On Cross-Cultural Relationships & Pop Culture References

(photo by Todd Mecklem via Flickr.com)

It was a frigid March evening when John and I went to a local bar downtown to meet up with his professor. The professor invited all of the students taking his course that semester — and their spouses, companions or friends — for a few brews that night. Normally, the freezing temperatures would have easily deterred John and me from venturing out — but it was a sort of “class outing” and the professor, who we had run into on occasion, seemed like a genuinely nice guy. Or so I thought.

But that changed after we walked in and sat down. It wasn’t just that the space reminded me of a bad 1970s basement playroom — from the kelly green walls and tired pool tables to the beat up chairs and couches that looked like someone salvaged them from a garbage bin. It was the conversation that, in its own way, told John and me we weren’t really invited to this party.

“Did you ever see that episode of NCIS when…”

“Yeah, sometimes I think, ‘What would Gibbs do?’”

“But seriously, I’m still wondering what will happen with NCIS later this season because…”

All the while, I felt as if this professor was speaking in Sanskrit. What the hell was NCIS? I wondered. And who the hell was Gibbs? But the professor was too busy talking about NCIS with a bunch of white American students in the class to explain to those of us on the periphery (ahem, John and me) that NCIS happened to be a crime mystery show on American TV. And because this whole exchange of anecdotes, questions and laughter happened in rapid-fire sequence, we never had the opportunity to ask. The professor and this select group of students had already bonded over their mutual love of NCIS, and didn’t have the time or interest to steer the conversation in other directions — for the benefit of everyone present.

Why do I mention this at all? Because that night reminded me of something special about cross-cultural relationships — that you can’t always rely on the same lazy cultural references to make connections with others.

I think about when I started dating John. We hardly ever discussed pop culture references from either of our cultures, and pretty much never made them the basis for our conversations. That made sense because we came from different cultures and thus didn’t want the other person to be left out of the conversation. Stripped of these topics, we learned to talk about other things — such as our experiences, our passions, even our dreams. Sure, in time we came to learn more about the pop culture of our respective countries — where he introduced me to the band Yu Quan, just as I introduced him to Sex and the City. But even today it never dominates our conversations — and certainly not to the exclusion of others.

When I was in college — a time before my journey to China — I used to know guys who would only be interested in girls like me if I liked their bands, or liked the same movies they did. How could that possibly be the basis for a meaningful relationship? Yet we’re easily hoodwinked into believing it is.

Even though my husband and I have come to cultivate many similar tastes in music, movies and TV, none of it really matters. The most important thing is that I can count on him, he can count on me, and we’ll be there for each other — even when we end up at a party in a bar that we really weren’t invited to after all.

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35 Replies to “On Cross-Cultural Relationships & Pop Culture References”

  1. People only have conversations like these because they don’t actually have anything in common and they know it. Watching the same films or TV shows as someone doesn’t mean you’ll actually get along but they can be good ice breakers.

    1. @ Claire
      I have to disagree. I talk about this stuff with my best friend because I like to hear her opinion on tv shows and books we have both seen and read. We also occassionally reminisce about pop culture references from back home (we both live overseas now) and stuff from our childhood. I do this with other friends too, especially ones from my home country. It’s not that there’s nothing else to talk about, but sometimes it’s a fun topic and it’s similar to having an inside joke. Something only people who grew up when and where you did can understand, which is special, especially if you live far away from home.

  2. I think that pop-culture is one of the hardest things to “learn” when you want to integrate better in your respective host country’s culture. Especially if there are some things you wouldn’t be interested in back at home either (like eg watching these TV shows) or if you are really bad at remembering names and thus don’t know who people are talking about (happens to me all the time). Being the one left out because you’re not familiar with the respective country’s pop-culture is not only a problem that extends to people in cross-cultural relationships, but generally to anyone living abroad, imo. My husband puts a lot of effort into introducing Chinese pop-culture to me and explaining things connected to it, but it’s still hard to always be up-to-date about these things.

    1. “I think that pop-culture is one of the hardest things to “learn” when you want to integrate better in your respective host country’s culture.”

      I agree! Even after learning Chinese for 4+ years and living in China 3+ years I’m really lost when others are talking about bands, movies or celebrities in China. I don’t listen to that much music and have only recently started watching some new Chinese movies, that I really don’t know how to join a discussion about Chinese pop culture.

      This makes a total immersion hard in a culture so different from yours own. For example my boyfriend grew up watching Chinese and Japanese TV, while I was watching Hollywood movies. There are a few common Japanese anime that we used to watch as a kid, but besides that we dont’ have much to talk about the pop culture.

      In this field we keep the conversation to new movies we’ve seen together as we enjoy going to the movies.

      But when making new Chinese friends, it would be really helpful to know the pop culture as well. Like Claire said, it’s a good ice breaker.

  3. I think I actually made it a task to myself to be familiar with some pop culture references, no matter how old they are. Most guys are impressed that I know about them.

  4. @Jocelyn,


    You might have already known Charlotte MacInnis whose generation dates back to WWII in China. She could also relate to your experience when she was in US, without having any topic in common with those Americans although she is White (specifically Irish, I guess.)

    The bottom line is where you grew up and what personality you have makes a lot different or easier when you connect with somebody else.

    Giving the benefit of the doubt to the John’s professor, he might not be well versed in common topics but detailed in his topics of interest. Professors are not MC (Master of Ceremony), although the possession of MC quality makes some professors outstanding among others; such as recruiting students, organizing graduation parties, and such. But most of the Professors got the job with their sheer dedication of time and effort in their research, not in public speaking. So it could be the answer to your situation.

    However, some people, be it Professor or Director (White guys), tend to trespass the gray area where they are given the benefit of the doubt amply and they themselves had an intention of excluding you (Asian Men and White Women couples) in their conversation. If you point out their behavior is intentional, you’re probably sticking your tongue out. But if you don’t, they have a free-pass at subtly ostracizing you. That’s how White men give the attitude towards those IR couples. Of course there are exception.

    My advice is whatever those gathering, party, I wouldn’t bring my spouse except the very big huge like John’s graduation party or something. If you have a party at work or some colleague’s party, I wouldn’t bring John to the party because John doesn’t have any topic to converse or cover, let alone the conversation being all English. The same goes here as well. John’s professor party, you don’t have any topic to converse or cover, even if there might be a silver of lining to talk about, and they let you to stand out among the partiers, it’s kind of awkward for John to stand still and keep smiling without having any words out of his mouth fluently. That’s why I found most of the time at any gathering, party, the other spouse (husband or wife) always ended up being in awkward position. But if you know all the other people, there’s no doubt that you all should go.

  5. I actually always had this problem in my life, even though I’ve spent all my life in the same country. I just don’t follow that type of pop culture. Luckily, people seem to think it’s funny for some reason.

    Anyway, I do experience this with my boyfriend. We watch Korean movie or tv show and I just don’t get their references.

    And you’re right, our conversations began as much more deep and substantial because we didn’t have the option of those kinds of topic.

    But also, a very interesting thing that happened is that we developed our own. No others feel left out as we rehash what we watched together and spew our inside jokes. I would agree with you, that it has made us always be there for each other when the group doesn’t include us.

  6. Not excluding your guest in a conversation is the basic courtesy of a host, be it a professor or a director.  The professors, regardless how how socially awkward they claim to be, if tenured, must be well versed in departmental politics.  So, John’s professor knew exactly what he was doing.

    But these are little dirty tricks white men play and there are so many ways to turn the table to get under their skin.  For example, if they are so much into crime drama, John can ask what they think of Trevon Martin and GZ, and President Obama’s comments.  They he can ask about the Australian baseball player killed by bored teens, or the 90 yr old WW2 veteran beaten to death by black teens.  Or he can ask about their opinion on second amendment rights. Depending on how John wants to play it, he can make friends, or foes 🙂

  7. I watch ncis, criminal mind, ncis Miami/ LV, The Mentalist etc sometimes .It’s okay. Just say you don’t have time to watch it. A professor talking about a tv show? How stupid is that? I think he is a boring person. After a show/movie, I don’t like to talk about it.

  8. I cannot ever remember even how I found your blog, but I’ve been reading it for some time. I’ve never met you or your husband, but feel like I get a little insight into your lives once in a while, and it is always nice to read in on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
    I have had this feeling for a while, but this latest post finally made me comment: I want to know why is it always everyone else?
    It seems like many of your posts spin everyone else that you interact with as racist or culturally insensitive. In these posts I never see the self-reflection that I think most people have inside them – It’s always the other person doing something to you.
    The professor story got to me; I am a retired, white, 60-something PhD level male that has taught quite a few classes (to kids of hundreds of colors, countries and continents)before at the university though not as my career, and your story frankly pissed me off. (I can feel you dismissing my value as I write this).

    Why is it the professors fault that he discuss a popular TV show with what appeared to be fans (White, Asian, Indian, whatever) of the show? Even if you didn’t watch the show, and he KNEW you didn’t watch the show, how is that any fault of his? At least one student did and found common ground with the professor when you two did not. Had you audibly asked about the show like “Oh, is that a good show, what is it about?” You would have been sucked right into the TV vortex.

    Dashu in the preceding comment has it halfway completely wrong, and halfway completely right – it is certainly not the job of the host – when the host is somebody that you need to further your education and sign off on your projects and grades, to attempt to bring you into a conversation at a dive bar. You, however, as the person that needs that host, should make every attempt under the sun to be a part of that conversation. He clearly had an interest in the show. When I was in college (if TV was like it is now 🙂 I would have been an expert on that show by the time I met with him again. AND, like Dashu said, change that topic, then! Or at least ask questions about the show, whether you are interested or not. Does nobody read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” anymore? Rule one is to find out what a person likes and ask them about it, and that leads to everything else.

    The professor stopped the bus, opened the door to let you and your husband on. You didn’t get on and just stood at the stairs gaping at him, so he ran over your feet. That is somehow HIS fault?

    Sorry to say it, but the world owes you kids nothing. You have to get on the bus to go for the ride or you will be run over. Sometimes that means delving into the yucky pop cultures of the people that you interact with (Never seen NCIS myself, either). Some of the things that you have written about tell me that you jump the the conclusion of everyone else out to get you and your husband when in fact it is something completely different (such as yourselves and your social skills) and you are applying that label to it erroneously.

    If you did not immediately go home and find out more about the professors TV show for “next time”, you were a fool. This applies to any color,race, culture, gender, age, or otherwise.
    Sometimes, it’s you, not “them”. Write about that…

  9. “If you did not immediately go home and find out more about the professors TV show for “next time”, you were a fool.”

    I would say that part fell apart after reading other paragraphs of yours. Although you did bring up some good points, but not to look up the TV show the professor was talking about and learn to converse next time, would be a fool is a bit stretch for one to digest.

    I came across one Professor talking about Desperate Housewives. And I learned later that he was talking about the TV show because he happened to watch the show with his wife. How about that? Do I need to immediately go and watch that TV show?

  10. I agree with Luc up there, I really don’t think they were ignoring you out because of NCIS or anything like that. If they completely ignored you, then that is understandable—they were just being a bad host, but I think that really has nothing to do with language or culture. I also agree on the point where he says you blame environmental factors rather than, well, maybe you two just aren’t handling it so well. Not everything is due to cultural differences.

    Actually, I’m from the USA and one of my new roommates is also from the states (I live in Shanghai). She brought over her good friends from the USA for dinner, and we all got together. It was an extreme moment of reverse culture shock for me—they were all valley girls with thick California accents saying the word ‘like’ every mid-sentence. In addition, they didn’t even try to include me into their conversation. When I asked about their work/life in Shanghai, they would give me one word answers then go back to talking about whatever club they went to last weekend. I was really blown away by their response and felt worried about going back to the states (in SH I don’t spend much time with Americans, so…).

    Also, I think that liking the same music/movies/tv shows etc.. is actually really important. While it may be ‘shallow’ to like somebody for that reason and that reason alone, most of the time that isn’t the case—you like the same shows and music because that’s a part of you that matches. What pop culture you like is also a reflection of who you are.

    When you are going to dive into an IR (international relationship), I think the largest sacrifice is that of pop culture. Both of you are going to have to give that up, cause there’s little to no chance that you’re both going to have mutual understanding on this topic. It sucks, but I know that if I date someone from Asia, the chances of them laughing with me while I watch Stephen Colbert is, well, zero—and that makes me a bit sad, to be honest. Same goes for them—when I watch Chinese TV shows with my friends sometimes, I’m just in awe at the things they laugh at. Same goes for Japanese TV.

    But in the end, the most important thing is trying to understand. My ex (Chinese) would try to watch Modern Family while I watched FeiChengWurao. Making the effort is all the difference.

    BTW, NCIS sucks man, screw them! Haha

  11. Good heavens no you don’t need to watch ANY of the crap shows they peddle on TV – but a lot of people do, so you should be prepared to know a basic premise about them, and ask questions, at least. In case you need to talk with a stranger and find common ground. Popular culture is just that, popular, which means that a lot of people share the same interest.
    Life is too precious for a lot of us to invest our time on the TV (Okay, I have a guilty pleasure for The Walking Dead, but that is it!). But you bet that the first thing in the morning, I use one minute of my life to scan Google News and see what is going on in the world, including the likes of what happened in the “Entertainment” world. Then I am prepared to at least know basics in case they get bought up during my day.
    When a colleague’s friend mentions the newly picked cast for the upcoming “Shades of Grey” film (ooh, big, big news this morning:) ), I at least have seen the faces of the cast and know enough to ask whomever brings up the topic about it, or the wildly popular book, for instance, even though I could care less about either one. I have looked at the Wikipedia entry for the book, long ago when it was popular, so I kind of know about the premise or storyline.
    Total time invested in that particular pop culture subject: maybe 3 minutes. Total return on the time investment: So far, four plus hours of conversations on the parallels that the Shades of Grey series has with past works in literature, philosophy of nature of man, good vs. evil and friendly arguments about typecasting and character development with my old man writing peers. Blew right past the pop culture stuff within a minute in every conversation after asking a few questions and offering a comparison to the knowledge and interests that I had.
    Conversations are a web of bus lines in a big, big city. You can always talk a few passengers off of one bus and get them to get on another one that has bigger fluffy seats that may be a lot more comfortable for you, but a lot of the time, you gotta get on that first one to get them to come.

  12. If you want to fit in, you have to start with pop culture. It gives you common interests. I think the broader issue here is how you might feel being oppressed. I am sure nobody is constantly doing it on purpose. As an American, you will be asked about shows from your country much more often. Pop culture is one of those things that are really big in US and exported globally.

    To a Chinese person, his pop culture is the connection to his roots. I think American pop culture is more than that because it has truly become an art of its own. Rather than feeling being marginalized, you want to be part of it.

    You will have reverse culture shock. But it is not that scary.

  13. I don’t watch NCIS. But there are plenty of other good shows with high production values and smart writers. Most Emmy winners are worth your time. You can certainly create your own conversations around what you know. It is a social skill.

    One of the issues is cultural and language capability. You can enjoy something once you understand the deeper messages. Blaming other people is certainly not solving your problems.

    1. I’m a super nerd and got hooked on Game of Thrones–now that’s some quality television.

      Although there’s a lot of crap on TV, I still think there’s quite a bit of quality stuff out there! How I met your mother, Modern Family, Mad Men… amazing!

  14. Wherever I go, I don’t talk about pop culture / movies/ tv shows etc. I talk about everything. We just jump around on every topics. That’s why you need to have more hobbies so you’ll have more knowledge than all your guests.


  15. @ Luc, Mary,

    Jocelyn is not stupid, and neither is John. Nobody is stupid. If someone is genuinely interested in and kind to you, you would know. But if they are effing with you in a subtle way, you would also know, right?

    If you have read Jocelyn’s past posts, you would know she is not a bitter person. Unfortunately, she lives in a state that is not well known for open-mindedness. Even if John needs his prof to sign off on his degree, it’s still bad form on the prof’s part, and there is no reason that she can’t gripe about it, at least here, on her own blog.

    Luc, if you are a 60 yr old PhD level professional, you should know that these small talk tricks only open the door, but don’t get you to the top. US is still largely a meritocracy, and that’s exactly why it attracts all the foreign brains. The day it turns into a completely old-boy’s-club society, is the day when the great USA dies. Yes, John needs his prof for his degree, but his prof also needs John as a cheap labor to do all the dirty work. It’s a co-dependent relationship (I assume you have read the “Seven Habits” since you’re quoting Dale Carnegie). If the prof thinks he owns John and can eff him in whichever way he pleases, well, the table can turn around sooner than he thinks. More likely than not, in 20 years when China overtakes the US, and when John becomes a faculty somewhere with significant connections with China, does his prof want to be remembered as this obnoxious a-hole who was rude to him at this basement party 20 years ago?

    And, Luc, I find your bus analogy very condescending and offensive. Professors need grad students to do the hard labor. How they pick students, is not different from how a factory owner picks workers. It’s all based on perceived performance and projected output. You make it sound as if the prof is doing John a favor. No, nobody is doing anybody a favor. If the professor didn’t hire John, he would have to hire some lazy American grad student who would probably quit the program after spending his funding because they can’t get their s**t together.

  16. However some people are more sensitive than others. Even if you read people all based on negative experiences, individual experience can also be different. Naturally someone who can converse easily in the same cultural context will gain advantages. That is called cultural capital. Meritocracy has nothing to do with it. Suppose the situation is reversed. When Jocelyn is sitting in a table full of Chinese people, she will feel about the same way until she somehow breaks in.

  17. Luc, I think you are over-simplifying the situation when you imply that if Jocelyn or John had simply asked something like “What’s that show?” they would have been happily included in the conversation. Surely you know that when a group of people are talking about some TV show or book they are all interested in the conversation moves very quickly. If the professor was a good host he would have recognized that John and Jocelyn weren’t/couldn’t participate in that conversation and turned the conversation himself, perhaps asking if they had ever seen the show, or what shows they were interested in, to include them. Since he apparently made no effort to include them, I highly doubt he would have welcomed them bringing his engaging conversation with the other students to a grinding halt by asking “What is NCIS?”

    Most likely the answer they would have received would have been a simple “It’s a crime show,” or “It’s a crime show, you’ve never seen it?” before they were shut out again as the conversation about NCIS continued. If people are intent on discussing some insider topic amongst themselves and enjoying the sense of belonging that they get from being able to keep up with and contribute to this type of conversation, they generally aren’t going to welcome into the conversation people who don’t know about the topic because then they know they will have to stop and explain every single reference.

    Although I don’t immediately peg this behavior on the professor’s part as racist, it certainly reveals that he’s a bad host. And yes, as someone who has invited people to some kind of gathering to socialize, whether he’s a professor and they are his students or not, it is his responsibility to at least attempt to include everyone. Best case scenario, he is oblivious and simply didn’t realize two people were left out. Worst case, he invited them on purpose to ostracize them. I highly doubt it was either of these; rather I think he was just somewhere in the middle – he probably realized they weren’t taking part in the conversation but he was enjoying it himself so he didn’t care to put forth the effort to bring them in or change the subject.

    Now, whether he didn’t make an effort to bring them in was because John is Chinese or not is a whole other question.

    If he was any type of competent host he would have been aware from the outset that one of his guests, John, was unlikely to know as much about American pop culture as his other guests and directed the conversation accordingly.

  18. @Luc: I agree with you 100% that it’s Jocelyn’s nature to always pin point at others being at fault whenever something is inconvenient to her. It’s like people on here live on this alternate reality because they are too emotionally fragile and immature to deal with the truth. It’s just that they may know enough fancy words to pad it and color themselves righteous and educated.
    And this blog attracts the like-minded as well, and it gets cult-ish to the point where if I call out their logical fallacy, logic disconnect, I am usually met back with name calling and arguments with no merits

  19. Dear Jocelyn,
    I have been reading your blog for quite a long time and now I feel the urge to totally support on Luce`s comment.
    Since I am not a american, but a german it still surprises me how often your topics revolve around racial topics, racism and close minded (white) people.
    My boyfriend is also from mainland china and we currently live in Germany.
    yeah, sometimes it happens, that some lowly educated douche thinks name calling is a funny thing to do.
    BUT, these are EXEPTIONS.
    I personally do not believe, that everyone who is not friendly, hostile, careless etc has a racist intention.
    You really tend to overdo it with your victim mentality…
    Since you have lived in China, America should be like heaven for you in terms of open-mindedness and diversity.
    But I only see you blaming western society for everything.
    When white women have stereotypes about asian men (and I have to say that most stereotypes like “small dick”, “nerdy”, “unattractive” I´ve read on your blog the first time) they must be racist and close minded.
    When Chinese men have no interest in western women, because of “slut-image” it is western girls own fault, because of those evil, evil western tv-shows.
    You really seem to use a double-standard when It comes to racism and unfair behaviour.
    Even if many american girls say they have no interest in chinese men it is their decision, right?
    What does it have to do with you?
    You should see your husband as your husband instead of as your “CHINESE husband”.
    He`s a normal guy, you are a normal woman- so what`s the problem?
    Stop making it anything special and all your problems will fade

  20. @Dashu: We think differently, and in this, I am not saying that you are wrong.
    I did not spend the majority of my career in academia, but I have friends and colleagues, and my wife, that did or continue to do so (I suspect that one never truly “retires”, until their minds or bodies retire). My experience is that it is not, at it’s base, a factor of labor or a worker/supervisor relationship. I will say that there are times that professors will get a chuckle at the dinner party over the amount of work that they themselves get out of doing because of their free student labor, but that is the exception rather than the rule. Everyone works hard. It’s what educated people do because we all want the world to be a better place than the way we found it. And there has to be a division of labor or no forward progress would be made in the disciplines if every professor was running his or her own lab trials or talking blood from mice or standing on a street corner getting people to fill out surveys, etc…
    Professors are teachers.
    It would be easy to teach a single person. It would take the form of almost being like an apprentice in the trades; The student would follow the expert around and they communicate what they are doing and why. The student asks questions and those questions are answered. Scaffold the instruction and soon the apprentice is running the super-collider all by themselves. It gets more difficult when the number becomes 10-30 students in supervision. So how do you teach (and at the graduate level, teach=experience because they know or should know theory) larger groups of students at differing times and still get your research done when you are teaching content not only 40 years of your own experience and knowledge but possibly millenniums of knowledge that is before you? You divide the labor and manage them a lot like a worker/supervisor relationship – but you are all on the same team dependent on each other.
    As a grad student, you are part of a team that is advancing the field you have chosen. You work on the professors projects until you are ready for your own (Thesis, Dissertation) and then you are supervised on your own (where frequently the professor assigns students that entered the program after you to do some of your grunt work) The professors are the gatekeepers of that team, and professional field. The newest members of the team do the grunt work, like any field. If I were a professor, and you came in with the notion that you were doing something for “me”, and not something to advance the field, I’d think a lot longer on letting you into my field, or at least my team, and that is how a lot of my friends that are in academia see it as well. Your view on the worker/supervisor roles is valid, and I at times felt like that when I was pursuing my doctorate, too, but there is more to it than hire/fire that you suggest, and frankly from my experience, like you said even some of the best students are some of the laziest creatures on Earth – not just American ones…all types. It would be cheaper and easier to hire high school kids to accomplish the tasks that some grad students do so half-assedly. Professors have greater things in mind than being bosses.
    Secondly, as an old man, your worldview frightens me. Do you really think that John’s professor would invite he and Jocelyn to a bar with other students just to mess with them? As entertainment, on their time away from the school setting? If this is true, then the same professor, that probably had a hand in the recruitment of students must have looked over John’s paperwork or did an interview when John applied and made the conscious effort to recruit him into the profession, a profession that the professor had probably given a good portion of his life attempting to advance through research and choosing the right people to succeed him, would go through all of that effort just to toy with them and make them feel out of place, with malice? That is pretty warped, and paranoid. The guy wanted to hang out with some of his bright students and sip a beer, the conversation became TV-geek-centric, and Jocelyn and John were lost. It happens in every culture in the world. J&J need some practice getting themselves back into conversations or steering them in different directions, that is all. I had the same issue myself and it lasted through my 30’s – for the same reason! That is why I felt compelled to chime in. It was never the fault of anyone but me; Conversing socially is a skill that some people are born with, like any skill, but those that are not need to learn it to be successful, like others need to learn other skills. And when you are immersed in another culture, it’s a whole new set of rules sometimes. This is not a battle…
    Everyone is good. that is where we should all start. We all have differing agendas and ideals, but we are all good, and they are all valid. The sooner the world gets over this us vs, them mentality (that I freely admit is rife in the ol’ USA) then the world would be a far better place.

  21. It is a CHOICE you have to make and have right expectations. I realized long ago (I have been in the USA for 20+ years from China) that I will never be mixing in with the majority in the US or in China, and I am comfortable with it. I am comfortable with who I am, what my abilities are along with my shortcomings, and I don’t think myself any less or more than any Americans or Chinese. I am unique and I have a place in this world!

    I made a choice to come to the US, with that came a bag of things, good or bad, so that is the reality. I may have faced more challenges given my personality if I remained in China. Do I want to change the world to be a “better”/happier place for me, NO, I want to work within and that is the ultimate reality of being a human. Nothing else external will make you happy but yourself. I believe a happy person will be happy no matter where he/she goes. Everybody says Iceland is a miserable place to live because of the environment conditions, guess what? they have been rated as happiest people in the world for many years!

  22. Who give a damn if the professor is talking about NCIS !! Just go to the party and chat for one hr. If you two like the atmosphere , stay there longer . If you don’t like it, grab a meal somewhere else. I don’t expect the ” host” to pull me into the conversation. Lately, everybody wants to be my friend!!!!!!!!! They said my hobbies are unique! I know lawyers, insurance agent, doctors etc but I really don’t expect them to have me join the conversation. If they like what I do, they are the ones who call me and I’m serious here.


  23. I think it is the job of the host to introduce people not the topic.

    After forced going to parties full of strangers many times, I start to feel comfortable in the situation when people and topics are completely new. It takes some practices to know how to jump in a conversation you have no idea about. There are nice people in a party who would happily tell you what it is all about and think you are the best listener. After all, it can be a lot of fun 🙂

    Connecting with other people is something we all need to work on, why not start with these parties.

  24. I think it is the job of the host to introduce people not the topic.

    After forced going to parties full of strangers many times, I start to feel comfortable in the situation when people and topics are completely new. It takes some practices to know how to jump in a conversation you have no idea about. There are nice people in a party who would happily tell you what it is all about and think you are the best listener. After all, it can be a lot of fun 🙂

    Connecting with other people is something we all need to work on, why not start with these parties.

  25. That’s why I ‘ve said again and again that you have to train yourself to talk about any subjects. Whether it’s a tv show or porno movies.. just any subjects!! Yes going to parties can be fun but you have to ignite conversations all the time.


  26. Oh, Jocelyn, come on… I’ve been reading your blog for a past few years but lately I don’t come here that often exactly because of posts like this. I agree with Luc, Anonymous and 老干妈. Why all problems revolve around the fact that your husband is Chinese? John’s professor had a conversation about NCIS with “white American” students. So what? How is that even related to your cross-cultural relationship? If John’s professor would be Indian and he’d talk about NCIS with international students, then what? They just had a chat about a TV show. You don’t know those people and they don’t know you so would you like to talk with them about your experiences and dreams during that party? Really?
    And to be honest it sounds like you judge those people (the professor and the students) because of ONE conversation about NCIS you’ve heard and suggest that they are racist and shallow while you are more sensitive and your cross-cultural relationship is deeper.
    When I lived in Poland I never really watched TV that much. Now I live in China and guess what? I regularly watch two or three shows right now because I can find almost every TV show on baidu and watch it online. Mostly it’s because of my Chinese coworkers and my boyfriend because they also watch american TV shows. It has NOTHING to do with the fact that I’m Polish or that they are Chinese or whatever. It’s just entertainment.

  27. Wow, tough crowd here. I wouldn’t fret over it too much Jocelyn.

    Back in my university days, while I obviously wanted to be in good terms with everyone, I never wanted to be too friendly and personal with the faculty.

    Like Bruce says: “Just go to the party and chat for one hr. If you two like the atmosphere , stay there longer . If you don’t like it, grab a meal somewhere else.”

    Fulfill the obligation to make an appearance, then go spend time with people you REALLY like. 🙂

  28. Allen,

    So you agree with me huh? We go to parties all the time and sometimes we have to go to 2 parties on one night /day. It’s no big deal seriously. We can’t please everyone you know especially when you have 20 + people. Right now , we are trying to keep the group from 10 to 15 people so we can focus on everyone. I used to have 30 to 40 people but I’ve realized that I couldn’t talk to all of them. For example, if someone has more common with me , I’ll talk some more. If we have different hobbies, we’ll talk still but not at an intimate level. All those yrs of talking to people, I’ve noticed that most people have no hobbies at all. Their lives are occupied with work and family issues. In order to be successful with people, you need to be loose and accept what they have to say and just let go. Just don’t judge them on what they do or like. After a few months , you will know if those people are right for you to hang out with. If a family comes to my house for a party/dinner, I’ll be very attentive. Normally, I don’t like to talk about work at all. They can talk about a movie/show but after that we skip to the next subject. 95% of the time after those people come to my house, they invite me to go to their homes. Yes, the secret is making people feel comfortable.


  29. Visiting this blog in recent days reminded me of some of the conversation on this thread.

    Reading Jocelyn’s most recent blog entries and feeling the genuine anticipation, joy, and even relief of going back to a place (China) where it feels like home for her and her husband, I find it interesting that the most dismissive of the feelings of ostracization she and John may feel living in the United States are two women who have never lived in the United States, an older White American man, and an anonymous poster who has never (to my immediate knowledge) said much about himself.

    Perhaps not in this particular instance (a discussion about a meaningless TV show that’s been on for like forever), but I wouldn’t write off so quickly experiences of microagressions in other and more important aspects of life, that can affect one’s quality of life and happiness where they live.

    SMFH at the micro-invalidation of one’s experiences with prejudice.

  30. @Allen Don’t remember who said this “no one can make you unhappy, only yourself can”. Life is never fair for an Asian American male, I can feel angry and unhappy the whole life or just make peace with it, do what I can and be happy.

    Recently, there is a large wave of Chinese students coming to US to study. Most of the want to stay here. Isn’t that an indication that US is still a great country to live ?

  31. Forest.

    I don’t think I’ve ever suggested that the U.S. is a bad place to live. As a matter of fact I even conveyed in another comment that if one is in an extremely hostile part of the country (as David often alludes to) he/she/they can always consider moving to a more accepting part of the country. Definitely so, if one feels their physical safety is of concern. (I do think this is highly unusual, and certainly never felt it myself where I live).

    With all due respect, however, I don’t think its right (or acceptable to me) to be satisfied with unfairness. I agree, with a slight change of your wording, on the part where you say “do what I can (TO) be happy.” And I do that for the most part.

    What I also do is if someone is obviously being a bigoted douche, I don’t simply grin and bear it. I call him/her out on it.

    The perspective of Mainland Chinese students coming to the U.S. is different from my own, perhaps young people coming from a less developed situation to a more developed and modern situation, and feeling grateful for that. I see it as similar to the young woman from Jiangsu that Jocelyn talks about in another blog entry. I would compare it to a “wide-eyed kid at a candy store”, more easily impressed by something new.

    My point on reviving this thread is that I am more inclined to at least listen to someone who feels ostracized rather than dismiss it. It isn’t always in someone’s head.

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