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China the Dragon - Cultural Differences
Overview of Chinese Culture, its People and Chinese Au Pairs
The Chinese government opened its doors to foreign business in the 1970s and has not looked back since. Business is booming and statistics show that by 2025, China will be the world's largest economy! China has low unemployment due to their strong economy and a growing number of au pairs do not have difficulty paying fees to sign up with au pair agencies. China is known as a state of etiquette and ceremonies. Courtesy to others, especially one's elder, is still very important in Chinese culture. The "one child only policy" still exists in China, so remember most, if not all, au pairs are an "only child" and are not used to large families with sisters or brothers.
China's economic miracle impresses all those who travel there. As you stroll through major cities, you will see signs of progress everywhere: tall new office buildings, posh five-star hotels, gleaming, new and high-speed trains and modern and sleek airports, fancy residential towers and beautiful shopping malls that offer all the newest designer "goodies."
However, despite the new, rich and modern China, there is significant poverty for most of the population. Because of a vast disparity of income levels and a developing "class" system, most au pairs will have difficulty finding the money to pay for program fees.
So, we expect that most of the Chinese au pairs arriving in the U.S.A. are from the new and prosperous families who have the financial resources to foot the bill to send their daughter to America.
Motivations for Becoming an Au Pair
1. The top number one reason Chinese girls become au pairs is to improve their English.
2. They are excited about attending American universities and colleges which will improve their job potential and career possibilities when they return home.
3. Travel and the opportunity to experience American culture and broaden their horizons.
Chinese Characteristics and Manners
1. Chinese are hard working, easy going and cooperative.
2. Chinese youth are respectful of their elders and are greatly influenced by parents' opinions and beliefs.
3. Chinese consider gifts as an important part of showing courtesy. They give gifts on special occasions such as Chinese New Year, festivals, weddings, birthdays or visiting grandparents or the sick.
4. It would be a sign of courtesy and an important gesture if you gave your au pair a small gift upon her arrival and don't be surprised if she brings gifts for the entire family. There is an old Chinese saying "blessings come in pairs" so it would be appropriate to give your au pair two gifts but never give her anything in fours - the number four reads like death in Chinese, so avoid this number.
5. Never tap or rub an Asian on the head - they believe this is where the soul resides and you should not touch their head at all.
6. Many Chinese still bow when introduced but most youth tend to simply nod as a greeting and shaking hands is more popular now in business or in formal situations.
7. Chinese speak Mandarin as their official language.
Childcare Background and Experience
1. Because of the one-child-only policy in China, most au pairs do not have experience with siblings and all that comes with being a sister: learning to share, considering another's feelings, waiting for one's turn, and sharing parents' attention. The "Only Child" has gotten a lot of attention in psychology and there are two predominant theories: the first theory, first presented by psychologist G. Stanley Hall, gives these children a bad reputation when he described their situation as a "disease in itself."
Only children were characterized as spoiled, selfish and bratty. Some psychologists believe that only children, who have no competition from siblings for parents' attention, are pampered and spoiled by their parents and that this could lead to interpersonal problems later in life (i.e., the only child will expect others to treat them as "special" compared to other people).
The second and more current theory says only children are no different from their peers with these exceptions: only children are higher in achievement motivation and often test higher in verbal ability (much like first born children who get more time with parents before the second child arrives).
In his recent book, Maybe One, author Bill McKibben says "only children" are more likely to adjust better in new situations and more likely to make friends compared to "non-only children".
So, what does this mean for you as a prospective host parent? Your Chinese au pair may indeed feel "special" and at the same time, she may be very bright, make lots of friends and adjust better to a new culture and show less signs of culture shock. This is good news for you and your family!
2. Discipline in China rarely includes corporal punishment - parents talk to the child, explaining what they did wrong, how to make amends and then leaving them alone to think about their behavior with the expectation the child will correct his mistake on his own because that "is the right thing to do."
3. Most Chinese teenagers have freedom to go out and socialize with friends, especially in urban areas. Most Chinese youth do not have a curfew but do return home by 10 or 11 pm.
1. Au pairs from urban areas are more likely to attend college compared to those au pairs from the country.
2. If Chinese youth do not attend college, they get a job and work.
3. Since the academic year ends in early July, you can expect the largest pool of Chinese au pairs arriving in late July through September.
4. Au pairs will be very motivated to attend college courses here in the USA so make sure there is enough time to register them for the fall semester and that your family schedule allows them to get to school on time.
Health and Diet
1. China does not have free health services and most young women do not visit the dentist due to the expense. Chinese youth are inoculated for most viruses and diseases except TB.
2. The rate of eating disorders in China is very low.
3. Diet consists of rice, soup, vegetables and noodles. Most Chinese eat meat and vegetarianism is not common.
Driving Skills and Experience
1. Only a small number of Chinese women have a driver's license due to cultural norms and the high cost of owning and operating a car.
2. Most cars are automatic and Chinese women have little experience driving.
3. As of January, 2009, Chinese au pairs may not receive an International Driving Permit in China. This means your Chinese au pair cannot drive in America until she passes your state's driving tests and is issued a license in your state. This can be costly and time consuming for you as a host family only if you need a driver and you need her to drive as soon as she arrives.
Despite English being a compulsory course starting in primary school, Chinese au pairs' reading skills are better than their verbal skills. They may have weak English upon arrival and may need to take ESL courses to get them up to speed. If your au pair is from a white-collar family and/or from large, urban areas, her English may be quite proficient.
- Tip: Of course, the only way to determine her English speaking skills is to interview by phone!
Telephone and Internet Availability
Most Chinese families have access to a computer and have internet. People over the age of 50 cannot speak or understand English very well. Parents, depending on how old they are, may not be able to take a message from your if your au pair is not home.
Potential Strengths of the Chinese Au Pair
1. Bright, eager and willing to work hard.
2. Well mannered and respectful of host parents and elders.
3. Can expose your children to the Mandarin language.
4. May adapt quickly to a new culture without significant homesickness or depression.
Possible Weaknesses of the Chinese Au Pair
1. May have weak driving skills and uncertain proficiency in English.
2. May not be used to large families and become overwhelmed with lots of children.
3. She may not be accustomed to American children, who are generally outspoken and direct (she may interpret this behavior as "rude" or 'inappropriate"). Be patient, have a sit-down with her and explain the cultural differences between American and Asian children.
4. She may be very quiet in the beginning and you may feel she is not happy, but be patient and usually she will begin to open up as she gets to know and care for your family.
Read our Interview with Tanna Wilson, Director of goAUPAIR, about the advantages of matching with a Chinese Au Pair!
To read more about China's culture, see Did You Know China Censors Its Internet?