Archive for July, 2007


Sunday, July 29th, 2007

I want to share how we usually use the word “cool” because I’ve heard many non-native speakers use it differently.

First of all, “cool” is not a word you would use to describe yourself because it sounds too arrogant. For example, it really sounds like you are too proud of yourself to say, “I am a cool guy”. It’s not cool to say that.

We also don’t usually tell people directly that we think they are cool. For example, I wouldn’t tell my friend, “You are really cool”. If I’m talking to someone else about my friend I might say, “My friend Chris is a really cool guy”. But I wouldn’t tell Chris that. I’m not sure exactly why we do this but its almost always done this way.

We also don’t usually tell people that they look cool. If I thought someone was wearing really cool sunglasses, I might say, “Hey, those are really cool sunglasses. Where did you get those?” I wouldn’t say, “You look cool in those sunglasses”. Some other common sentences are, “That’s a really cool bar.” “This apartment is really cool”. “That was a really cool movie”.

Please share your thoughts and give me some topic ideas.



Making friends

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

(This could be written about any country, but I write about China because its the country I’m living in now)

A lot of Chinese students tell me they would like to make some western friends to practice their English and to learn the culture. I think many of these people are finding it hard to meet new good western friends and they aren’t really sure why. Several people told me that their teacher suggested walking up to foreigners that they see on the street or in the subway, and just starting up a conversation. I have people come up to me all the time and ask me where I’m from, how long I’ve been here, and what I do in Shanghai. Some people even ask why I came to China or if I’m used to the food. I’d really like to share my opinions on this and I’m sure most foreigners would agree.

First of all, try to think of things from my point of view. I get asked these same questions all the time and its really quite boring and annoying to keep answering them. I’m not angry. I know that the people are trying to be very nice and friendly. The problem is just that the questions are a little boring and don’t make sense to ask a stranger. Nobody likes to feel that the only reason someone else is talking to you is because you are from a different country, or they want to practice their English. I like helping people with their English. Its a big reason why I make this free website. I just don’t like the feeling that I am in a conversation just because the other person wants to practice their English. Sometimes in a very short time these people will ask me if I would like to “make a friend” with them. I really don’t know what to say. I hate being rude, but the truth is that I really don’t want to “make a friend”. My friends are people who I like, have fun with, share some of the same interests with, and learn from. None of them are people who “just wanted a friend”.

Here is another thing that people need to understand. Being kind and friendly is not enough to make a friend. I know there are millions of very nice people here who I don’t want to become close friends with. Of course I can talk to them and be nice, but I still won’t want to become close friends. All of my friends are people who I can laugh with and people who I can communicate with. Nice but boring is not enough. We must interest each other. Otherwise we wouldn’t become friends.

If you want to make western friends, you need to find westerners who share some of your interests and ideas. You can find them in the places that hold these activities. For example, if you are really serious about working out you might be able to find some friends with similar interests at the gym. You can also find people in your city in different social networking websites. You can read their profiles online and see if they seem like someone who has similar interests.

If you don’t have any interests or activities you like to do then you should get some. This is not only to make friends with westerners but its just a good idea anyway. I’ve read many profiles of people online who say their hobbies are sleeping and watching TV. I always smile and laugh when I read this. I’m sure you can imagine that it doesn’t make me think I’d like to be friends with them.

I respect Chinese culture a lot, but none of my friends would be considered “traditional Chinese” people. I am just too different for them. We are always friendly too each other but we usually don’t become close friends. I like to be with people who love trying new things, thinking about new things, and talking about any topic in detail. I’m quite open this way. I’ve grown up this way for all my life and its what makes me happy and comfortable. I get bored easily.

I think the point to remember is that you should find western friends the same way you make friends with people in your own country. Don’t try to make friends because they are westerners but rather because they are people you are interested in and enjoy being with. That is the only way you will make real friends. Its perfectly ok to be very traditional and you might find some western people to become close friends with. I just want to say that the Chinese people I see with the most western friends are the ones who are the most adventurous and the people who seem to be the most comfortable in any kind of conversation. If you get more interested in trying new things you would probably have an easier time making more western friends. If you don’t want to do that, that’s fine too, it just might make it a little more difficult to find close western friends.

Your comments are very appreciated.


What topics do you often discuss?

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

I believe that one of the most important differences between people of different cultures is the topics they discuss and the way that they talk about these topics. I really notice this difference living in China. The language is obviously different but what is said is often even more different. I notice that this influence is even changing the way that I think and do things. I find that jobs, making money, dressing well, foreigners, traveling, and family are discussed a lot here. These topics aren’t really based on Chinese culture, but are common topics in modern Shanghai. Here is a place where social status counts a lot. A lot of the conversations that I hear are about getting ahead in life. Making more money, buying a nice apartment, going on a nice holiday, eating in an expensive restaurant, and getting nice clothes. A lot of this is because it is a huge city. Huge cities are fast paced and very competitive. I’ve never lived in a huge city before so its a little difficult for me to compare. My guess is that it is even more extreme here than in the west. This has definitely affected me because I am now thinking a lot more about earning more money. I am also paying a lot more attention to how I dress. I used to never care about what I wore but I think about it a lot more now.

In Canada, and a lot of Western countries, people talk about what they will do on the weekend, sports, movies, news, and any jokes they have with their friends. When they have kids they often talk about their kids. People don’t talk as much about how to make more money. A lot of Westerners (not all) are satisfied with their job and try not to think about it too much when they are not working. They think a lot about how to relax and enjoy their lives. There are so many different kinds of people who talk about all different kinds of things, but these are just some general differences that I notice. I really notice it a lot when I go back to Canada to visit because I feel different from the people living there. I have a lot of western friends here, but we have all changed because of living here. A friend of mine had his brother visit the other day. It was great having him here but it took a little while to get used to how different we’d become. The topics we talk about and think about really made us feel like strangers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts


Culturally sensitive topics

Monday, July 16th, 2007

Obviously everyone is different and it is sometimes hard to talk about cultural differences because they aren’t true in all cases. I have, however, noticed that in general people from different cultures are more sensitive about certain different topics.

Many people talk about Westerners being more direct than people from Eastern cultures. Westerners are known for speaking what is on their mind. I personally don’t think this description is very accurate and I think that it totally depends on the topic. Westerners generally are very careful about commenting on other people’s physical appearance. We usually won’t tell someone they are fat, ugly, or poorly dressed. Even if we think someone is too fat or unattractive, we often lie about it. Even if someone asks us directly we will still often lie. If we do tell the truth we will try to be really sensitive about it and make some excuse. In China, many people comment on my appearance all the time. This happens to my friends too. I have one friend that girls always say is “really handsome, but he would be even more handsome if he loses some weight”. Sometimes people tell me that I am a little too fat, or they tell me they don’t like my clothes. In Canada, no one would ever say that. They might think it but they keep it inside.

I also notice that people here ask me the question, “What do people in your country think about…..?” This question is very strange to me. It is a big cultural difference. When I answer that question I always say, “I don’t really know what most Canadians think, but I think…..”. We think of ourselves as individuals and we usually answer questions in terms of ourselves. In China, people often tell me, “Chinese people believe…..”. That kind of sentence is a big cultural difference that I notice. Because of this difference it seems that people from Western countries are more sensitive about comments about themselves and less sensitive about comments about their country or culture. For example, if someone told me many things about Canada that they don’t like, it wouldn’t bother me very much. I might agree with them, I might not. The point is that it wouldn’t make me feel bad. If someone told me something bad about me personally it would bother me much more. If they told me I was fat, ugly, or boring, I would feel much worse than if they told me they didn’t like Canada. My feeling is that it is reversed in Eastern countries.

I think it is important that we remember these differences when we talk to each other to avoid hurting other people’s feelings. On the other hand, I think it’s also important that we all try to toughen up and learn how to talk about all kinds of topics.

Please share your thoughts.



Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

I’ve met many people who want to learn English and they tell me that they are afraid to speak. I ask them, “what exactly are you afraid of?”. They tell me that they are afraid to make a mistake or afraid that their pronunciation isn’t standard. I’ve been learning Chinese for a few years and I remember that I had some of the same fears when I started. These fears are clearly natural but also clearly need to be resolved.

I want to share some ideas with you that I think will help you to overcome these fears. One thing you need to remember is that English is the world’s language. People from all over the world learn English and speak it with us. Because of this, native English speakers are very used to the accents, grammar mistakes, and unusual pronunciation from people from all over the world. We often don’t even notice if you are making any mistakes because we hear the same mistakes all the time. The mistakes almost sound natural. It’s the same story with pronunciation. This is just called an accent. We hear them all the time and it’s very easy for us to understand. If we don’t pay attention to these things you shouldn’t either. Sometimes we even find that the accents sound exotic or sexy. Don’t think of it as a bad thing.

If you want to improve your pronunciation its important to spend a lot of time listening. Think of how babies learn. They listen all the time and develop a native accent in any language. Reading isn’t necessary for pronunciation. Listen and try your best to sound the same. Over time you will improve. It’s harder for adults than children, but still possible to keep improving with practice.