Chinese Banquets and American Parties
A Chinese Banquet is a well-orchestrated affair that starts with a polite, cheerful opening speech, proceeds with a selection of prepared dishes and ends at a designated time. There is little room for error, since everything is planned and guests have a good understanding of everything that will take place.
In contrast, American parties are more open-ended with little on the agenda aside from socializing. For the most part, attendees are free to arrive and leave within a reasonable time frame, and are expected to be the source of entertainment rather than activities organized by the host.
The differences in socializing habits can be attributed to China’s emphasis on the collective and America’s emphasis on the individual. In China, the needs of the group outweigh the needs of the individual and there exists a social contract among individuals to concede to the needs of the group over their own. This can be seen in nearly every aspect of Chinese life, from the classroom to weddings.
Celebrations at School
Unlike in American schools, where student dances and socials are largely unstructured, Chinese schools host very structured student socials. Typically, the event will take place in the classroom and consist of several talent acts arranged by students in the class. Special consideration is taken to ensure everyone is in at least one act and that any snacks or prizes are evenly distributed. For the most part, students stay at their desk and might be allowed to sit next to their friends. In this situation, teachers act as the host and are responsible for keeping the event on track.
Parents, Brides and Grooms
In American weddings, the couple is typically the focus of the event and is involved in all aspects of the wedding. At a Chinese wedding, the couple’s parents are just as important as the couple and receive the same amount of congratulations from well-wishers. Typically, the parents pay for the wedding and are heavily involved in making preparations. Often times, the bride and groom make very little decisions and take the backseat to their parents’ wishes. Additionally, one of the most important part of the wedding ceremony is bowing to the parents and showing respect to elderly family members. Rather than just being the bride and groom’s special day, a Chinese wedding seeks to affirm the family’s legacy and future.
Socializing with Friends
In America, groups of friends hanging out can often be loud and free-spirited, and each person is expected to share their thoughts and opinions. In China, one of the goals of socializing among friends is demonstrating your inclusion in a group. To talk more than another or to be louder than everyone else can have the detrimental effect of setting one apart from others. While the atmosphere might be more rambunctious among closer knit groups of best friends, hanging out with regular friends or close acquaintances calls for moderation of one’s behavior to a similar level as everyone else’s.
Keeping in mind the socialization goals and practices of Chinese culture can help you better understand your international student’s social preferences. For them, participating in an American social activity for the first time can be overwhelming, and your sensitivity towards their participation can help students adjust to their new social environment.