Ok, the title of this posting is so over used. But, it really does fit when you travel and live outside of the USA. I want to try to provide some cultural differences that really push your buttons, provide a sense of fear factor, make you laugh at yourself and the world, and so much more. If you have followed my writings, you may already have a good idea of what I am referring to. If not, get ready for some insights.
1. Stereotypes works both way. And, they are usually wrong: All Americans won guns, are fat, are wealthy and live in New York City. All Chinese are poor rice farmers who are controlled by an iron fisted government. It truly is amazing how we form stereotypes in our lives. I recently had a Chinese man ask me (very seriously), “Why are all American police officers fat?”. Apparently, he has seen enough fat police officers in Hollywood films to think that all of them are fat in real life.
2. Speaking of fat…: I had my feelings hurt when I first arrived to China. Yes, I was very fat. But, no one in America would tell me that. In China, it is one of the first things out of their mouths when you meet them. “Wow, you are fat!!!!”. But, if you try to say that there are fat Chinese people, they go into denial. I tried to buy clothes in stores and they tell me that they do carry clothes in my size. Really? I began to wonder and eventually ask where all the fat Chinese people buy their clothes. The answer I received was that there are no fat Chinese people. Whoa! Total denial.
3. Honestly speaking: Like many things in China, there are two sides to many things. You have the government telling America to stop being a bully, yet China does. You have people saying there is too much food waste in China, yet leaves piles of food on the table to be thrown away. China yearns to be a world innovator again, but continues to squash creativity and imagination. And so much more. But, one of the things that confuses me the most is the Chinese acceptance of white lies. It is not so much to spare someone’s feelings. It is more about saving the liar’s personal honor. As I mentioned, a Chinese person will call you fat all day long. But, when you tell them that it is considered rude, they will then say, “Oh, I mean that your are strong”. This is not to say that you can never trust a Chinese person’s word. You just need to be able to read between the lines very carefully.
4. You want it when?: Scheduling, planning and organizational skills are just thrown out the window. You would swear that there is not one single clock or calendar in China. The last minute announcements, the late arrivals, the constant changes to the plan are common place here. In America, I prided myself on being early or on time. If I was late, I think I was madder at myself than the person waiting for me was. In China, my early arrival habit has resulted in me waiting much longer than I care for. It kind of reminds me of the joke in Tennessee we used to have. Never try to build a house or have your car fixed during hunting or fishing season. It will always be delayed. I feel the same way here. And, seldom are there apologies for late behavior. Why? Because everyone does it and it is the norm.
5. Tidy Bowl Man in a sea of brown: How many Americans refuse to use a public restroom that is filthy? You know the kind I am referring to. The old gas station or greasy spoon toilet areas. Well, I would use one of those now. Because I have seen far worse here in China. Forget the fact that most places have “squat” toilets. And, forget the fact that most do not have toilet paper or that you have to pay someone for the use of a public toilet or paper sometimes. I have had to piss in 10 gallon flower pot type buckets. Stand on two of the foulest cinder blocks you can imagine while squatting over an open ditch. And, I have walked into places that reeked so foul that Satan himself would vomit. They times I have come upon a public toilet that has a “western toilet”. I have a renewed faith that there is a God. Even if the toilet seat was missing.
6. America is over regulated: I am telling you right here and now that you might as well get rid of all the food regulations, sanitation regulations, and other health and safety regulations. China has a poor record of these type of things. Yet, they have 1.4 billion people. People are not dying from eating at home kitchens, greasy spoon restaurants, or open air markets. Yes, I am over exaggerating about eliminating the EPA and the FDA and all the other government agencies in the USA. China could definitely use some more oversight in these areas. But, I have eaten in some of the worst looking places. Some people’s home kitchens would be cited and closed by the FDA. But, I have never gotten food poisoning or sick from these type of places. No telling what all the chemicals and pollution is doing to me from eating the food. But, I have never gotten sick. With the exception of one chain restaurant. I get the “trots” EVERY time I each at KFC here in China. Yes, that is the American Yum branded Kentucky Fried Chicken. I have yet to decide if it is the chicken that makes me sick, the oil they use, or the mayonnaise they put on the sandwiches. Although I love eating American fast food places, I have stopped visiting KFC here in China.
7. Western Culture Exported: OMG. The west has invaded China and it destroying the Chinese. They have adopted many of our pop culture ways and made them 10 times worse. Cellphones are the worst. Try getting proper customer service when all the people are on their cell phones. When you go out to dinner with friends, conversation is nearly non-existent as everyone is chatting on their phones or playing games. My driver for school even watched her drama shows while driving the car. As if riding in a car through Chinese traffic is not scary enough. And, the use of Americanism vulgarity as the cool thing to say…forget it. And, when did fishnet stocking in short shorts, or disco styled men’s clothes come into fashion in the USA? At least they have yet to embrace the baggy pants syndrome of the USA here in China.
8. China needs the Crying Indian Commercial: China is the most polluted country in the world. Or so I have read. And, it makes sense to me. Coal is still predominantly used for heat, electricity and cooking. Automobiles are not regulated like they are in the USA. And, the habit of burning the agricultural waste and fields are widely used in China. But, as much as China and the people here recognize there is a major health issue and environmental issue with pollution, there is little action on the people to curb the problem. Just flick that cigarette butt on the ground. Why use a trash can that is 5 feet away when you can drop your wrapper on the ground? No need to pay someone to dispose of that old cooking oil, just pour it down the sewer. A body of water is a great place to watch the trash just meander by during a gloriously smoggy sunset. The amount of trash and pollution issues are shocking to say the least. There is no conscience efforts to re-educate the population about these issues. I have thought of the perfect slogan for an ad campaign for China. “Take Pride in yourself. Take Pride in your Community. Take Pride in China”. Instead of a crying Native American Indian…maybe they can use a crying Confucius or a crying Xi Jing Ping.
9. Parents know what is best: I will say that one of the biggest things I admire about Chinese people is their family unity. Sure, some of the actions parents take with their children would be counted as severe child abuse in the USA. But, telling your child “NO” in the USA is considered child abuse now. Here in China, the parents word is law. They dictate everything in your life. They enforce the study regiment and value of good grades. They tell you what you should be studying in college. They, and the fortune teller, tells you when you should get married. And, they give you money throughout your life to help support you…at least until they are old and stop working. They the child needs to repay their debt to the parents and pay for their elderly years. But, what I love is the dedication to family. It is so strong. During the Spring Festival, you are required to go home to see your parents. It is called the Great Human Migration. Families still sit down at the dinner table together. Families gather around the TV to watch their favorite programs. And, children respect their parents.
10. Southern Hospitality put to shame: Perhaps, in early American history, it was like this too. But, in China, the society of community and kindness to stranger is so strong here. I can walk down a street in a small town and people will come and ask me to have dinner with them. I have people all day saying hello to me and snickering because they got to use their limited English on me. Freebies and discounts are showered on me. You can not be photo shy in China being a foreigner. You would think you are an American politician up for re-election with all the photo ops you are asked for. Looking for a quiet moment to yourself while sipping some tea in a restaurant. Nope. If someone is not gawking at you, coming up to you to try to talk to you, or asking for a photo…they are actually sitting down at the table with you, without permission, to try to talk with you. Sometimes it gets very tiring. You ask yourself if they have never seen a foreigner before. Well, “no”, most of them haven’t. The smaller the town. the more hospitable Chinese people are. In the big cities, you are just another face usually. At best, you are a mild curiosity. But, in a small community, you are a Rock Star.
11. Money makes the world go round: China is all about money, GDP growth, and wealth. I could just stop here with this description and let the words speak for themselves. But, what amazes me is that many Chinese in the smaller communities are living small wages. I say small because of my salary comparison with the Chinese. My Chinese counterpart in school makes about 2000 RMB a month. Some make even less. I make close to 11,000 RMB. That is their $350 USD to my $1750 USD. Yet, they manage to survive on that amount. I am conflicted on some things though. I have some Chinese people tell me that they are so poor. I stop them and tell them that they are not poor. Not when they all own expensive Iphones, e-bikes, designer clothes, TVs, computers, cable and internet, eating at restaurants, and so much more. They begin to sound like Americans on food stamps having the same luxuries as I just described. You are not poor if you have all of these things and continue to buy more and more things. Poor is the person barely able to keep a roof over their head and food in their stomachs. When a person can not afford the basic NECESSITIES of life, then you are poor. My confusion comes when I realize what they are paid and how Chinese people can afford all of these wonderful Western things. Apple phones are more expensive here than they are in the USA. Cars are expensive too. Houses are not cheap. That 50 inch TV is about the same price as it is in the USA. The designer shirt you have on costs the same as it would in the USA. I still do not have an answer for that. Maybe I will figure out where the free money tree is planted in China. That is the only explanation I have on how they can afford all these things on $350 USD a month.
12. Democracy: Hmmmm. Where to begin on this one. Thirty years ago, I think anyone could have argued that the USA was the best political system in the world. But, in the 21st century, that may not always be the case. Sure, I still think the USA is the best country in the world. But, that clear line of distinction has been muddied for some time now. Living in China and following all the politics here and around the world, I can only shake my head and wonder where the world is heading. So much turmoil and conflict. Power, greed and egos are clouding the blue skies of my thinking or world harmony. China’s government is changing. I thought it was on a good path for a while. You see the capitalism flourishing here. You see the people’s lives improving. You see some of the political policies being changed for the better. But, then you have the rulers of the land teaming up with the likes of Russia, Iran, and other “foes” of America. And, China begins to become the world bully in their region of the world. I am just waiting for the love affair that the Chinese people have for America to begin to dim and go against us. So far, it has not remotely come to that.
There are many other huge differences to express. Many, I have already discussed in the blog. All I can say is that it is good not to be in Kansas anymore. Like Dorothy, I have encountered the wonderful Munchkins. I am seeing the evil witch and her flying monkeys. I may even be one of the people blinded by the Great Oz, forgetting that there is a man behind a curtain in the corner. But, despite it all, I am just glad that I am following the yellow brick road. I am blessed to be meeting wonderful new friends along the journey. And, my ruby slippers, in the form of my career, has brought me to my new home. Sure, there is no place like home (USA). But, home is where your heart is. And, my heart is in China right now. Maybe one day I will click my heels together to go home. But, for now, I will just gleefully sing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and see what is around the next bend of the yellow brick road.