Wednesday, May 27, 2009

When East meets West

Being Chinese-American in itself is a paradox. Asian cultures drastically contrast to American culture and being a fusion surely is complex. I'm mostly speaking on behalf of the Chinese culture but I think it could be generalized to various East Asian cultures as well. In Business school, particularly in Management and in Marketing, we often discuss cultures and the Hofstede cultural measures are discussed to help quantify culture (or the aspects that can be anyway). I'm sure a lot of the first generation offspring can relate to the phenomenon that we face. Two contrasting cultural forces have greatly influenced how we are raised. This poses many issues in regard to our relationship with our parents and understanding their mindset. The most notable issue is in the realm of dating.

Before going into that, I want to show some Hofstede figures. There are 4 (now 5, I believe but I don't really think it applies so I left it out) cultural dimensions that Hofstede identified. An explanation of what each dimension entails can be found here.

Hofstede Measures

Power Distance: 40
Individualism: 91
Masculinity: 62
Uncertainty Avoidance: 46

Power Distance: 80
Individualism: 20
Masculinity: 66
Uncertainty Avoidance: 30

Asian Countries (avg)
Power Distance: 75
Individualism: 24
Masculinity: 50
Uncertainty Avoidance: 35

My parents are increasingly becoming more pushy about my dating life. They have "guidelines" about who I'm "allowed" to date. My parents approval means a lot to me and their acceptance with my dating decisions will greatly influence my happiness. However, I like to believe that I ultimately make my own decisions when it comes to my personal happiness. I would like to compromise on this ground, but it's difficult. I can't help but notice that some of their expectations are superficial and unrealistic. I've gotten into many arguments with my parents over these "guidelines" and it frustrates me that it's still in a stalemate. Funny thing is, I'm not even dating at the moment but I find myself defending a prospective guy. So basically I'm defending someone I don't even know.

In the past, I've dated guys my mom found distasteful and I vividly remember this conversation:

Mom: Why are children so selfish now? Why do they date to make them [selves] happy and not think [about] of the parents that work so hard all they [their] life?
Me: you mean?...
Mom: Why [do] you date [a] boy I don't like. Do you not care about mommy feelings?
Me: Last time I checked, I'm dating him not you! Why does it matter who you like? You're not me!
Mom: I raise you better [than this]. Don't date trash and make me look ashame [shameful]

I'm for sure not alone on this. Stella recently told me about the dilemma one of her best friend faces. Her best friend, Sarah*, is a Chinese-American and is dating an African-American and even though he's an awesome guy. Even though he has a high profile, reputable job (he does advertising campaigns for Nike!!) and he's the greatest guy in the world Sarah's mom has spun into deep depression for the past 2 years that they've been dating. Sarah's mom doesn't understand why Sarah would "do this to her and ruin her life." It seems over the top and severe, but it's real. My fear is that I would be in Sarah's shoes in the future.

It sounds so silly and dramatic for them to react in this way. But thinking about the Hofstede measures, it makes a lot more sense to me. The American culture is highly individualistic (#1 in the world in fact) whereas the Chinese culture is highly collectivist. How this plays a role is, our generation growing up in America are taught and hold individualistic values. Individualist cultures emphasize the self and defend their interests to the end. I'm very all about me, my achievements and think of myself as an individual. This is a problem when faced with the Chinese collectivist culture. In the collectivist cultures, the group is emphasized and they think in terms of "we". Decisions that you make should be for the best interest and general welfare of the entire group and not for personal gain. Collectivist cultures are afraid of "loss of face" therefore afraid of confrontation. (Asians will talk crap behind your back and they will be fake nice to your unapproved boyfriend) There is an "in-group" in collectivist cultures and there are very strict measures for you to be considered "in". This explains the belief that my mom holds that whoever I date affects the group, the general welfare of the group, and her "face" in society. Chinese people believe you marry into a family instead of marrying a person.

What makes this an even harder struggle is that level of power distance. American rank lower on power distance meaning that they see authority figures as more on the same level. There is less of a division between managers and workers, elderly and youth, etc. However, in Chinese culture, ranking is so important. You must respect those that are "ranked" higher than you in society and respect equates biting your tongue and submissive obedience, something that in an American culture is hard to understand. This explains my parents' overwhelming belief that they have ultimate authority and say-so in my decisions because they are my "superior" and "elder". Going against what they want for me is utter disrespect.

In Global Marketing, we talk about how difficult it is to resolve issues based on cultural beliefs. You don't need to travel to a different country to really see the depth of the conflict. For those that are raised in bi-cultural settings, this issue is an ongoing part of daily life.

*name have been changed to protect the innocent :]


Shinzouki said...

I like this entry!

why dont you care about mommys feelings?...

thats going to be a classic

Katherine Kang said...

ditto. i love your mom, and your grammar corrections :)

sometimes i just think my parents are being immature. i really wanna say, get over it - we'll all be a lot happier if you get over it. but of course, it will never work that way will it?