Dear Jamie is a regular series where our readers seek advice from Jamie, a Guangdong-based life coach.
I’m a white female and I work with about a dozen Chinese colleagues. When I started the job, a female coworker asked if she could touch my breasts, I guess out of curiosity. It was weird but also sort of funny, so I said sure. Later on, another female coworker asked and I also let her. Over about a month something happened like this about once a week. Now it’s sort of become a thing they do if I show up in a new top or even just when they want to be funny.
I’ve seen them do it to each other, but I’m getting tired of it and don’t want it done to me. Is this just something I should accept as part of a different culture or is there a way to get them to stop without ruffling any feathers?
-Baffled in Shenzhen
In all my years in China I’ve never been invited to join the ‘breast friend brigade’ – a jolly bunch, I gather, laying their hands on each other in a familiar way to turn a regular nine-to-five into a tactile experience. You must feel honored – or just uncomfortable and confused.
Is this normal behavior? I conducted a bit of a survey and women of the Chinese persuasion described it in terms ranging from ‘weird’ to ‘fun’ to ‘normal.’
But it doesn’t really matter what they think: it’s about what you’re comfortable with. You may need to put up with loud talking in the elevator, but you have every right to draw the line at physical contact. The next time you notice a coworker about to get hands-y, tell her firmly – and politely – that it’s not happening.
And a word of advice for the future: set boundaries early. If it’s not something you want happening later, don’t let it happen now.
Got a problem? Alcohol is technically a solution, or you can email Jamie at Jamieinchina@outlook.com.
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