Last year when I lived in China, I met a lot of African friends, the university I attended gave a lot of scholarships to students from Cameroon, Tanzania, Ghana, South Sudan amongst other developing countries, like Ukraine, Albania and Egypt.
I spent half the year in dormitories on campus, and there were two sets of dorms for international students, most of the Africans were in Qiming, and the rest of us were in the slightly better Liuxueshenggongyu.
As most of my classmates were African, they quickly became my friends and we would often/always go to Beimen, the school’s bustling north gate to eat dinner. Meals were cheap and there were loads of choices, as well as a supermarket, KTV bars, snooker halls and beauticians (I miss those £2 manicures!!).
When we first started meeting for dinner, most of the group would go walk to Qiming, but there would always be a guy who would offer to go out of his way to walk me back to my dorm, even if it was raining and he was wearing flipflops, I was almost always walked home.
At the beginning, I felt very uncomfortable about this, did the guy have bad intentions? Did he want to know exactly which room I lived in? Why is it ‘not ok’ for a girl to walk home on her own…yet fine for guys? Etc etc. But after a while, I just accepted it as it offended them when I said I would walk by myself and actually, the company is nice.
What I learned was that culturally, these guys were expected to make sure women get home safely, due to the dangers there can be for women walking alone in their countries.
When I came back to the UK, I was walking home with a group of friends about a week ago, most of them lived in a student accommodation 5 mins walk from me…we said our goodbyes and a guy who lived a bit closer to me said he would walk me home. But after the group went into their halls, this guy who said he would walk me home said that actually he lives the other way…so he just walked off and left me. I was a bit annoyed, since he said he would walk me home and didn’t, it was one of the first times in a long time I hadn’t had someone walk back with me after meeting with a group.
Then last night I was at an event and a Russian guy offered to walk me home, I had just met him, but I accepted the offer as we live close by and again, for him culturally, he cannot ‘when in Rome, do as Romans do’ when it comes to things like walking a girl home. He also gave me a big hug, as he said when you shake hands or hug, it re-energises both people as they pass energy to each other through physical contact and it shows strength and power.
Last night we also talked about greetings, and how British people may shake hands when they first meet someone, but not when they meet again for the second or third time. The Russian said us Brits can be really cold, and he can’t understand why I would want to walk the last 5 mins alone… whereas the old me could not understand why a guy would want to walk an extra 5 mins, then have a 10 min walk home alone. I’m still unsure how I feel about being walked home, as if escorted because being a woman puts me in danger…but at the same time, I realised that I did get used to it in China and I kinda like it.