More on Public China

The DH and I had a conversation with our Chinese friend F. today about the blog entry I wrote yesterday. F. is my former office mate, and now she is the DH’s assistant. She is very talented with languages and speaks English fluently.

F. felt that it is true that there is very little social responsibility in China. She thought that education and population levels had a lot to do with this. With so many people and so much poverty the end result is people who do not know much better. She commented that perhaps it was an indicator of the “quality” of the person. Some of the behaviors, like trying to enter an elevator first, she said were probably due to cultural differences, although she wasn’t sure why it happens. I get the feeling that the younger, more educated, more Western-influenced Chinese are changing some of these public behaviors.

My guess is that, like everything in China, change is taking place. Who knows, maybe a year from now I will go to the subway and find it resembles Vienna, Austria, the most civilized and socially responsible city in the world. (Well, okay, maybe it will resemble New York City?)

It was enlightening talking with F. about it. I felt like we could be candid with her and she would understand that we weren’t trying to insult the culture, just comprehend it.

This topic brought up conversation between the DH and me regarding public behavior in both the US and Spain. We have cultural differences, too. The DH felt that Spanish people are naturally more agressive, so if they are in a public place they will take more care not to push or bother people. In America, we apologize constantly, but the DH feels that saying you’re sorry is not sincere, because we should take more care in not pushing or bothering in the first place.

I’ve gotten a lot of food for thought today and I am sure I am not done analyzing these behaviors. Is this what cultural anthropologists do all day?


3 Responses to “More on Public China”

  1. superkimbo Says:

    Um, I hope you’re not saying that New Yorkers are polite… I’m from Connecticut, but grew up hanging around the city all the time. I’m not so sure “polite” would be the way I would describe an average day in Manhattan… (nor would it describe a day in CT, for that matter).

    You bring up a really interesting point about Europeans vs Americans. Many of the Germans we know also agree that the constant American “I’m sorry” is totally insincere. They often bemoan the cheery “How are you?” every time you speak to an American as false friendliness, because how could we really care that much if we’re not really listening to the response?

    It’s an interesting dilemma. In Munich, it is customary to say “Gruess Gott” (Greetings to God) when you enter a room of people. This is the height of politeness in my mind, but I never said it because I feel uncomfortable greeting God, personally. Am I rude? Yes, I think so… Just like we would consider someone who, even accidentally, shoves me, and doesn’t say “I’m sorry” – to me it doesn’t matter if they mean it or not, just that they acknowldedge that they did it. Does that make sense?

  2. global gal Says:

    No, No, I meant that China’s change will be slow and that they would probably end up more like New Yorkers (more polite than Chinese but a far cry from the extreme behavior of the Viennese.)

    As an American, I know just what you mean about the shoving and not saying sorry. I want to hear the sorry.

    In Spain upon entering any sort of business, or a room of people, it is polite to say something – usually “Buenas” if it is the afternoon or evening, and you have to say something when you leave, too, usually “hasta luego.” It is incredibly rude not to do it. It felt slightly weird to me at first, but now it is second nature. I don’t think I would like the greetings to god business, either.

  3. superkimbo Says:

    I see what you mean about New York – makes sense 🙂

    I just could not bring myself to do it – the greetings to god – I lived in Munich for 5 years. I never said it once. People would say it directly to me, and I would just say “hallo” (hello) or “guten tag” (good day) instead. I know they thought I was either: (a) increadibly rude, (b) an ignorant foriegner, or (c) just another ugly American. It’s a shame, but I just couldn’t allow myself. My husband Alex said it all the time, though, so at least half of “us” is polite 😉

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