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.


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

    1. I think the younger generation might get it.

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

    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.

  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.

  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).

    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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