Illustration: Chen Xia/GT
Sitting outside my university campus dormitory during a recent pleasant autumn day, a Chinese guy came over and sat beside me on the bench.
Even though I was obviously reading my textbook, he began to chat me up with all the typical questions that curious Chinese tend to ask foreigners: "Why are you in China?" "Do you like Chinese food?" and blah blah blah.
He then asked if I was studying Chinese, and I answered yes, to which he immediately followed up by asking if I have a boyfriend, to which I lied and said I was dating someone back home. He then began to tell me that, if I am here studying Chinese, then I should find someone to practice speaking with.
"I think you need a Chinese boyfriend," he concluded matter-of-factly, offering me his WeChat because, I suppose, he thought that if I needed a Chinese boyfriend it might as well be him.
As awkward as this interaction was, it was no fault of his own. The idea of finding a Chinese girlfriend or boyfriend to practice your, um, oral skills with is not something he invented. It's probably the oldest trick in the book among Caucasian colonialists. Indeed, most Western expats I have met here have suggested exactly this.
This young man was just playing by the rules of the age-old dating game between foreigners and Chinese. He likely knew that many of us come to China with the express purpose of seeking romance and probably thought that I, a white girl sitting all alone, would welcome the advances of a strapping Chinese lad.
Many young adult Chinese are just as interested in learning a foreign language and therefore hope to find a foreigner to date so they can practice English as well as glean some insight into the culture.
But, is this really an ideal method of learning a foreign language? If your only criteria for finding a romantic partner is whether or not the language they speak is beneficial to you, is that not exploitative and superficial? More importantly, it seems to me that any sort of relationship that starts out this way is doomed to fail.
As anyone who has tried to venture into the treacherous realm of intercultural dating well knows, different cultures have different customs and behavior when it comes to romance. Even if you are pursuing someone who you genuinely may like, you will eventually run into problems due to such cultural difference, e.g. who should make the first move.
I have heard many of my friends here complain about all the various irreconcilable differences between them and their Chinese girlfriend or boyfriend; most eventually break up instead of adapting to the other's dating customs.
As Zhang Xinyuan pointed out in a previous Global Times TwoCents, it seems that intercultural couples tend to date for a while but break up just before it's time to get married. This is likely because they have different ideas about marriage, family and social roles. Furthermore, I think many Chinese parents simply do not approve of their son or daughter marrying a foreigner.
While the population of foreigners living, working and dating in Shanghai is vast, it is also hyper-transient. Many expats here have no desire to live in China forever; most eventually go back to their home countries, perhaps asking their Chinese partner to come with them. But, if their partner refuses to move away from their motherland, what else is there for them to do but break up?
I'm not saying that relationships can't work out between foreigners and the Chinese. On the contrary, there are many mixed couples who are compatible and are able to work things out. It's just that I have just seen so many people - Western and Chinese alike - jump into the interracial dating pool thinking it will be cool, exotic, interesting or simply beneficial to their language skills.
Eventually though, all their cultural differences catch up with them and they break up. Pursuing a romantic partner when what you actually want is a language partner is just not right and will likely leave two perfectly nice people with broken hearts.
If I could go back to the day on the bench with that Chinese guy, I would probably tell him to focus more on highlighting his natural charms and less on listing his personal characteristics. After all, the international students' dormitory isn't your personal marriage market!
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.