What was your childhood like?
No doubt this question can provoke a wide range of emotions and memories, depending on what you experienced as a child.
During our formative years, our parents have the greatest amount of influence in our lives. We are dependent on them to dress us, feed us, and sometimes just keep us from hurting ourselves! But as children, what we don’t realize is that we’re not merely offspring of our parents. We’re also offspring of the culture into which we were born.
Sitting is something we all do. You’re probably sitting right now. But squatting isn’t something we do very often.
If you’ve ever been in China before, you’ve probably noticed that Chinese people still like to adopt the squatting posture as a way to rest (and in order to do other things, but we’ll get to that later). Whether young or old, male or female, rich or poor…everyone here does it.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com/TLimPhotography
Our Western mindset looks at this posture and thinks it’s kind of unnatural and maybe even a little uncivilized. But when it comes to resting, squatting might actually be the healthiest, most natural posture for our bodies. Continue reading
Staring. One of the best ways to make a person feel a little uncomfortable, especially if they are a complete stranger.
When I was growing up, I was taught that it’s rude to stare at someone else.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com/StevenDepolo
But come to China and try telling someone on the street not to stare. You might as well tell them not to breathe! It’s one of those phenomenons that has its roots planted deep within the culture and it shows little signs of stopping.
As a foreigner living in mainland China, it’s really easy for me to pick up on all the obvious cultural differences between my culture and the one I currently live in. The spitting, the staring, the squat toilets…these are just a few of the many things that go against what I think should be “normal.”
What’s much more difficult to discern is why the Chinese do certain things.
Today, I want to focus on their style of communication. As a general rule of thumb, Chinese mainlanders are more indirect than Westerners. We tend to be more black-and-white in our communication, while the Chinese tend to beat around the bush a little more.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com/FutUndBeidl
Picture this. You’re sitting at a Starbucks with your best friend, enjoying your drink and conversation, when suddenly a little kid who you’ve never seen before walks up and starts talking with you. You think it’s cute and engage with the kid for a little while.
What happens next?
Presuming you’re living in a Western country, you’ll probably hear the kid’s parent start calling their child. Either that or they’ll come get their child and give you a quick apology. Why? First, because you’re never supposed to talk to strangers, and second, because it’s considered impolite to interrupt someone else’s private conversation.
It’s a little different in China.
Not everyone speaks Chinese the same way.
Before I first came to China, my naive, un-traveled self assumed that everyone here spoke the same language. Now I suppose technically everyone here does, but in practice sometimes it seems like there are hundreds of languages in this one country alone. Just like the many different accents of English (American, British, Australian, etc.), there are also many dialects of Mandarin. Many of them are based upon geographical regions, while others are based on the different ethnic minorities. And some of the dialects can be pretty hard to understand.
You know how Mandarin has four basic tones, right? Not so much here in Sichuan province! If you’re speaking the local dialect here, your words are slurred and your tones become melded into maybe two or three.
I don’t know about you, but for me that’s just a nicer way of saying, “That’s weird.”
There are so many things I see here that I generally throw into the “weird” category. Like the way taxi drivers drive at breakneck speeds, zipping in and around other cars without so much as a honk or turn signal. Or when three (or more) people try getting onto a bus at the exact same time. Or the way locals all tend to stop and stare at a car accident but do nothing to help.
It’s almost instinctual – to regard something as bizarre because it doesn’t align with any of my beliefs or experiences. My immediate response is often to accuse their actions or beliefs as being silly or dumb. In the moment, I believe they are at fault. They are clearly doing it wrong.
But what I’m forgetting in these instances is that I am the foreigner.