The I-Don’t-Know-You-That-Much-Code

    Sorry, it’s been a while since last time I updated. I didn’t mean to take this long to finish this one, but things just kept popping up all the time!


    The I-Don’t-Know-You-That-Much-Code was first noticed on my Facebook account.

    The thing is, there is a twin website called in China. Since Facebook has been blocked in MainlanChina, the RenRen is quite popular here. And if you have a Facebook page, you will know where to check out how many “Friends” a person has on Facebook. I did a very simple survey today (Actually I’m afraid it is not even qualified as a survey, it only cost me 10 minutes..), I picked out 8 random people on Facebook and Renren each, then calculate the average number of “Friends” for the two websites. The results show that Facebook scores high by 792.5 “Friends”/person, while Renren only has 407.2“Friends”/person.

    Well..This “survey” is obviously biased, due to the number of sample size and the manual selection method. But it is a fact that Chinese people have a narrower circle when it comes to friends. And I believe one of the reason contributing to this fact is that Chinese people don’t get close to others that easily. It takes extra efforts to shorten that distance in between. You may argue that most Chinese are pretty friendly and warm hearted, yes they are. They will give you a full explanation of how the Seven-day National Holiday works, they will give you a ride home after a late working night ends, they might even volunteer taking care of your cats when you are planning to travel for a long time. But let’s face it, what is really going on under that fancy “CARPET”?


    Ok, let’s take a look at how many ways a Chinese can make a new friend:

People I know from University: This one could be easier since universities are basically where youth catch up with peers. But under this scenario, the new guy has to be REPEATEDLY presented to us before we enter a new contact in our phones.. Ie. The two are both stuck in same research groups or study activities, thus have to endure all the painful tasks or celebrate any success they manage to achieve.

People from Work: Normally, people from work are ALWAYS people from work. You don’t want them to mess up with your careers by spreading out who’s your one night stand last weekend. But there are exceptions, you can meet your best buddy in the bathroom while trying to sneak out having a cigarette. Generally speaking, you should always put up some guards for your colleagues. Among Chinese, it’s more than just true. I’ve been told more than 5 times by different people that I should keep a certain distance from colleagues. Bleeding examples of confronting a passive-aggressive colleague are countless. Since colleagues are going to work together on an everyday basis, it is required be friendly above the “carpet”.

People from Clubs/Bars/Pubs: I have to say: Most Chinese don’t go to these places that often. It’s a social rule that people in Clubs/Bars/Pubs are bad.(Stupid, I know, but still..Oldschool concept passing down from our mums and dads.) If you must say “No! They definitely DO go to bars all the time!”, well, I really can’t think of any of my friends who’s such a party animal except those works in a band.

People I know from public places other than Clubs/Bars/Pubs: Such as restaurants, Café. Except the fact that Chinese food can be really tricky sometimes (ie. Noodles with half in my mouth and the other half hanging down from my chin),I’d love to have a nice conversation during a meal. Actually, food is a really important part of every Chinese. InBeijing, we even say “Have you eaten or not?” instead of “How was your day?”. It is a very convenient way to build up a close friendship in a comparably short time. (My high school teacher even called it “effective and efficient”) So if you want to know more about a certain Chinese: Invite him/her to dinner.

People introduced by my friends: This could be the most reliable way meeting with new friends. The “agent” is someone close to us which can make we feel safe and easier to drop that invisible “Great Wall” to have a soul-handshake. But still, it depends on a lot of things other than just this “agent”.

    It all lies in the big word TRUST. Chinese can “like” you very much, but deep down they might not trust you at all. We spend a lot of time judging whether a certain person is trustworthy enough to be “under our carpets”, so that we can share the most intimate feelings and secret stories hidden below. While at the same time, we spend an equal amount of time making ourselves look good to those “above our carpets”, by warm greetings and helping hands. It takes a lot for us to “know” someone, even when we act like “you are my best buddy”. Yes it does sound code, and if someone breaks this code by crossing the line, it is time for us to act weird: Oh, sorry I can’t. I don’t think I know you that much.



    After a brief introduction of this blog, here brings us to the second part — secret social codes you might need to know to understand Chinese better.

    Although I am not an anthropologist and I was raised in a traditional chinese family, some of us chinese behavior always kept puzzling me: Why in our history text book, there’s only one single sentence describing the 10-year-culture-revolution but they keep the whole story of how DaYu successfully resolved the flood crisis 5000 years ago. And why my mum bought a dozen eggs and tons of fruit to the hospital when the patient she visited was totally not allowed to eat anything at the time.

    I’ve started thinking and observing since I was in high school, and the most fascinating thing about chinese behavior is that: They only present HALF of the true story, hiding the other half deep down in their hearts (and then put 5 locks on it.). It’s more like when you are cleaning the room and expecting your guests, you keep the room tidy and suck the dirt out of every corner of your house. The only difference is that chinese people will suck the dirt out but hide them under their newly bought carpet.

    So, let’s just name the first code as “Hiding-The-Dirt-Under-The-Carpet-Code”.

    You may ask whyyyyy would we wanna do that…I can assure you, the Hiding Code was created mostly from good intentions. We want to give pleasant feelings to our guests, we don’t want the dirt to bother them. But the problem is that we often go too far when pursuing this goal, and end up forgetting to do the very basic thing. So damage control time: “We tried our best but absolutely there’s no time to clean the floor, just put the carpet on the pile of dust, Maggie is arriving in 2 minutes!”

    But, the other benefit coming out of the Hiding Code is that we actually can hide the disgusting things under the carpet, and creating a false impression to our guests. And after years of practicing, we find out that it really works! That’s when the innocent Hiding Code is taken advantage of by those ill intentions, and it really does an excellent work contributing our bad reputations…

    Well, this blog is not built to blame the Chinese so lets just focus on the how to understand this Code and use it in your daily work. Here’s one more example:

    When you are having some really bad days in the week and come across a Chinese friend who’s not that close to you, and the boring grooming talk begins like:”Mike! Long time no see, how’ve you been?” The least you wanna do is telling him/her that you’ve been having some horrible crisis and haven’t slept for two days. Because in that way, this friend of yours will be obliged to care about you and concern about what happened. Chinese don’t want to trouble their friends, so the right answer in the above situation would be “I’m fine”, or ”Yeah I’m OK” without actually bring up any of your personal problems. Just keep the true story to yourself. * BUT, when it comes to the very close friends. You can just tell him/her what’s really going on, s/he will be more than willing to give you a hand if s/he could. Chinese people are warm-hearted and smart, so don’t let the Hiding Code get in the way of your friendship with Chinese.

If you find this example weird and ridiculous..Fine, I will come up with a better example next time. LOL.