A Memorable Experience in Shanghai

Over the duration of the four months I’ve lived here in Shanghai, while valuing my experience here, encountered many challenges. From adjusting to the different foods to figuring out how to communicate with limited Mandarin speaking skills, my entire time here has definitely been eye opening. I came to study abroad in China to further understand my Chinese heritage, improve my Mandarin, and to overall comprehend the Chinese culture through a hands on experience. While the majority of my time was spent on studying/working for my classes, the most memorable activity within Shanghai was learning about the Friends café and being able to spend time there.

The FRIENDS cafe had originated from the TV show friends, as I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with. As one of the biggest TV shows in the U.S. and one of my personal favorite shows, it’s no wonder that there are replicas. At first I was slightly confused as to how this coffee shop was even available, as most U.S. television shows are censored in China, but according to research a lot of Chinese citizens actually watch friends in order to learn English.

Through this initial research on the cafe, I discovered the Friends cafe was a mockup created by a friends superfan named Gunther (if you haven’t seen the show, Gunther is the owner of the coffee shop the main characters frequent), and he opened up friends cafes in Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. Since friends is such a popular show within China, he wanted to emphasize that demand for the show and portray it as a reality. As it’s shown in the show, the Friends cafe has a giant logo on the front with the name central perk, and the inside is almost identical to the show itself (as seen in the figure below). All the items on the menu, from coffee to snacks are all modeled after food items from the show as well.

I thought this coffee shop was a perfect place to analyze through the lens of western influence, as not only is the cafe based off of an American T.V. show, everything on the menu is westernized as well. It was amazing to me to see how big of an impact such a specific aspect of American culture, that being a T.V. show, influenced a single Chinese citizen to create these three independent coffee shops. From the menus to all the signs and decorations, everything was completely in English (the menu and the T.V. did have Chinese subtitles). As with my initial thought of how it was possible for Friends to be so popular in China, once I reached the cafe, I was surprised to see how few foreigners were there and how many locals were enjoying the cafe – and not even just the food, most of the people were either studying and enjoying the ambiance, or watching the show itself.

The main significance I found was how casual and normal the entire experience was. From what I’ve learned about China within my courses, and just from personal experiences from living in Shanghai for the past couple of months, I had never seen, on such a large scale, both foreigners and locals just drinking coffee and enjoying the ambiance in such a heavily westernized environment. Usually in my experience, for a such a small, heavily western, independent place, the majority of customers would be foreign.

This particular coffee shop allowed both foreigners and locals to come together to enjoy coffee and T.V., and while in a westernized environment, the Chinese cultural aspect was still present through the Chinese subtitles, needing to speak Chinese to the waiter, and unusual/hard to find location. As China continues to open up, accept foreigners, their influences, and their cultures, Chinese people are continuously becoming more and more globalized – taking the best aspects and influences from foreigners and creating their own new innovative take. Coffee shops around the world create an atmosphere of coming together, and as China continues to open itself up, that same sense of causal community bond over even such a small aspect of western influence of coffee will become a part of China’s culture as well.