Sunday, May 31, 2009

Am I too cautious about men?

In America, I was afraid of male strangers who started conversations with me in public places like bars, dance clubs, buses, coffee shops, and restaurants. They were strangers and so I didn't trust them. Plus in American culture, if a guy starts talking to you then it can often be assumed that they are trying to hit on you. I hate being hit on. I was very good at putting up a cold wall, deterring any strangers from talking to me. Also, in America I had a better intuition about the intentions of a stranger talking to me, an ability to tell the difference between a guy hitting on me versus a guy who is just being friendly, trying to make friendly small talk.

In China, I am still afraid of male strangers, but for different reasons:

1. language barrier
My limited language skills are not strong enough to really understand what is being said nor to infer what type of intentions the strangers have. As a trusting foreigner, it seems to me that strangers are really hospitable, offering free drink and food in an innocently, friendly, exchange for a special evening with foreigners.

2. me being in the dark about male female dynamics in Chinese culture
I know nothing about the dynamics between males and females in China. Do strangers hit on girls? What does it mean for a female to drink with male strangers? Is it all innocent fun? What assumptions do Chinese men have about foreign women? Is it strange for a 55 year old man to talk to young women?

3. I look Chinese
Because I look Chinese, the expectations and assumptions about me are probably different than for a woman who looks like she is from a foreign country. I don't know what these expectations or assumptions are. I can get into trouble assuming that people will treat me like the foreigner who gets special treatment.

4. cultural differences
In Africa many men were married or had a girlfriend. Many of them tried to catch a girl's attention, lots of cat calls and cheating on their spouses. I felt it was important to dress very conservatively and be seen as married, a coping method against all of the men who would have wanted me to be their wife/girlfriend. In China, I don't know what the cultural differences are; therefore, I don't know how to apply a coping method to what strangers may or may not be assuming or expecting from me. Is their offer of beer, food and conversation just friendliness? Or is there something behind their offer?

5. drinking
Many men drink a LOT and get drunk and loud. There are two very popular drinking games, a dice game, and a shouting match at guessing the correct number that is thrown out using hand signals. Even rock, paper, scissors is a drinking game. Losers drink beer out of a shot glass. I have seen so many fights and people yelling at each other. I have seen beer bottles smashed over each other's heads and blood pouring down faces and out of ears. Drunk strangers scare me.

In America I am wary of strangers who are men.

In China, I don't know what I should feel about strangers who are men. This uncertainty and non-cultural understanding on my part makes me super cautious and a party pooper who goes home early. I just don't trust myself in this culture that I do not understand yet. I feel a false sense of security. I feel Chinese men are non-aggressive, friendly, curious and hospitable when it comes to foreign women. But maybe there are unseen dangers that I am unaware of. Or maybe I am just letting my fears of American and African male strangers make wrong assumptions about male strangers in China. Maybe I am just an anxiety driven worrywart and shouldn't worry. Maybe I should just be socially friendly and accept men's kindness and hospitality.

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