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Jul 16

(Letter) Cultural differences: Let’s be brutally honest…

Written by guest on Wednesday, July 16th, 2008 at 6:59 pm
Filed under:-guest-posts, -mini-posts, culture | Tags:, , ,
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Let’s be brutally honest… it’ll be both funny and enlightening!

The reality of culture stress applies to any kind of foreigner anywhere, though obviously different people have different experiences. I have no doubt that Mainlanders in North America are just as easily annoyed by Western culture as Westerns living in China sometimes are by Chinese culture. I assume they could easily whip up a list based on their own experiences of how culturally annoying different things are, and provide lots of personal examples. In fact, that’s what I’m hoping some of our Chinese readers will do.

Anyone who moves to a different culture will experience culture stress – it’s unavoidable. And anyone who has significant relationships with people from another culture will eventually be annoyed by bumps in the road that are caused by cultural differences. The only solution to culture stress is for the foreigner to learn the culture and become accustomed to the culture. And to do that, we must choose to continually engage the culture, even when it makes us a little uncomfortable.

Below I’ve pasted an informal culture stress scale that grades the impact of cultural differences on foreigners living in a culture not their own. It’s totally informal and not meant to be authoritative; it didn’t come from text-book, but it more or less fits our experience as a Canadian-American couple living in Tianjin. It’s edited from a post titled “When the culture differences feel like getting ambushed by a firehose,” where we’re trying to understand a particularly stressful cross-cultural episode that my wife experienced recently. I’ve removed all our specific examples from each category because they were all from the perspective of North Americans living in China (to read those and further thoughts on dealing with culture stress, see the original post). I wonder how different this would be if it had been written by a Mainlander living in the USA:

A Culture Stress Scale: grading the impact of cultural differences

It’s important to realize that, for the most part, the culture isn’t the problem; the foreigner’s lack of understanding and personal adjustment is the problem. Any particular cultural difference can move up or down the scale, depending on the foreigner’s mood at the time and how well they understand the host culture.

  1. Cute, interesting, endearing, etc.
  2. Mildy irritating…
    …but easy to forget or ignore.
  3. Irritating, gross, stressful, and/or offensive…
    …but you eventually get used to it without too much effort and stop really noticing.
  4. Offensive, shocking, and/or appalling…
    …with no redeeming qualities, but you have no choice but to put up with it.
  5. So offensive that it’s actually funny.
    The locals genuinely intend no offense, in fact often they’re trying to be nice, but if people in your home culture acted this way it would be really offensive. These things are ultimately harmless, and often prompt good-natured laughter from foreigners that understand, though there’s still an underlying element of uncomfortableness and stress involved.
  6. So way over-the-top offensive…
    …that it skips category #5 a threatens to make you lose self-control; basically a #4 or #5 on steroids. It’s not funny to the foreigner, even long afterwards, regardless of how much the foreigner ‘understands.’

I’m really curious to hear from Mainlanders who have lived in English-speaking countries or who personally spend a significant amount of time with foreigners:
(1) How could you rate and describe the cultural differences you experience? (I don’t assume everyone would want to use the same categories as mine); and,
(2) What examples from your experiences with Western culture could you use to illustrate each of your categories?

Some cultural differences are more superficial, like a society’s preference for queuing or crowding, while other cultural differences are more profound, like a society’s general orientation toward individualism or collectivism. I want this discussion to be wide open, and the more specific examples from your personal experiences the better.

I hope we’ll be able to enjoy laughing at ourselves, and maybe even learn something useful.


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59 Responses to “(Letter) Cultural differences: Let’s be brutally honest…”

  1. Buxi Says:

    I’ll give you a slightly offensive one… how about those disgusting public sit-down toilets in the West? 🙂

    Why would I want my butt-cheeks to press against the surface that someone else’s butt-checks just pressed against? Now, in public Chinese bathrooms… we have lovely squat toilets where you can avoid that sort of poor hygiene!

  2. bianxiangbianqiao Says:

    Buxi,
    I have the same phobia of those toilet seats. Sometimes I think I need to see a doctor for that.

  3. AC Says:

    Finger licking as in “finger licking good”. “Geez, have they not heard of chopsticks?”, that’s what comes to my mind everytime I see a Westerner does that. 🙂

  4. Buxi Says:

    A couple more:

    – why can’t two guys hold hands while walking down the street? 🙂

    – there are plenty of positive “cute” example, too. Most Chinese are shocked at how very polite and friendly average Westerners are towards strangers. Westerners not from New York City, probably.

    We can probably come up with 100 more based on family and education. Some parents refuse to support kids after they’re 18? Children refuse to support their parents into retirement?

    Anything else along those lines?

  5. Nimrod Says:

    Um… licking envelopes? Sitting on the dirty ground or stairs? Feet up on tables?

  6. deltaeco Says:

    @AC
    “Geez, have they not heard of chopsticks?”

    Chopsticks? They have some disadvantages. In case of a heavy argument at the table… I have a fork and a knife and you only have two chopsticks….

  7. deltaeco Says:

    @buxi
    “we have lovely squat toilets where you can avoid that sort of poor hygiene!”

    Aaaaah! But the pleasure to seat on a sit toilet, read the newspaper, smoking a cigarette while you relieve yourself… Can you do that on a squat toilet?

    And when you are 80 year old, how do you recover your vertical position after answering the call from mother nature?

  8. Buxi Says:

    Aaaaah! But the pleasure to seat on a sit toilet, read the newspaper, smoking a cigarette while you relieve yourself… Can you do that on a squat toilet?

    Yes.

    Not me personally, because my wife makes it clear smoking is unacceptable… but since Chinese stalls also usually don’t have doors, I know for a fact many of my compatriots have that ability. 🙂

    And when you are 80 year old, how do you recover your vertical position after answering the call from mother nature?

    Very filial and respectful Chinese sons and daughters, of course!

    I have another one. Drinking iced beverages with a hot meal… (or is this only an American thing? Do Europeans drink iced water/sodas with dinner?) Many Chinese don’t understand how that can possibly feel comfortable.

  9. AC Says:

    “Chopsticks? They have some disadvantages.”

    Not if you are good at it. To me, they are as good as my fingers. 🙂

    “In case of a heavy argument at the table… I have a fork and a knife and you only have two chopsticks….”

    I challenge you to pick up a peanut or pea from your plate with a fork. 🙂

  10. MutantJedi Says:

    The wisdom of squat toilets became very clear on a train ride from Hong Kong to Beijing…

  11. AC Says:

    I’ve got another one.

    It seems to me that it’s culturally acceptable to date more than one person at the same time in the West (here in America at least). And they even put it on TV! Have you watched the “The Bachelor” show on ABC? The “bachelor” makes out with all these women and the women still worship him. Well, for a becholer I can understand , but a bachelorette??? That is just not right. We have a name for that – “slut”. 🙂

  12. Opersai Says:

    @Buxi,
    Ah~ the lovely toilet. When I first came, I was VERY, VERY not used to it. It’s especially bad for females, I think. But, you put paper on the seat anyhow. The sad thing, or not so sad thing, I’m too used to seat toilet now, I think the squat seats are really stinky!

    “- why can’t two guys hold hands while walking down the street?”
    Not just men, sometimes for girls too. In China, it’s very normal, natural for girls to have close body contact – holding hands together, putting hands over/on the other’s shoulder etc. My first year in Canada, when I unconsciously do that to my friends, they were very annoyed / embarrassed, sometimes even pissed. “They are going to think we are lesbian!”….. -_-#

    Ah~! The family value.
    – I thought it was pretty outrageous when I heard my grade 10 teacher kicked her daughter out of the house, and wouldn’t let her take her bad with her.
    – I thought it was very outrageous when I heard my friend’s parents wouldn’t support him, even though they are pretty well off. My friend had too work VERY, VERY hard because of that. He had a very difficult time through university.
    – I was absolutely stun , appalled when my friend told me his classmate took him home and say “F*CK YOU” to his (classmate) mother to show my friend he is not afraid of his mother. Such disrespect to elder in the family… is unimaginable.
    – I find it hard to understand or appreciate, even to now, the logic that my death benefit etc would HAVE TO to go my spouse, instead of my children or elder (mother, father). Isn’t it the children and elderly that needs that money the most, instead the spouse? Um…

    Some are not annoyance per se, but just don’t understand why they’d do that. Though, I’d categorize it under after understanding the logic/ thinking /culture, it make sense thing. Like:
    – Why on earth would you build a gas station just across the street!! Why do you want to fight, compete in the same area?!

  13. AC Says:

    @Opersai

    “- Why on earth would you build a gas station just across the street!! Why do you want to fight, compete in the same area?!”

    Actually this one is easy and it makes sense too – convenience and safety (you don’t have to cross the street).

  14. deltaeco Says:

    @ac
    “I challenge you to pick up a peanut or pea from your plate with a fork.”

    Easy one! Just use the knife to pull the pea or peanut onto the fork! 😛

  15. AC Says:

    @deltaeco

    Of cause I meant with one hand. 🙂

  16. FOARP Says:

    @AC – I don’t know about ‘culturally acceptable’, and you sure don’t seem to know the kind of guys that I do, especially the Taiwanese/HK crew on the mainland . . .

  17. deltaeco Says:

    @buxi
    “Can you do that on a squat toilet?”
    “Yes. ”

    Squatting on a squat toilet while holding the newspaper and a smoking a cigarette at the same time is quite a gymnastic feat.

    Yes. I think we are going to have quite a bit of surprises on the Olympic Games medal distribution….

  18. deltaeco Says:

    @AC
    “Of cause I meant with one hand. ”

    Damn!

  19. deltaeco Says:

    @ac

    Ok I try with one hand but you try to do it with just one chopstick ;-P

  20. Opersai Says:

    @AC,

    Lol, as I said, this belongs to after you understand it make sense kind. I understand the logic behind it now. Not just for convenience, and I think mostly not because of convenience, it’s a business concept of fighting turf. It the opponent have a store in this area, then I’ll combat him with another in the same area. Um… i think that’s how somebody explained it to me why. And that’s totally understandable. But I just wanted to show how different culture do things different. Looking at things from different perspective gives different picture(s) of _____ (event/ phenomenon, behavior etc).

  21. Buxi Says:

    @FOARP,

    A lot of mainland Chinese are experimenting with “one night love” these days, but in my opinion, even those who do so know in their heart of hearts they’re doing something “naughty”. If you look at surveys on the subject, or just talk to friends… while most Chinese no longer expect to marry a virgin, very few Chinese even now are comfortable with the idea of open/casual dating.

    What would everyone guess is the average number of girlfriends/boyfriends that mainland Chinese university students (the most progressive/”wild” kids) have before marriage? My guess is probably only 2.

    The HK/Taiwanese kids I know are far looser than mainland kids, but still no comparison by Western standards.

  22. Opersai Says:

    @deltaeco & AC

    Really no need fight over it. They have their advantage and disadvantages. For young children and people who never really mastered chopstick, fork and knife is so much easier. They have a shallower learning curve. Chopstick, on the other hand, take some effort to learn, can do some really neat things.

    Though, I have never mastered eating with forks and knifes, it’s a pain for me to eat with them with certain food. Chicken leg for example, is a pain and very slow to eat with fork, (especially without knife @_@)! How do you eat chick leg without using hand, use fork, and not appear to be too clumsy (disgraceful)?

    And for picking up the pea with fork with only one hand, how about stab through it, if it’s soft? Of course, I’m pretty clueless of how to pick it up when it comes to the hard and round ones.

  23. Opersai Says:

    @AC,

    Well, for a becholer I can understand , but a bachelorette???

    IMO, it’s unforgivable for both gender. Why is it guys do it it’s playboy, girls do it it’s slut?! Don’t get me ranting on this subject.

  24. AC Says:

    @FOARP

    “@AC – I don’t know about ‘culturally acceptable’, and you sure don’t seem to know the kind of guys that I do, especially the Taiwanese/HK crew on the mainland . . .”

    Of cause some guys do that all the time regardless which country you are in, that doesn’t mean it’s culturally acceptable in every country. I was talking about the “cultural acceptance” part.

  25. Buxi Says:

    @deltaeco,

    Chopsticks? They have some disadvantages. In case of a heavy argument at the table… I have a fork and a knife and you only have two chopsticks….

    Yes, but if I’m Kung Fu Panda… all I need are the chopsticks.

    My daughter is 16 months old, and her favorite word right now is “mao-mao”, in honor of that panda. I try to explain to her we should be boycotting Spielberg for the disrespect he showed towards the Beijing Olympics… but she fundamentally disagrees with me as to the appropriateness of such a harsh response.

  26. DJ Says:

    AC, deltaeco,

    “Of cause I meant with one hand. ”

    Damn!

    That’s funny. And it reminds me of a supposedly true story:

    A F-16 was escorting a B-52 bomber. The pilot of the F-16 was doing some extreme twists and turns while flying along the big old bomber.

    Then he asked over the radio: “I am sorry for you bomber dudes. You cannot do anything I just did.”

    And the bomber pilot answered back: “well, that may be true. But can you do what I am doing?”

    The F-16 pilot waited a bit and asked in puzzlement, “doing what?”

    The answer came back, “I just shut down one engine.”

  27. Jane Says:

    Chinese parents like to compare their kids against other kids… so and so’s kid got into blahblah ivy league school so you have to study harder… and Chinese parents all (ok almost all) make their kids take piano lessons!

  28. Joel Says:

    ha – thanks guys, that’s hilarious. And I have to agree that, as far as Tianjin is concerned, the average Zhou can lounge in squatty potty just as easily as Westerners using American bathrooms that come equipped with a stack of magazines. Of course, not having doors on the stalls makes this realization all the more unavoidable. I’ve always thought that public sit-down toilets seemed oddly out of place in our germ-o-phobic North American culture. But for family toilets… well, hey, family is family.

    What about the differences that aren’t as funny – the differences that really honestly got under your skin? The differences that really make you want to look down on Western people and Western societies?

  29. Wahaha Says:

    Joel,

    A west newspaper (I think it was in Norway) mocked Muhammad, the prophet and caused lot of protests in middle east. The editor refused to apologize.

    I know nothing about Islam, but this incident shows that when westerners rarely care about how other people feel, they are too self-centered. The asisine comment by Jack Caffery is another example.

  30. Li Qiang Says:

    Toilet, what an charm…Joining the pro-squat team, may I add a point: I often have problems with the splasihing effect of the sit toilet – no this worry with the squat one. Is that the reason why Westerners take shower in the moring? It’s my case anyway.

  31. jen Says:

    @Buxi –
    “I have another one. Drinking iced beverages with a hot meal… (or is this only an American thing? Do Europeans drink iced water/sodas with dinner?) Many Chinese don’t understand how that can possibly feel comfortable.”

    on the flip side, how can the people in my office in Beijing drink hot water when its 30C+ and the air-conditioning is not turned on? there’s definitely a use for iced beverages…

  32. yo Says:

    @Buxi, Jen
    I second what Jen said. It’s so hard to get some cold water in China 🙂 People had to specifically put a bottle of water in the fridge just for me. I’m thinking don’t you guys need it too, it’s so freaking hot here??!!!

  33. opersai Says:

    @yo, Jen,

    I’m thinking don’t you guys need it too, it’s so freaking hot here??!!!

    Well, I guess our stomachs have never adjusted for that. Even though, after years of living in north america, I’m used to drink tab water even in the winter, I (my stomach to be specific) still could not stand the icy chill of iced water, especially when I’m eating hot food. I had read somewhere before, contrary to belief, hot shower and drink do actually relief people from the heat more than cold shower and beverage. Hot shower / beverage makes our skin pores relaxed and open up and let out the heat in the body, whereas cold shower/beverage, though temporarily relief you from the heat where applying/drinking it, it makes the body think you are cold and closes the skin pore tightly, locking the heat in your body. So, soon after you stop applying/drinking cold shower/beverage, you still feel hot. I have not scientifically tested that or went my way to find academic paper to support it, but the logic kind make sense to me.

    Speaking of cold, my parent had always be amazed / shocked to see people in skirt/short in blazing cold winter, with heavy coat on top. My mother says, “It’s like the legs are not theirs!” She had always stressed the importance of keeping the keens, ankles and elbows warm. It’s something about the traditional Chinese medicine philosophy that keeping these joint areas warm it important to keep arthritis from coming to you at older age. She had always scolded me for not dressing warm enough. “Won’t show when you are young, but you will see when you get older, and it’s too late to regret it then.” I do wonder if there’s any correlation between Americans wearing little and numbers of arthritis? And does anybody else here, especially other Chinese posters here, share or heard of this? What’s your take on it?

  34. BMY Says:

    Joel,

    What a surprise! I just read your original article on your blog last night and it’s here now. You are very open minded.

    Personally, I can’t recall anything offensive from western culture . I feel the little funny things other guys have already talked.

    I’ll add another little thing: lift and hold the bowl while eating is seen no good table manner in the west. But Chinese use chopstick and often have to lift and hold the bowl to eat and ensure no food drop off. This lead westerners often use bip while eating which looks funny to Chinese.

  35. BMY Says:

    When I first time saw people sent their parents to nursing home few blocks(suburbs) away from children’s house it struck me. In China, normally old people live in nursing home if they don’t have children or children are too far away. (not intend to say which way is right or wrong)

  36. Buxi Says:

    @Joel,

    I don’t think you’re going to get a lot of takers, when it comes to listing secretly negative impressions of American culture. It really doesn’t exist. Most Chinese would stereotype Americans as being charming, polite, warm/friendly, and at worst a little naive + child-like. Other than cultural differences on family and education (which are of course very important to Chinese), there isn’t much else to talk about.

    On the ice beverage issue… you’re not supposed to cool yourself from the inside out with an iced beverage! When I was growing up, we kept a watermelon cooling in the well for the hot summer nights. But I have to admit I’m too used to ice beverages now to get away from it.

  37. BMY Says:

    I remember few weeks ago there was a article on the paper about a research says the average Australia woman have 6 sex partners in life time. This would be not acceptable by traditional Chinese value. But younger Chinese are going towards that way anyway.(again, not saying right or wrong)

  38. Buxi Says:

    Let me talk about the education thing a little more.

    I’ve had the opportunity to get to know many medical doctors in the United States. By anyone’s standards, they’re professionally successfully. They make a minimum of $200k a year, and many make upwards of $500k. They have incredible job security. They live in nice homes, drive nice cars, and play a lot of golf. They’re respected and admired members of society. And of course, they all achieved their professional success by working hard in school (by American standards).

    That’s why it baffles my mind when so many of them couldn’t care less about their childrens’ education. Could not care less. A son might be headed to junior college next year, but dad isn’t even sure. A daughter dropped out of the state school, and currently works at the Starbucks; whatever.

    This is about the only time that I ever find myself shaking my head disapprovingly at American culture. (I’m uh, not that upset about the “slut” thing.)

  39. BMY Says:

    another story just happened last night.
    one of our neighbors in the street rang my wife to invite my daughter to his son’s birthday party this Saturday.

    we know each other family well, my wife said ” great, thanks. hmmm, so It’s Saturday and now is Wednesday”

    neighbor said”don’t worry if there is enough time to buy him a present. His birthday is actually next Wednesday so you can give him the present then”

    My wife told me and we both laughed about the culture difference:under same situation, Chinese would say”don’t worry about the present” and won’t request bring the present later on.

  40. jen Says:

    @Buxi

    I know this is circumstantial (but so is your comment) but there are plenty of American parents who care a lot about their kids education. My parents are one example…my mother cared much more about whether I did my homework and got good grades than one of my Chinese friend’s mothers (they were both single mothers and the two of us both ended up at good schools), though I know that in terms of Chinese parents that is the exception.

  41. Buxi Says:

    @jen,

    I don’t mean to paint all Americans with the same brush. 🙂 We’re talking about “cultural” differences, and we all know that’s only possible with a very macroscopic view of a society. At the individual level, there are absolutely Chinese parents who couldn’t care less about their children’s education, and American parents obsessed with them.

    But I think the statistics confirm the cultural difference. I just happened to read this article about drop-out rates in California:
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/07/16/BAS311QATI.DTL

  42. BMY Says:

    @wahaha,

    “I know nothing about Islam, but this incident shows that when westerners rarely care about how other people feel, they are too self-centered”

    I have to disagree with you on this one. The Denish cartoon incident only showed the culture difference. The west society is less religious and more relax on different religions/ideas compare with Islamic countries. I don’t know much about religion and I stop here re the cartoon thing

    I think westerners care more others than we Chinese care other countries in some degree. of course there are many factors behind this like economic ,social,education, free information etc. There are far more westerners/volunteers(many of them are not backed by politics) in 3rd world countries on the ground to help the poor but there are very few Chinese. There were very few Chinese donated to Asia Tsunami but there were many westerners.

    I have to say it’s not very fair to say “westerners rarely care about how other people feel” . I know we have talked a lot about many of them want to apply their idea/systems they think are right to other countries which is a different thing here.

  43. BMY Says:

    Regarding the education, I think Chinese parents are pushing too much onto kids about academic even when living in the west.

    too often success is lead more by personality than academic records. Also what dose it mean by successful?a bigger house and a nicer car really mean more successful than a smaller house and a crap car?

    I think another reason is the west is very developed, poor or rich all can have a car,a house/flat, going to same supermarket. the Life quality isn’t that different between rich and poor in the west. very often, a tradesman like a plumber has higher income than a degree holder . So there might be no much need for kids to all pursue degrees. But China is very different in these regards. Many kids have no other option in life if they can’t get a degree.

    I think we have talked lot more regarding the education on the Gaokao thread. I stop here.

  44. Wukailong (European) Says:

    Someone just asked about cold water to warm meals, and if it’s an American thing. I definitely have to say that Americans seem to enjoy larger differences in temperature, like iced water after a steaming hot cup of coffee. Still, this is a habit of mine that has changed after living in China for a couple of years – if the meal is warm, the beverage should be too (though I can make a difference for beer).

    Parents’ attitudes to children vary, since the West is not just one country with one people. While I agree there is more stress on children being filial to their parents in China, it’s not like some of the horror stories I hear about parents throwing kids out, and the like. I’ve never seen it for real.

    As for squatting toilets, I’ve been surprised to learn that many Westerners can’t squat. I always did it as a kid, and didn’t think about it, but when I came to China, there was this guy who said “you can do Chinese squatting!”

  45. Joel Says:

    @Buxi & Wahaha

    [Buxi:]I don’t think you’re going to get a lot of takers, when it comes to listing secretly negative impressions of American culture. It really doesn’t exist. Most Chinese would stereotype Americans as being charming, polite, warm/friendly, and at worst a little naive + child-like. Other than cultural differences on family and education (which are of course very important to Chinese), there isn’t much else to talk about.

    What about underlying cultural factors that prompt so much scorn or anger from Mainlanders? Wahaha (#29) gave examples of the Mohammad cartoons (editors refusing to apologize) and Jack Cafferty, saying this shows Westerners are too self-centered and don’t care about how other people feel. Those are very culturally-conditioned interpretations. I’m curious to hear how Mainlanders would identify and describe the underlying values that influence them to feel like that about those events. In those two examples, obviously Westerners are failing to meet some sort of expectation.

  46. Buxi Says:

    @Joel,

    Those are very culturally-conditioned interpretations. I’m curious to hear how Mainlanders would identify and describe the underlying values that influence them to feel like that about those events… In those two examples, obviously Westerners are failing to meet some sort of expectation.

    No, I think Wahaha is mostly motivated by political concerns, not any sort of innate “cultural” dislike.

    At best, you could say that culturally, Chinese take what is said very seriously. Such a direct, public insult on someone, especially by someone of substance, shouldn’t be used or said casually. And you can accuse Cafferty of being insensitive to that. But there are loud assholes in China too, so I personally don’t think it’s a cultural thing.

  47. CW Says:

    Apparently squat toilets can be good for you – strengthens pelvic muscles and lowers risks of pelvic fractures in the elderly or something along those lines, according to some study I read about a while ago.

    American-in-China irritants: smoking galore in public spaces (including restaurants, which don’t seem to have non-smoking areas), show of macho-ness by means of matching/topping alcohol consumption (not that this doesn’t happen in frat houses in the US, but this seems a very middle-aged-men thing also in China), and the lack of water fountains and potable tap water

    Chinese-in-America irritants: bare feet and/or shoes-in-home vs. slippers (for some, mostly southeastern Chinese, and also some other East Asians, apparently), use of first names instead of titles (mister/miss, auntie/uncle, big sister/brother, etc.) in many if not most social situations, and (for smokers) the almost-ostracization of smokers

  48. Alex Says:

    HELLO EVERYBODY!! 🙂 I’M DOING RESEARCH ON CULTURAL DIFFERENCES (NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION) IN MANY CULTURES. MY MAIN TOPIC IS ABOUT “TOUCH” AND WHAT I MEAN BY THIS IS WHAT KIND OF PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF TOUCH (OR AFFECTION) ARE PERMITTED IN DIFFERENT CULTURES. I DON’T JUST MEAN ROMANTICALLY I ALSO WOULD LIKE YOUR INPUT ON FAMILY AND FRIENDSHIPS. HOW ARE THOSE RELATIONSHIPS DISPLAYED PUBLICLY THROUGH TOUCH. I WOULD TRULY APPRECIATE YOUR INPUT.

    THANK YOU!! 🙂

  49. FOARP Says:

    @Alex – Never heard of lower-case letters?

  50. Opersai Says:

    @Alex,

    BANG! You almost knocked me over.

    Touches between friends, of same sex, can be very intimate. I remember fondly when I was little, and held hand, embraced, hugged with girlfriends.

    Touches between family member, of same sex, can be very intimate, hugging, holding hands well walking (though most teens rebel that from parents).

    Touches between opposite sex seems to be very absent. Hugs between man and women can be very uncomfortable, and seen immoral (that’s changed somewhat now of course). My mother, despite many years living in North America, could not get comfortable with hugs from other males, especially ones that’s almost strangers to her.

    Personal experiences of course.

  51. Alex Says:

    FOARP Says:

    July 17th, 2008 at 8:12 pm
    @Alex – Never heard of lower-case letters?

    Yes, as you can see I have heard of them 🙂 I was just trying to catch your attention 🙂 How about some input?

  52. Alex Says:

    Opersai Says:

    July 17th, 2008 at 8:37 pm
    @Alex,

    BANG! You almost knocked me over.

    Thank you so much for your prompt response. I truly appreciate it, especially since you’re very insightful. Where in North America do you live and what nationality are you 🙂 (for my research puposes).

    Thank You.

  53. Alex Says:

    @Opersai

    What I mean is were you born and raised in the U.S. 🙂

  54. Joel Says:

    @Buxi and Wahaha

    Maybe we’re just getting hung up on different definitions of “culture.” I’ll try again from a slightly different angle.

    I agree Wahaha’s statement seems politically motivated, but I’m interested in the underlying assumptions, expectations, and values that lead him/her, and a whole lot of other Mainlanders, to see and feel about things that way.

    While many Westerners disagree on whether or not it was nice or appropriate to publish those cartoons (they might feel the editor was a bit of a jerk), almost all of them agree that the editors ‘have the right’ to publish such cartoons – they assume that protecting freedom of expression is more important than not ‘hurting people’s feelings’ or making 不好意思。 It’s a price they are willing to pay, even if it is distasteful to them at times (and we should note that the cartoons were in large part a reaction to perceived aggressive cultural encroachment of Muslim immigrants to European societies (sometimes called ‘soft jihad’), where many people feel their rights are being denied in their own society in the effort of accommodate the.immigrants. From their perspective, immigrants are threatening some of the core values of their society). Wahaha seems to feel that the fault and responsibility was on the editors, while Westerners would likely assume that the violent Muslim reaction is Muslims’ responsibility. Underneath all this, there seems to be different expectations/understandings of how relationships are supposed to work, and what can and can’t be explicitly said in public.

    I forget if it was Cafferty or the torch protests, but at one point there was a statement in the Chinese media that those things had “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.” Wahaha seems to echo this sentiment. Westerns have a hard time understanding the meaning of those kinds of statements. I think there is a major cultural disconnect here: some Mainlanders blame Westerners for making people angry and hurting their feelings, while Westerners are likely to respond, “‘Hurt your feelings’??! Who cares about something so superficial and childish as feelings? We’re talking about human rights! Grow up already!” Whenever China brings up hurt feelings, or has strong emotional reactions to ‘mere words,’ it also seems to many Westerners that China ‘can’t handle’ being on the world stage. It sounds really odd – and childish – to a lot of North Americans, who might assume there are much much more important things to worry about on the world stage.

    My point is that there is a disconnect between the two sides, as if each side is appealing to different underlying values and working with a different set of assumptions, and can’t understand why the other side doesn’t see it the way they see it, and therefore concludes that the other side must have sinister, selfish ulterior motives, and/or just be of really lacking in character. It would be helpful if someone could explain specifically how particular Western words/actions make many Mainlanders feel, and why they feel that way.

  55. HKonger (chinese) Says:

    I was in the elevator just this afternoon in Shenzhen, China, and there was this tall lanky 16 year old chinese girl with a very pretty face in school uniform. This jerk in his early 30s I think, a stranger, in the elevator with another guy, both shorter than the girl, out of the blue, simply asked her how tall she was. She politely smiled and respectfully answered the two older men that she was 1.73M. While I was thinking, gosh, she’s gorgeous, she could be a fashion model someday, the A-hole proceeded to remark that being that tall and still growing she was going to have a hard time finding a husband. I could see the smile on her face faded and I felt really bad for her. Oblivious to it all the idiot continued to make stupid remarks going out the elevator. This, I am sure, will never happen in the west. I’ve been called fat and four-eyed and asked how much I make and why I ain’t married and so on that I just joined in the fun.

  56. HKonger (chinese) Says:

    I’ve been called fat and four-eyed and asked how much I make and why I ain’t married and so on that I’ve learned to just join in “their” fun-making – on my expense, rather.

  57. FOARP Says:

    @HKer – It’s retards like that who give China such a high female suicide rate. Seriously, what a jerk!

  58. HKonger Says:

    America has what I call true secular prophets like the late great George Carlin:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KReZyAZLI0
    Hong Kong has a couple or three standup comedians
    I hope we, Chinese people everywhere (like the folks on this blog)
    will be secure enough to laugh at ourselves before the world someday soon

  59. Lee Says:

    Growing up Chinese-Canadian, I heard my parents’ endless rants about the best of both worlds. Forgive me this lack of hospitality (客气) now. My parents would be appalled to know that their offspring could be so discourteous in public expression.

    They made sure to point out the short-comings of Western culture (when viewed from the Chinese side). Still speaking from their perspective, these short-comings came in the form of disrespectful behaviour, and amounted to uncivilized conduct. They also pointed to poor upbringing.

    Let’s have some examples. (disclaimer: The following list is by no means exhaustive, or meant to be representative of everyone with Chinese background.)

    .1. people who address their elders 长辈 by anything other than their generational titles. We had friends who addressed their in-laws by first-names! I can still hear my mother, “她这样可真不礼貌呀!” (for shame! that’s really rude!)

    .2. people whose children are empowered to make verbal retort to their parents (or teachers, or nation…). “太不像话!.” (That’s too unreasonable! What a disgrace!) Child protection laws? “Parents must control their children, not leave them to run wild and shame the parents with unruly, impertinent behaviour!”

    .3. people who assert their individual (or minority) rights, against the context of the larger group’s benefit. Speaking of “human rights” at the dinner table always elicited a guffaw and a snort. It seems that the right to free speech (freedom of expression) is the worst offender; I doubt that my relatives are concerned about any other “basic” human rights, or anything that the UNDHR set out.

    .4. “it’s my life and I’ll live it the way I want to!” Any time we heard it on TV, or uttered it (eeek!) ourselves, you could be sure that my dad’s fuse would be lit and the house soon to explode.

    In summary, my family emphasized the offensiveness of individualism and social equality. Set these values in stark contrast to Confucian teaching, eh?

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