Repatriating from China – Ill Communication

Better than Nothing
Better than Nothing

It’s August and I’ve been living in Boston since I moved back from China at the end of 2013. A LOT has happened over the course of 9+ months back in America and I thought it was time to check in with AL.ME to recap what’s happened and the hidden challenges of my repat experience. Enjoy installment #4!


Speaking a foreign language everyday for 8 years is without a doubt a great way to build up that skill. You not only learn how to express yourself in a translated form, but you also experience social interactions in a whole new light. However, you will begin to find yourself behaving differently in your work and at home, with friends and your lover(s).

For years I’ve made specific comparisons between the way Chinese and Americans view and interact with the world around us. We have a lot more in common than we think, but the differences are noticeable. Here are a few changes that I’ve definitely noticed while I’ve been back in America the past year.

Being literal: Chinese is full of euphemisms but the communication style in China is still very literal. By that I mean things like sarcasm don’t usually translate very well (or at all). And over time I’ve gotten used to understanding what people say in a rather literal way.

Just the other day a friend said she “could get into salmon if it was fried,” not raw like sushi. And my brain immediately thought ‘gross, get into salmon?’ Like, physically. My mental image was a person climbing into a big tuna-looking thing like Luke Skywalker taking refuge in a Taun Taun.

And this kind of thing happens all the time… Ugh! During the winter I asked my mom what we call those sewer access tunnels that are everywhere on the streets. She said, “Oh, those are manholes!” *sigh* …disgusting…

Then, my coworker told me that our client desperately wanted a meeting with our VP of Product whose name is Richard. He said, “They want to meet with him but he’s too busy today. Dick’s getting pulled in so many directions all at the same time.” Hahaha… I literally had to take a knee for that one.


On a more serious note…
Texting: Now that I’m back in America I find that a lot of non-baby-boomers I care about prefer texting to calling – and it feels kinda weird. The feeling now is that a call is a distraction or somehow the caller is barging in on your life or devaluing your time. Like I’m a telemarketer! (I’m not, I’m actually your brother.)

I get that a call in the middle of your meal or work or tv show is kind of an interruption. But when are we not doing something that could be interrupted nowadays? When we’re not working, we’re playing, and when we’re not sleeping or eating, we’re watching tv or reading a book or driving somewhere. We’re always doing something, but I don’t get why I’m not worth answering the phone for. Why is catching up with the Kardashians more important than catching up with your family?

And when I text, it sometimes takes hours for a reply. Why is this considered appropriate even after a phone call gets unanswered. I’m not a chick you’ve just started dating – and you don’t want to seem desperate by replying too quickly – I’m your family, I’m your friend. By the same token, I will make sure to answer your call, text, or message promptly because I love you and you are always worth my time.

Am I losing my mind, or am I just a Repat?