Saturday, June 17, 2017

I Am Who I Am

Since moving to Beijing, I have been continually amazed at how much of my previous knowledge about China and Chinese people is totally wrong.
  • Rice is not nearly as prevalent as I thought.
  • Sweet and Sour Chicken? Wontons? Orange Chicken? Beef and Broccoli? Egg Flower Soup? Fortune cookies? General Tsao's anthing? You will never find any of these foods.
  • Although it is a highly respected ancient skill, almost no one knows kung fu. Which means no kung fu battles on the streets.
  • Their children are not math geniuses.
  • There is an alarming lack of ninjas.
  • I have yet to come across a panda digging through a trash can.
These misconceptions work both ways. I was reminded of this when I read an article about the Chinese belief that all foreigners hate cilantro (click here to read it). Where do these ideas come from? I don't know, but I have had many encounters with people here who are surprised that I am not what they consider to be a "typical American".

My wife and I both enjoy spicy food. Now, I know that not all Americans can handle spicy dishes, but I know many people who love to test their intestinal endurance. Any time a dish is being prepared in front of us, when the cook gets to the spicy ingredient s/he pauses. "Oh, crap. This is for an American. They can't handle this stuff, but I can't just leave it out. That might be insulting and Americans like to shoot people." The cook then holds up the spoonful of red powder and gives us a look that clearly communicates, "Are you going to want this stuff." We always smile and nod 对 (duì, duì - yes;that's right) while we point to the dish. It becomes immediately obvious that they are surprised by that answer or concerned that we may not be sure what we just agreed to.

I don't care about sports. When a local here learns that I am from Illinois, they don't know what that means. But if I tell them it is where Chicago is, they want to talk about the Bulls. This is something I cannot do. All I know about the Bulls is that Michael Jordan played for them until he quit to make a movie with Bugs Bunny and sell underwear. Every kid wants to know what my favorite sport is and what teams I follow. Due to the language barrier, it takes great effort to get them to understand I don't care about any of it. They always seem genuinely confused. This happened in the States too, but at least I could explain that I think grown men chasing a ball is not quality entertainment.

I am not a big drinker of alcohol. I get the impression that Americans are viewed as being big partiers and I know there is a Chinese belief that Americans can hold their liquor better than the Chinese. Because of this belief, in social situations (even when work-related) they want to see this demonstrated. The liquor flows freely and there is always someone to keep refilling your glass or bring you a new drink whether you want it or not. I am not opposed to having a beer or two, but that's it. When I say I'm done, it always causes confusion and I am sure that I am breaking a few social rules. Although, on that one I am a typical American. I have no problem breaking social rules. Been practicing for years.

8 comments:

  1. You do you!
    ...I wonder how that would translate into Chinese. Would they even understand the concept?

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    1. I think the younger generation might get it.

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  2. How do the Chinese react to that independent streak most Americans have? Or that need to be left alone?

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    1. Ever since Mao died in 1976, the country has been growing more and more free-thinking, but it is a slow process. The younger kids are learning independence slowly, but they are still a product of their parents who were under Communist rule. I have received many comments from locals about my way of thinking being totally foreign to them.

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  3. I certainly get the level of culture shock, but I have to say knowing you and Cassandra would add a whole new level to the depth of their culture shock! You are unique to the perception of what an American is like.

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  4. You mean to tell me that everybody was NOT Kung Fu fighting?

    That's extremely disappointing, because I would assume that everybody was as fast as lightning. This revelation is a little bit frightening.

    When I was in Asia, the thing I learned is that they think all Americans are fat. I remember going into a gift shop and seeing all of the t-shirts being something like 3XL. The one on display looked like a tent. And many of them would tell me how surprised they were that I was built like them. I must be athlete, then (I'm not).

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    1. I come across the fat expectation quite often, but I don't live anywhere near a tourist area so all the clothes are quite small. I wear a size 12 shoe which is not especially large, but nowhere near that size can be found around here. I had to order off the internet.

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Leave a comment. C'MON!!! You're already here. Leave a comment. Don't leave me hanging and wondering if any has ever seen these words. I'll rub your feet.