By all accounts, we've had a pretty easy time of it. We had two big blowouts within the first few weeks but, in both cases, it turned out that the problem was mostly the language barrier. There's a quote, "I know you think you know what you thought I said, but what you thing you heard is not what I think I thought I said." Yeah, say that in Mandarin at 3:00 in the morning while angry to someone with severe jet lag.
While we're doing well I think a lot about the fact that something between eight and nine out of ten marriages between Chinese women and American men end in divorce and I wonder what advice I would give someone considering marrying a Chinese woman. Rather than advice, I thought I would give some examples of just how different the two cultures are. It can be difficult to merge 30,000 years of divergent history.
None of these examples is meant in any way to suggest that one culture or life style is better, only to act as a cautionary tale about the challenges you and your wife will face if you marry. The first two are real deal breakers that can really derail a marriage, the others are just...notes on how different life can be.
1. In China, saying please and thank you are considered polite as they are here. This is, however something that you do for strangers. The phrasefor "your welcome," "bu ku chi" means something like "no need to be formal." So, in China, saying please and thank you to family members is a bit formal and odd. It is sort of like saying, "you are in my house but I'm still going to treat you like a stranger." It can be perceived as rude. One of the issues that all of the Chinese/American couples I've met have faced is the day that he thought she was being rude because she was giving strings of orders without so much as a please or thank you and she thought he was being rude because he was insisting on treating her like a guest rather than his wife.
2. Americans grew up hearing the "Thumper" lesson. When Thumper looks at Bambi and laughs he gets scolded and reminded, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." The lesson in China is very different. I don't know if it is generally true in Chinese culture, but for a Chinese woman, an important way of showing that you care for your husband is to help him be the best he can be. This literally means helping his pick out "more fashionable" clothes, suggesting better ways to organize the socks, helping with with idas on how to keep the car more clean etc. etc. If you argue with your wife and insist on being left alone, you are, in effect, refusing her affection. Although they look exactly alike, there is a key difference between nagging and showing your support. Minxi and I got some very good advice on this topic from our friends Winnie and Dave and it saved us mounds of trouble. Minxi was so eager to show her affection for me that I found myself thinking, "this woman thinks I can't do anything right." No, she's just expressing her caring, Chinese style.
3. Minxi thinks chicken bones are edible. There's nothing wrong with this but it was very strange the first time when, after the meal, she started happily crunching bones and chatting away.
4. Refrigeration is generally available in China these days but its fairly new for a lot of folks. Minxi is comfortable leaving a wide array of food dishes out over night and then eating them in the morning.
5. Straight white vinegar is sterile and very good for your skin if used properly. Having your bathroom smell like salad dressing can take some getting used to.
6. Modern Chinese word for love is "ai." It is still uncommon for some Chinese people to use it or its English Translation. Minxi's friend Susan said that her parents never said they loved her and she never said she loved them. They did love each other but it was generally only shown not spoken. Your Chinese wife may find it odd that you want to say "I love you" all the time and may not say it much herself. If you need to hear it to feel comforted, you may find her very frustrating.
7. American toilets seem as weird to Minxi as Chinese toilets do to me. Enough said.
So what's my advice? I don't know. Marrying a Chinese woman is hard work. The stats don't lie. On the other hand, I would definitely marry Minxi again. She's the right one for me.
My friend Dave put it like this: "If I had known how hard it was going to be, I don't think I ever would have tried it, but I'm glad I did."