第二个星期的话题:The Foreign Language Travelers Forget to Learn

I’ll be posting on Emily’s behalf throughout the summer, as WordPress is blocked in China. Enjoy – Kelly Kesinger, UW Study Abroad.

maoOn the way to Chengdu, I met an American on a business trip in the Tokyo airport. We were talking about our destinations. When he heard I was going to China, his immediate response was, “Well be prepared for rudeness, because that’s just how the Chinese are.” I was speechless. For someone who travels to different countries frequently, how could he not understand that there are different methods of being polite in every culture? Unfortunately, this person isn’t the first that I have heard make this judgement about Chinese people. So this week’s topic is manners within different cultures, the foreign language travelers too often forget to learn.

What all travelers — really, anyone who comes in contact with people from different cultures — need to embrace is the idea of “broad categorization.” This means being open to new ways of doing things rather than keeping a black and white understanding of right and wrong rooted in your own culture’s norms. What is good manners varies enormously culture to culture. Without this understanding, it is easy to come away with a negative cross-cultural experience.dumpling

That’s said, it’s no trouble at all for me to pick out exactly which Chinese behaviors can be upsetting to Americans. To list a few:
– Spitting. Everywhere. But what’s more, it always is preceded by a loud hacking wind-up to the spit. I was eating in a restaurant the other day and heard this sound coming from the general direction of the kitchen.
– Forming Lines. Chinese people often don’t. It’s common to mill around in front of what you want to get to and make your way up in a pretty unorganized fashion.
– Driving. I will most likely devote an entire post to this phenomenon later in my trip. In short, cars don’t stop for pedestrians, honking is incessant, and bicycles and mopeds weave in and out of the whole tangled street scene. When in China, leave your American standards of what being a courteous driver looks like at the airport.
– Service. Specifically, in restaurants. In many Chinese eateries, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask a pair of diners mid-meal to move to a smaller table to accommodate a bigger group that just came in. Another major difference is that you will hear people calling out “Lao ban!” (manager) and “Fuwu yuan!” (waiter) across the restaurant. One of my American friends wanted to order something, but was hesitant to get anyone’s attention. “I don’t like to be disruptive,” she said. But by Chinese standards, it isn’t disruptive at all.

Of course you will encounter an occasional rude person wherever your journey takes you, but don’t miss out on a positive experience or even a friendship by taking offense to what different than what you are used to.

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