Friday, March 21, 2014

Different communities

Saturday evening my wife an I went on our first date since early October. It was everything I could've hoped for. We had coffee. She drove in an empty parking lot. We had dinner. We shopped a bit. I joked about leaving town and not coming back.

It was a rough 5+ months. Obviously we should not wait so long between dates, so why did we wait so long?

There's a certain cultural adjustment that needed to be made and will continue to be needed: Babysitting.

In China, this was so much easier for us.

On one hand, there were a relatively large number of expats (not all American or even North American) who were willing to watch our kids. Some even asked to do so, inviting us to go out. Here the important factor was not entirely cultural, but mostly relational. We'd been there a long time. We knew people we could trust. People knew us and wanted to help. The only cultural aspect was that expats seem to become more helpful toward and rely on one another a bit more than people do in the US, so asking for help is less awkward.

The bigger cultural difference is family.

In the US I have to recognize that my parents have their own lives. They have their own friends, their own interests, and their own events, all of which need to be considered. Given that living with them is already a major act of generosity on their part, asking even more help to watch kids is a bit sensitive. At least, it feels that way to us.

Things aren't the same in China. It's not that Liao Sha's parents don't have their own lives, their own friends, their own interests, etc. It simply that family trumps all in China. As my wife has said, "Family are the only people you never have to worry about asking for help." We didn't overuse their help, but we didn't feel constrained from asking either.

I'm not blaming my parents or praising Liao Sha's. It's simply that the culture is different, and in lieu of having enough money for a trustworthy babysitter or living near people who can/will take care of your children, adjustments need to be made. We're still in the adjustment process.

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