In the first part of this post, I argued that encountering language barriers in cross cultural dating can be a bonding factor, a unique and nuanced trait of your relationship that only exists in the world between you two. Yet, for every one charming love story of a couple surmounting a language barrier and finding true transcendent love, I am sure there are dozens left behind in the dust.
Not to be a pessimist or cynic, but I think that even those foreigners who speak decent Chinese, or Chinese speaking decent English, often overlook the unique challenges cross-cultural dating can pose. My purpose in writing this is not to dissuade anybody from pursuing anyone who might not speak their own language fluently, but rather to continue an honest discussion of some of the factors involved, this time focusing on the little annoyances and big problems.
First and foremost, it can sometimes be difficult to be certain if the cute girl who is pursuing you is interested in you, the person, as opposed to you, your language. I’ve been on dates with Chinese girls before where I slowly realize they are simply there for some free English practice, and really had no intention of becoming romantically involved. I’ve even had one girl show up with a friend, not to help with translation, but for a free 2 on 1 English lesson!
If, after a few dates, you find the two of you still haven’t moved past simple conversation topics (which seem strangely like bland English textbook sample dialogues), good chance you have found a friend or even student, not potential date.
In another situation I can personally attest to, beware if you find the only humor in the first few dates relates directly to your fumbled attempts at communicating with each other. A good friend of mine loves to tell the story of his “Google translate” date. They would meet for coffee, and have conversations back and forth solely through Google’s translation software, occasionally pausing to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Yes, mispronunciations and wacky misunderstandings are good for a laugh, but can run out of steam pretty quickly. There is plenty of intrigue and romance to be found when trying to express yourself in a foreign language, but if the laughs are coming solely from goofy mistakes, take a minute to assess why you are there, and if the relationship has any real or potential meaning.
Previously I talked about the potential romance which can be found inherently in studying a foreign language. Yet you can’t ignore the nitty gritty details that simply need to be drilled into your head when studying a language, especially Chinese. Don’t like the idea of your girlfriend or boyfriend snapping at you every time you mess up a tone, confusing “chu” with “qu”, or simply speaking nonsense?
All languages, and in particular Chinese, require hours and hours of drilling, often over the course of several years, and many people simply cannot handle the pressure of what amounts to dating your language teacher. Plus, he or she learned Chinese many years ago, and wayyyy differently than you currently are. Things which will make inherent sense to them will leave you dumbfounded (try the simple 把 grammar structure for instance), and the chances are they don’t have the patience to walk you through the subtle differences between 以来 and 自从 (to randomly choose one of millions of potential examples). Learning Chinese is f***** hard, and is a path full of twists and turns and ripped notebook pages and broken pens and ripped out hair and the like. You don’t want to confuse frustration with the language with anger at your partner, or your personal crusade against the 3rd tone with a lack of respect for her.
And finally, even if you speak fluent Chinese, or your partner speaks fluent English, you still may have trouble understanding exactly WHAT is trying to be said. “Maybe” means “no”, “yes” means “I am too embarrassed to say no”, “ok” means “I don’t want to lose face by admitting I don’t understand what you are saying”, and “don’t worry about it” means “you sure as hell better buy me flowers, cook me dinner, and give me an expensive birthday present, otherwise I will never stop dropping subtle, if not nefarious reminders of this moment and continue making your life a nightmare”. Ugh.
So what do you think? Did I accurately describe the positives and negatives associated with attempting to surmount a language barrier in a relationship? Is doing so the fulfillment of a giddy romantic dream, or a hopeless slog amounting to impending doom? What factors did I leave out? Let’s hear it!