Now I understand that this might be a touchy topic, especially with all that is going on in the world at the moment. However, after living in China for 2 years it really surprises me how culturally ignorant people can be when the tables turn and they are the foreigners.
When I first arrived in China it was a massive shock to experience a culture so different from my own. I was taken aback by the constant honking of car horns, the strong smells wafting through streets and apartment blocks, the lack of safety everywhere… I could go on and on. As time has passed, I’ve come to accept it and appreciate some of the things that initially shocked me. That’s not to say I’m completely comfortable seeing men climbing scaffolding with no safety harnesses, or that I don’t feel my anxiety build when stuck in a traffic jam that has a continuous honking soundtrack. What I mean is that I understand that it is a part of the culture and that I shouldn’t expect it to change for me.
What really surprises me is the amount of foreigners that I know who don’t share this understanding or acceptance. We have been accepted to live in a country that we are not a citizen of, yet we haven’t accepted that it is a different country from our own and therefore the rules are not the same.
Case in point: We moved to China very suddenly and did not manage to learn any of the language. However, from the moment we arrived we tried to learn phrases and words that would help us get by. We’re no where near as proficient as we would like to be, but we’re trying.
There is a lady who has lived in China for about 15 years and I honestly believe she speaks less Chinese than I do. I have been in multiple taxi or Uber journeys where she disagrees with something the taxi driver has done. Instead of just sighing and letting it go, she’ll start getting agitated and talking to them in English. What’s more, she will get clearly frustrated and angry if they don’t understand what she says in English. This isn’t a rare occurrence, she will make a scene in the car and be totally oblivious to ways in which she could have helped the situation. I sit there cringing and imagining that the driver must be on edge wondering what she is going to do and why she is so angry. I am always surprised when they don’t just pull over and ask us to get out. What baffles me more is that her American husband, who arrived in China at the same time as her, is almost fluent in Chinese, and yet she makes absolutely no effort.
Another foreigner has the cringe-worthy habit of loudly complaining about people in English. She will make comments about their behavior, and this happens almost every time that we go out with her, and she has no shame or concerns that they might understand her. Ironically, she has told tales of how rude it is when Chinese people have spoken about her in Chinese and she’s understood them. Does she not realise that many young people in China speak some English? Enough to realise that she is talking about them? Does she not see how hypocritical she is being or does she really just not care? It makes me so embarrassed when she makes these joking remarks complaining about a native’s behavior, so much so that I wish I carried a sign with an apology that I could pull out and show all those around me that I don’t want to be associated with such rudeness.
There are so many others here, who have benefited from living in China, who complain or blame the negative things on the culture. I know that this behavior extends far beyond those who live in a foreign country, but shouldn’t those living here know better? My favorite conversations are with my Chinese assistant teacher who tells me about rules about what women can and cannot eat or do while on their period, or why people behave a certain way, or what a certain phrase means. We’ll compare our cultures, we’ll disagree, we’ll laugh about it, and then we’ll just carry on. We both understand that there is no right and wrong.
There are definitely cultural differences that I really don’t understand, but that’s okay because I accept them. I know that I can’t expect a country so many thousand miles away from my home one to act the same way – why is it so difficult for others? Of course there are times that I want to make a public service announcement saying ‘It would be so much easier if you just did it this way, China’ or to throw up my hands and cry ‘Wei she me?’ in the worst tones that a Chinese person may ever hear (Translation:Whyyyyyyy????) and, believe me, I’ll complain about them in future posts. But I certainly don’t expect to make any change by being a complete ignorant fool about them – actually I don’t expect to make any change at all. It’s not my job, it’s not my place, it’s not my country.