Expert Advice| 权威建议

Cultural Differences between China and the United States

August 10, 2013 11:57 pm | By Jacqueline Gilbertson and Tong Zhao

There are many striking cultural differences between China and the United States. One very significant dissimilarity is the notion of relationships. Although the rules are as varied as the individuals engaged in
each relationship, there is one generalization that will help to pave the path to smooth interactions:

Chinese tend to attach more significance to close personal relationships than Americans do. They feel a greater obligation and have higher expectations once a relationship has been established.

Family relationships
In China, parents are expected to invest in their children’s future to the best of their ability. After children grow up, children are obligated to take care of their parents. In the United States, the sense of
responsibility varies enormously. Most parents are very involved in raising their children and preparing them to lead independent lives. After children grow up, most parents do not expect their children to
take care of them, but rather they live their own life.

Relationships between friends
The notion of liquid pro quo” is strong in the Chinese culture. If one friend helps another friend or extends a special favor, he or she expects to be helped in the future. Close friends are expected to exchange gifts of similar value on birthdays. Americans generally treat friendship more casually. The score card is not necessarily always kept even – especially in the short term. Gifts are exchanged on birthdays, on important holidays such as Christmas and on milestones such as a graduation. The monetary value of a gift is less important than the thoughtfulness associated with the gift.

Relationships between a teacher and a student
In China, if a teacher goes out of his or her way to help students with their scholastic development, it is assumed that these students will continue to show appreciation by visiting the teacher during holidays, offering gifts or providing whatever assistance may needed. In the United States, if a teacher does something out of the ordinary for a student, the teacher does not expect to be repaid in any way.

Business relationships
Traditionally, the Chinese have found the American attitude of immediately getting-down-to-business quite strange. They have been accustomed to conducting business once a friendship has been solidified through several preliminary meetings and exchanging gifts. In fact, the professional and social boundaries could become blurred. One could ask a business colleague for a personal favor or vice versa. If one accepted favors and gifts, both parties felt an obligation to pursue a personal relationship. However, because of the fierce competition in today’s global business world the new generation of Chinese may not have the patience or understand the benefits of a long-term relationship. If a deal can be struck early on, they don’t necessarily feel the need to invest in a personal relationship.

In the United States, business can typically be initiated during the initial encounter. The professional and social boundaries are generally clear.

Please visit our Web site at for more guidance
with your transition to life in America. As specialists in cross-cultural training, we have identified the six
most relevant topics for Chinese students coming to America to study and seek employment.

1. Understanding cultural differences
2. Making a positive first impression
3. Networking skills
4. How to conduct a successful job search
5. Interviewing skills
6. How to get along with your boss and colleagues
Web site
Telephone 310 276 6828