One of the first things I noticed when I moved to China was that people in Beijing were very particular about not wearing outside shoes inside their homes. It’s customary to take your shoes off at the door and either leave them outside or just inside the door and change into “house slippers”. Many people take it even further than that – one foreign friend recounted to me how horrified her friend had been when the foreigner had come to visit and sat down on her bed in her “outside clothes”. There’s a real feeling that it’s dirty outside and many people come home and change into their “home” clothes straight away.
Of course, this does not apply all over China – a huge country with vast differences in culture and beliefs between different provinces and city vs countryside life, as well as the natural differences from one family to another. But it’s things like this that can trip you up a little when you go to visit local friends for the first time, and even more so if you move in together with a Chinese guy.
One regular belief I’ve heard time and again in Beijing is that you should not wash your underwear in the washing machine. I believe the reasoning is that the washing machine is never really clean, and so it’s not washing your underwear well enough. I can see that this may have made sense a long time ago when washing machines and the accompanying washing powder were first developed. But really, who has the time or energy to handwash their underwear? If that’s your jam – go right ahead – but if it’s your partner “forbidding” you from doing so and he’s not willing to wash them himself – it might just be time to chuck him and his undies in the rubbish.
This is the real challenge when moving in with someone – as well as combining your lifestyles and belongings, you’re having to negotiate different beliefs and behaviours that you may never have realised when you lived apart. Trying to negotiate that when you’re living in your partner’s country and they’re essentially telling you you’re wrong or strange or dirty can be a belittling experience – but it shouldn’t be. It’s time to figure out which behaviours, beliefs and practices you can both negotiate on because there are no right or wrong ways to do things. It’s a classic “pick your battles” kind of situation and should be done with respect.
Sometimes, we give up too much in our quest to please our partner – and lose ourselves in the process. Sometimes as we claw our way back to the way we want things we might find the battle is too great. Or we may find that some ways of doing things become natural and change us for the better. My family in Australia often find it strange when I take my shoes off at their front door when I come to visit – it’s become so normal to me that I feel awkward wearing outside shoes inside.
Is there anything that surprised you when you moved in with your partner?