Guest Post: Larry – a Short Tale of Ignorance or Cross-Cultural Misunderstanding

Cross-cultural misunderstandings are a huge pitfall in dating abroad, including here in China.

Just imagine what it must have felt like for Ava Ming, the English blogger behind My Oriental Life, when she heard these words from her date for the evening, a Chinese guy she met in Shenzhen: “I really want to kiss you, Ava, but I’m scared that I might get AIDS because all Africans have AIDS.”

Whoa!

Read on to learn the whole story of how things fell apart between her and Larry.

Do you have a shocking tale of cross-cultural misunderstandings or other guest post you’d like to see featured here on Speaking of China? Visit the submit a post page to learn more about becoming a guest poster for this blog.
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Shenzhen, China (photo by Ramon Boersbroek via Flickr.com)
Shenzhen, China (photo by Ramon Boersbroek via Flickr.com)

I’ve often considered telling the story of my first Chinese date. But usually I’ve declined, thinking it was too personal, perhaps too upsetting and might also give the impression that I dislike Chinese men, which is really not the case at all.

But the event occurred a while ago now back in 2013. After reading about others who’ve braved their souls on Jocelyn Eikenburg’s fabulous blog, I’ve decided to share. Besides, who knows, maybe someone else could have or has had a similar experience?

I met Larry at the terminal subway station. There were very few commuters around. I was curious as to why he came so close, sitting right next to me on an empty train, leaving a small space between us.

I noticed his glances in my direction, wondering if he was trying to work up the courage to ask if he could practice his English with me. Pretty soon he introduced himself and asked me where I was from, which led to a conversation.

He told me that he was a professional who’d travelled to various European cities but never England. He was 37, unmarried and feeling the pressure from his parents to change his single status. I enjoyed our talk during the long ride but initially didn’t read anything into it. Around that time I seemed to be making a lot of new Chinese friends while on various subway rides. I guess I must have exuded an approachable air!

As we approached his stop he told me that he thought I was pretty. He couldn’t believe no other Chinese guy had made me his girlfriend. Then he asked for my number and if we could go to dinner.

Have to admit I was pretty surprised. Until then I’d been under the impression that Chinese guys would never be so forward due to a natural or cultural shyness. I said I wasn’t sure about a date but we could talk from time to time.

Over the next fortnight he sent regular messages via text and email usually beginning with ‘hello, my angel.’ Yes, Larry was a charmer but the messages did make me smile.

Eventually we set up a date and met on a hot and sticky Friday evening. By now I knew that I wasn’t romantically attracted to him, but I did like his personality and I was interested in meeting more people and expanding my circle of Chinese friends. I also assumed that he didn’t have intentions of getting serious with me either. His parents probably weren’t expecting him to marry a foreign girl.

The date was nothing special. The best word to describe it would probably be ‘nice,’ well up to a point anyway. We ate rice in a Japanese restaurant and then went for a walk in the park. He kept guiding me towards secluded places, which I thought was a bit strange. But then he’d comment on the sculpture, or lotus flower pond, or round leafy bush we’d stumbled upon.

I still wasn’t feeling any chemistry towards him. But he had a gentle humour and I thought perhaps we could be friends in the future.

Ava Ming
Ava Ming

Approaching 10pm I wanted to leave, having made plans to go dancing, but Larry wasn’t ready. He insisted on ‘just ten more minutes’ and took me to a bench by the side of the river, again another secluded place. When we sat down he made a confession.

“I really want to kiss you, Ava, but I’m scared that I might get AIDS because all Africans have AIDS.”

I was literally struck dumb at his ignorance. Then I became so angry I actually felt tears welling up. Angry tears have a whole different feeling to ones of sadness or joy.

We’d already discussed my family history, him being impressed that my parents were from Jamaica and that I was born in England. But regardless of place of birth, how could he be so naive? In addition, was there no filter in his brain to tell him exactly when to shut-up?

I told him that AIDS didn’t originate from Africa, but was initially a disease among gay white men in New York. I pointed out that he should really think before he speaks and that he shouldn’t believe so strongly in stereotypes. On top of this, why on earth had he asked me out if he’d thought I was ‘unclean?’

Seeing my distress he insisted that I’d misunderstood when we both knew that I hadn’t. To make matters worse, he then pulled me close and tried to kiss me! Saying; “look, see, I know you don’t really have AIDS!”

I wanted to storm off in a huff, but it’s kind of difficult when you don’t know where you are, so we caught the bus back together. He begged me not to tell anyone because he didn’t want to lose face. I made no such promise. If he’d just ended the date at 10pm before his confession maybe we would have become friends, although then I would never have known what he was really thinking.

For a long time I dismissed the idea of dating another Chinese guy. If this was the common school of thought then what would be the point?

A short while later I discussed his theory with my Chinese friends, many of whom also believed that AIDS originated in Africa, but none of whom believed that all Africans have it.

As for Larry, he called and emailed several times to apologise for upsetting me. I accepted his apology but declined his offers to go for a drink. Making someone cry on a first date, even if they were tears of frustration, is really not an auspicious beginning!

As I mentioned this was a while ago and I have since relaxed my guard, becoming more open to Chinese men who just want to talk. But as for dating? Not sure. For that I think I’ll need a little more time.

I’m Ava Ming, born in England to Jamaican parents and currently living in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China where I write and teach English.
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31 thoughts on “Guest Post: Larry – a Short Tale of Ignorance or Cross-Cultural Misunderstanding

  • February 5, 2016 at 11:38 am
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    Wow, Ava, you are very nice. And it was kind of you to try and educate Larry. I kind of want to rage about the idiocy of having the internet and not bothering to use it to educate yourself, but, well, I have plenty of fellow Americans who a) don’t believe in climate change and b) think that the earth is 6,000 years old. And had I done a little research on Chinese culture BEFORE I married my Chinese-American husband, I could have saved myself a world of pain. So who am I to talk?

    In the immortal words of Reuben Blades, “I think we risk becoming the best informed society that has ever died of ignorance.”

    (That being said, Larry is still an idiot.)

    Reply
    • February 8, 2016 at 1:15 pm
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      “b) think that the earth is 6,000 years old”

      Also, don’t forget about those who believe the Earth is flat. 🙂

      Reply
  • February 5, 2016 at 8:29 pm
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    Ava, I was reading your story thinking it was rather romantic. That was until you dropped that bombshell. It was something I had never expected for a million years. I totally understand that you were pissed off with him. I would too if I were put into that situation. At least you didn’t punch him in the face. XD

    Reply
  • February 5, 2016 at 11:29 pm
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    As a Chinese guy myself,i have to say it’s one of the many discrimination in Chinese.

    Reply
    • February 8, 2016 at 12:16 pm
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      Guess we just have to hope that things are or will change

      Reply
  • February 6, 2016 at 7:25 am
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    Wow!!!! Ava, you go girl!!!!! You rock those Chinese men!!!! You hear!!!!. I almost never hear about Chinese men with black woman. The mere fact that you gave them a chance at dating is defying all precedent. You are truly a woman ahead of your times and a great one too.

    But I am sorry to hear about his prejudice and stereotype though. You were just too nice. If I were you and he told me of his reluctance to kiss a black woman because he feared she has AIDS, I would have found his statement to be such an umbrage that I would have slapped him across his face and walked away even if I risked being lost in the city that I do not know too well.

    You could have easily ridiculed him when he said that you are suspected of having AIDS by saying that you Chinese men small dicks, that he is too short and scrawny, and that his yellow slitting eyes are grotesque. But I guess you are just too nice.

    Keep up the greatness.

    Reply
  • February 6, 2016 at 7:28 am
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    Oops! I meant to write “you Chinese men have small dicks” and ” “yellow slitty eyes.” Sorry for the poor spelling as I was so angered by what he said that I cannot even spell correctly. Now I have calmed down.

    Reply
    • February 8, 2016 at 12:18 pm
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      Thanks Fred, I don’t really see myself as ‘Ava the Great!’ and I don’t think I’m too nice, but your comments made me smile (-:

      Reply
    • February 18, 2016 at 2:33 pm
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      Hey hey hey. Take it easy Fred! We do have slitty eyes but not all of us have small dicks! Besides, I thought people always say size doesn’t matter! 🙂

      Hi Ava, Well, I have to say he’s pretty ignorant and there are pretty harsh stereotype towards Black in Asia in general, not that it’s any better in the US. I am really sorry about the experience but there are a lot of good Chinese men out there. And I actually just came across the term Blasian recently. It’s for Black/Asian couple. If you do a search on youtube, you will find quite a few channels dedicated to that. Anyway, don’t get discouraged, there are always ignorant and close-minded people out there. As long as you are open-minded, that’s all it matters and I am sure you will find a good one!

      Reply
      • February 18, 2016 at 6:49 pm
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        H Jonathan, thanks for your comment. Slitty eyes is such a horrible terminology. I wish people wouldn’t use it.
        Yes I’ve heard the word ‘blasian’ also.
        I’m not looking for anyone at the moment and I definitely agree that there are many good, Chinese men and women around. (-:

        Reply
  • February 6, 2016 at 9:30 am
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    China has many refugees from Africa, which has the biggest AIDS epidemic on the planet per capita and the Catholic church does nothing to help it either, but that’s another topic. The point is in defense of the Chinese guy, he had a legit concern as many Africans there do have an AIDS problem that is rampant, even people in Africa will let you know that. Chinese don’t see much Black people and most they do see is on Hollywood media (already filled with stereotypes as it is), and add to that how there are many African refugees (who also go around causing crimes in China BTW) and not as many African-Americans or British-Africans. So they lumped her as the majority African from Africa, and thus the AIDS concern. It’s like most Whites and Blacks and Latinos calling every Asian as a “Chinese” or a “Chino” (the latter being a derogatory term at that).
    And let’s talk about the ignorant things Whites and Black people refer to Chinese people — even the ex-pat people visiting China as guests refer to the local Chinese in derogatory & racist ways too.
    Let’s discuss that then, shall we?

    Reply
    • February 6, 2016 at 5:57 pm
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      Not sure why you are over here getting defensive, but the problem is in racism itself. It’s equally not okay when someone refers to a Chinese person in derogatory and racist ways.

      Reply
  • February 6, 2016 at 11:22 am
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    I’m so sorry your first date in China ended so terribly. I had something kind of similar happen to me, but on my honeymoon! My then-husband was from China and we were in a hotel room in Hong Kong and he was afraid to use the towels because he said foreigners have AIDS and they stayed at that hotel. He had just married me several hours before this. I blame the non-existent sex education in China back then for his ignorance. I’m not sure if it’s changed in twenty years, but it sounds like I have my answer.

    Reply
    • February 18, 2016 at 2:34 pm
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      That is true! I remember from your book! I was actually shocked when I read that!! 😀

      Reply
    • April 14, 2016 at 1:41 pm
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      I remember this excerpt exactly from your book! I was literally struck dumb by the ignorance.
      I loved your book by the way! I could not put it down.

      Reply
  • February 6, 2016 at 5:54 pm
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    This is horrible. You are very strong to have stayed and even further spoken with him, let alone educate him. Clearly that’s what he needed, but the fact that he ever had that mindset just blows my mind. I’m sorry you had to go through something like that.

    Reply
  • February 6, 2016 at 9:09 pm
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    Sorry, that last comment didn’t come out right. I was responding to Phil Chung’s comments about ‘should have punched him in the face.’ Sooooooo tempted!

    Reply
  • February 7, 2016 at 6:34 pm
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    you are better off without Larry.
    He accidently revealed a deep prejudice he holds and deserves nothing from you, even silence.

    While there are many nice Chinese guys around, there are an equal amount of jerks who see dating a non-Chinese woman as something that gives them ‘face’ (yes I know non-Chinese men can be jerks too).

    A couple of Chinese guys I met tried to pressure me into dating them when I wanted to take things so much slower as I wanted to get to know them better. They tried tears, tantrums, pouting, bullying – all ineffectual – to get me to date them. When they eventually got the message that I no longer wanted to even communicate with them they eventually left me alone.

    Trust your gut feeling – it is usually right – and don’t feel pressured or emotionally blackmailed by a guy. You will meet the right one eventually.

    Reply
  • February 8, 2016 at 10:40 am
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    Wow, sorry to hear that happened to you, and it is unfair to judge someone that way. Unfortunately Chinese sexual education isn’t, well, very good. As my mom likes to say at times, “Under Communist times, China has no sex.” Few years ago I had an experience running into a Chinese guy that seriously thought babies come from oral sex, and this guy was close to getting a PhD and everything. (Not kidding either.) And yes, I did try to explain to him how it is impossible, but he refused to believe me. Many times as well I run into people that have no idea what Judaism is and sometimes I have to explain that to them as well. I can understand your annoyance and anger at what he thought.

    Reply
    • February 8, 2016 at 12:21 pm
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      Thanks Sveta, I think it was just total shock because there was nothing to indicate that this was how he felt in all of our conversations leading up to the date. He’s educated and has travelled but still didn’t have a clue.

      Reply
  • February 18, 2016 at 2:47 pm
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    That’s biased to say All African Have AIDS.

    In the past people knew less about Africa and they thought that Africa is poor and many people are infected with AIDS. But today it is an Information Age, he should not say like this any more. He should learn more about you and your country if he was serious about you. But it seems he did not.

    And besides I think it is very impolite to say so for any Chinese people.

    Reply
  • February 23, 2016 at 3:57 am
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    Hi Ava,

    I am sorry to read about your experience, there are loads of good Chinese blokes around, keep searching.

    As an aside, are you Chinese-Jamaican? Judging by your surname, I am assuming you might be of Chinese heritage yourself, if so, that would be a great way of explaining to people that are more similarities than differences.

    Good luck all the same.

    Reply
    • February 23, 2016 at 9:12 am
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      Hi Bejarano, thanks for your comments although I’m not searching (-:
      Yep there’re are Jamaican Chinese in my family who live in Jamaica, but they’re really distant cousins so I don’t consider myself to be of Chinese heritage.
      Have a good day

      Reply
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  • August 6, 2016 at 5:59 pm
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    Lol! What an interesting post! I hope you won’t mind coming down to Africa and get a handsome guy……Smiles!!!

    Reply
    • August 6, 2016 at 11:31 pm
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      Well, I’m not looking but thanks for the suggestion, Bobby Love. Glad you enjoyed the post (-:

      Reply
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