After more than a year in the US, I realize how differently people express their emotions here.
When my friends saw me after two months of summer break, they ran to me to give me big hugs and told me how much they missed me. When I told my spib that I received a disappointing grade for my paper, a deeply worried look appeared on her face and she grabbed my hand and told me, “I am so so sorry to hear that.” Direct expressions of emotions are everywhere around me: the body gestures, the “perfect”, the “so much”, and the “I love you” constitute the essence of social interactions here in the US.
Coming from a high-context culture like China, I am not used to such upfront expressions. Our emotions are delivered in more subtle and indirect ways. In one classic Chinese pop song, the singer sings “look how beautiful the moon is tonight” to a girl he likes instead of saying directly, “You look gorgeous tonight and I am falling in love with you.” We tend to project our emotions to some external things, for example, the moon in this case, flowers, sunshine, or even a delicious dish we are sharing with people.
However, I realize if I don’t express my emotions directly in a low-context culture here, there will sometimes be negative outcomes. First, not being expressive can make people upset. For example, people will say “you never really say ‘thank you’ to me. Have I not done enough?” Second, failure in expressing directly sometimes makes people question what I mean: “Do you really think this is a good idea for our project?” or “How do you really feel about our relationship?”
Knowing that these differences exist help me better navigate my interpersonal relationships, especially intercultural ones. However, we need to be mindful that even though general cultural difference in emotional expression exists, different individuals still have their own ways of expression and we should not assume before we further get to the persons for the benefit of a healthy relationship.