.
This, to me, is the best of all. There are foods from all over Asia in Tianjin, whether it's Spicy Sichuan noodles, sweet Cantonese drinks, salty Korean bimbimbop, or local Tianjin fried dough and hotpot; you name it, they have it. This is a great way to have fun with friends and even make new ones. People will love taking you to new places to try their favorite styles of food, and what's more, there will be lots of it! China is made for having dinner with a bunch of friends, so the tables are big, the dishes are overflowing, and best of all, the friendships are loud and full of laughter.
So if you're wondering whether you can make friends in Tianjin, don't worry. The students are friendly, the staff is amazing, the memories entirely worth it. Before you know it, you'll suddenly find you have friends from all over the world. And when you get those friends, I hope these tips will help you understand how to break down that cultural barrier a little bit better.