Roles and Relationships


This unit helps students learn the differences in roles and relationships between people that occur within different cultures. The most important relationships are between parents and children, husband and wife, and those between friends. What's more, there exists a gender difference between males and females, not only in cross-cultural but also in mono-cultural communication.

Main Ideas

1. Principles of a Traditional Chinese Family

The most important relationship in the family is that between parents and son.

- Arranged marriage is therefore a practical consideration.

- It is the son’s duty to support his parents.

- Respect and obedience to parental wishes are expected of the children.

- Parents are responsible for their children’s education and marriage.

- Parents’ spirit must be placed in household shrines and graves must be tended regularly.

Nevertheless, more and more Chinese families are being influenced by Western cultures, which has caused great changes to occur within those families and the relationships between family members.

2. Principles of an American Family

The most important relationship in the family is that between husband and wife.

- Parents do not arrange marriages for their children, nor do children usually ask their parents’ permission to get married.

- Parents feel that adult children should make major life decisions by themselves.

- Societal and familial treatment of the elderly reflects the values of independence and individualism.

- The elderly’s financial support is often provided by government-sponsored social security or welfare systems that decrease their dependence on the family.

- Older people often seek their own friends rather than becoming too emotionally dependent on their children.

- It's a common practice for families to place their older relatives in nursing homes because of physical disabilities or illness, rather than caring for them in their homes.

- Many older people don't want to have to rely on their grown children. The same spirit of independence that guides child rearing and young adults also affects older people.

3. American Family Relationships

Working Wives and Husbands

A challenge for couples with children is finding day care and obtaining flexible work schedules so they can coordinate their time between home and work. Occasionally, husbands stay home and care for the children while the wives work.

Single–parent families

Changes in the American family structure is evidenced by high rates of separation and divorce. It's estimated that almost 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. These trends have resulted in a high number of single-parent families headed mostly by women.

Single mothers (and fathers) often feel “stretched to their limits” with the unending responsibilities that face them. They carry the burden of supporting a family and being totally responsible for their children. They have very few opportunities for rest and relaxation, unless they have supportive extended family members who will help them.

4.Child rearing in the West

In the West, especially in the United States, it's common for parents to put a newborn baby in a separate bedroom when the child is a few weeks old. Part of the reason is economic; that is, many houses are large enough to offer each child a separate room.

However, Americans have other reasons for physically separating their children soon after birth. Parents like to preserve their privacy. By having their own rooms, the children will also be able to have privacy when they're older. In addition, the children will eventually learn to be responsible for their own living space. This is seen as a first step toward personal independence.

Americans have traditionally held independence, and the closely related value of individualism, in high esteem. Parents try to instill these values in their children. American English expresses these value preferences: at a certain age, children should “cut the (umbilical) cord” and are encouraged not to be “tied their mother’s apron strings.” In the process of their socialization, children learn to “look out for number one” and to “stand on their own two feet”.

Children are encouraged to make decisions and to be responsible for their actions.

Children are encouraged, but usually not forced, to “leave the nest” and begin independent lives.

Adult children make major life decisions by themselves.

Parents do not arrange marriages for their children, nor do children usually ask their parents’ permission to get married.

5. Friendship in China

In China most people expect their friends to do for them when they are in need. There is an obligation to a friendship. People feel obligated and a duty to do for their friends. We have a lot of Chinese sayings concerning friendship: “为朋友两肋插” (people can take any risks, even risk of their lives, especially among male friends, to do everything for their friends disregarding whether it's right or wrong, ) ; “有难同当, 有福共享” (people can share all their thoughts with their friends, no matter whether it's about bitterness, hardships or happiness ).Other proverbs and sayings such as “一个篱笆三个桩, 一个好汉三个帮” (as one fence needs three stakes, a good guy needs three fellows), “ 在家靠父母,出门靠朋友" (it is your parents that you can rely on at home, but it is your friends that you can count on when out in the society) shows that friendship really counts or is very important to a person in the society.

Having friends reflects having a good personality. The more friends you have, the better personality you have and more sociable you are. Your life will be better if you have more friends, and will be worse without friends. One needs a friend to help him or her out when difficulties occur, and one needs a friend to give emotional support in times of trouble. And what’s more, one needs a friend to offer financial support when there's a lack of money. So in other words, one cannot be without friends in his or her life.

Actually, there's a lot to say about Chinese friendships, and I'm sure you, as a student, have more explanations you can add to this list because of a better understanding of your own personal friendships.

6. Friendship in the American West

In general, Americans have casual, friendly relationships with many people, but deeper, closer friendships with only a few. True friendship require time and commitment (The state of being bound emotionally or intellectually to a course of action or to another person or persons) which many Americans lack. Therefore they often find it convenient to have friendly but less committed relationships, rather than many deep, close friendships. Their shortage of time and their numerous commitments to family, work, and even volunteer projects mean Americans have less time to pursue many close friends.

Diversity in personal relationships

In the United States, men and women socialize relatively freely and develop a variety of relationships. Single and married people of the opposite sex may be close friends and share personal problems without being romantically involved. College students and others may even live with someone of the opposite sex for practical reasons only. In many parts of the States (although not all), there are few restrictions on the types of relationships people can have. Marriage relationships, of course differ from couple to couple, but there are some generalities that can be made. Some married men and women consider themselves to be best friends as well as spouses. This concept is unusual in some cultures.

Mobility and friendship

Americans are geographically mobile, and many learn to develop friendships easily and quickly. Approximately one out of every five American families moves every year. People relocate because they change jobs, attend distant colleges, get married, have children, or simply want a change in their lives. Perhaps as a consequence, people sometimes form and end friendships quickly.

Relationships based on a common activity may fade or end when the activity ends. These friendships are not deep but are based upon shared daily experiences. Many Americans, in general, do have enduring friendships, but at certain points in their lives can be satisfied with transient relationships.

Friendliness versus friendship

Many people around the world characterize Americans as friendly. They tend to smile and talk easily with others even if they are strangers (in big cities, this is less common). They may even disclose personal information in encounters with strangers whom they will never see again.

Cross-Cultural friendships

One of the most frequent problems in cross-cultural relationships is that foreigners misinterpret American friendliness as an offer of friendship. Naturally, a foreigner who thinks that an American is extending friendship will have expectations for the friendship. When the American is unaware of these expectations, or is unwilling to be a true friend (because all the American intended was a friendly but superficial relationship), the foreigner or newcomer in the States can become disappointed.

Cross-cultural expectations for friendship

Expectations for personal relationships differ greatly across cultures. It's important to know that while most Americans value close friendships, they also value privacy and independence. From an American perspective, to have privacy or to give someone privacy is considered positive. Yet, when the word "privacy“ is translated into other languages, it has more of a negative meaning (aloneness or loneliness). Therefore, the American’s need for privacy is sometimes judged negatively by those who haven't been reared with the value of individualism.

In addition, an American may feel that a friend needs privacy to “work out" a problem. Many Americans want time alone when they have problems, so they want to give you your privacy even if you don’t want it!.

In addition to different expectations about the amount of time spent together, there are also cultural differences in what people believe they should do for each other.

7. Comparison of British and Chinese Friendship

- British people apologise to their friends over things like asking for help in some small matter or telephoning late at night. They tend to use polite forms such as ‘could you ‘ and 'would you’ even with their friends. They may sound cold and distant when they feel perfectly friendly.

- Chinese people tend to make more direct requests to their friends. They address those they know quite well in a very direct way. They may sound rude and demanding when they intend to sound friendly.

8. Friendship and Social Class

The higher up the social scale you go, the greater the number of friends you will see in the course of the week.

People in the middle class will show their true friendliness and see more friends during the week, because they'll invite their friends made at work to join them for a dinner or celebration in their home, or attend the theatre.

People in the working class have a smaller circle of friends. They're not likely to ask the friends they've made at work or in the pub to join them for a meal in their home.

Words and Expressions

1. Verbal signals or transition markers

The first principle is that …;

The second principle of the ideal Chinese family I wish to touch upon (talk about shortly)is …;

Support itself, however, was not enough and this brings us onto the third principle;

Balancing this third was a fourth. This is that…;

The final principle is that

2. Comparison of English Idioms and Chinese Idioms

"Fair-weather friend" - Someone who is your friend when you have no problems but who disappears when you need help, similar to Chinese idiom: 酒肉朋友 -- “Dining friends” someone who always shares happiness with you by eating and playing together with you but disappears when you are in trouble.

"Lady friend" - An adult female friend of a gentleman or another lady

"Blood brothers" - Extremely good friends; derives from a children’s ritual whereby good friends sometimes prick their finger and mix a bit of their blood. Similar to Chinese “结拜兄弟” ( jie bai xioong di )

"Birds of a feather flock together" - People who are alike usually form friendships. Similar to Chinese “志同道合的朋友”

"One rotten apple spoils the whole bunch" - One person who is not nice is a bad influence on the people he or she spends time with. Similar to Chinese proverb : “ 一粒老鼠药坏了一锅粥”— A tablet of rat killer spoils a broth of porridge.

"A black sheep" - Someone who has done something bad, esp. something which brings embarrassment and loss of respect to the family, similar to Chinese idiom ---- “害群之马” ( a bad harming horse )

"A friend in need is a friend indeed" - Someone who helps you when you need it is a true friend. Similar to Chinese proverb: “患难之交见真情。”

"Familiarity breeds contempt" - People who spend too much time together grow to dislike each other. (日久生厌)

3. Common words and phrases

"in quite a different light" - In quite a different way

"confer" - Consult, in a quite different light

"prize" or "prized" - Highly valued

"belabor" or "belabour" - To work on or talk about to silly lengths, explain something more than necessary

- There is no need to belabor the point – you are angry. I am late and you do not need to keep reminding me.

"elaborate" - To add more details to, describe in detail

- The minister said he was resigning but he refused to elaborate (on his reasons for doing so).

- Introduce your main points to begin with and elaborate on them later in the essay.

"rapport" - In a relationship having close agreement or sympathy with someone else和睦, 意见一致

- We have developed a close / good rapport. 我们关系和睦一致

"one-up" - Getting an advantage over someone else, one-upmanship, one-upping

"cementing" - Strengthening

"reinforce" - Strengthen

"hold forth" - Speak at length

- She held forth all afternoon on /about a variety of subjects. - all rights reserved