Feb 9, 2007

Culture Shock! Snot Rockets and Long Pinky Nails

Last week after work while walking through the park-like area at the center of my apartment community, I spotted a cute young girl. Dressed stylishly in a tight, white tracksuit, she was leaning against a wall by one of the picnic areas, probably waiting for a friend to meet her. On other days I might have though to strike up a conversation with her. Right after this thought crossed my mind, the attractive girl covered one of her nostrils and let loose with a supersonic snot-rocket all over the grass.

Recent incident number two occurred this week one morning as I was walking through the apartment community to go to work. I saw a 30-something man and his girlfriend walking through the complex arm-in-arm, and as I walked past the couple, I heard the loud gurgling of phlegm. I turned and looked back to see the man spit his loogie towards one of the garbage cans around the complex. I backtracked and took a look at the garbage can, and the yellow-brown loogie was 99% on the outside wall of the garbage can, dripping towards the ground. “Friggin' gross!” I shouted out, in Chinese. The man spun around and looked back at me like I was in the wrong for calling him on his disgusting behavior. Was this a case of cultural misunderstanding? Why do Chinese living in Beijing complain about the dry climate and then dehydrate themselves further by blowing snot rockets and hocking loogies?

This made me think about how some Westerners visiting China comment that the locals here lack manners. I would assert that this is not true. Both Westerners and Chinese have manners, it's just that they're different manners. For example, Ms. Snot Rocket, who really grossed me out, might be just the thing that a local guy is looking for. It's all a matter of perception and expectation. It's quite often that I'm acquainting coworkers and friends from the US to the local customs in Beijing. One section missing from many of the Culture Shock! and Fodors-type books is a section on how people need to adjust their manners and adapt to the manners of their host country. I think that a side-by-side comparison for this is quite useful. For example, in Beijing:

It is acceptable when...
...you spit on sidewalk, in the street, in a tree planter, on a bush, or out the window of a cab.
But it is not acceptable when...
...you spit on the subway, on the bus, in an elevator, or in a beggar's cup.



It is acceptable when...
...in a public area, you make a gushing sound like the cappuccino foamer at Starbucks, and then expel a yellowish-brown gob of phlegm onto the street.
But it is not acceptable when...
...at a temple, you use your index finger to point at a Buddhist statue or painting.



It is acceptable when...
...you spit your fish bones, chicken bones, and remains of chicken feet directly onto the table when eating in a restaurant.
But it is not acceptable when...
...you are eating family-style at a restaurant, your chopsticks have a little bit of food grime stuck coating them, and then you use them to pick food from one of the dishes.



It is acceptable when...
...on the subway, you shove your index finger up your nostril all the way to your knuckle, dig around for buried treasures, then flick it onto the ground.
But it is not acceptable when...
...you wipe your freshly-picked boogers onto your pants.



It is acceptable when...
...you are using a urinal in a public men's room and you urinate everyplace but into the toilet.
But it is not acceptable when...
...you urinate against the side of a building (unless you are drunk, or less than three years old).



It is acceptable when...
...you push elderly men, pregnant women, and handicapped children out of the way to get to the head of the line, or on the bus, or off the subway.
But it is not acceptable when...
...you are bargaining at a market, you settle on a price with the vendor, and then you walk away without buying anything.



It is acceptable when...
...in a public place, you tilt your toddler backwards like an upside-down tortoise, spread his legs as if you're preparing to stuff a Thanksgiving turkey, and then let him urinate like a horse onto a bush or tree.
But it is not acceptable when...
...you forget to clean up after your dog on the lawn of your apartment community or in a park.



It is acceptable when...
...you buy an ice cream bar from a vendor, open it as you walk down street, and then nonchalantly toss the wrapper on the street for someone else to clean up later.
But it is not acceptable when...
...you point at items or at people with your chopsticks during a meal.



It is acceptable when...
...you let your pinky nail grow to be about an inch long, and then while out in public, you use this nail to pick out your ear wax and closely examine each morsel.
But it is not acceptable when...
...you bite your fingernails.



It is acceptable when...
...you blow liquid snot out of your nose , without using Kleenex, directly onto a public street.
But it is not acceptable when...
...during a meal, you pull your chopsticks out of your mouth while grating against them with your front and lower teeth.



It is acceptable when...
...you smoke in a clearly-marked non-smoking area.
But it is not acceptable when...
...you stick your chopsticks standing vertically in your rice bowl during a meal to look like the number "11".



It is acceptable when...
...two men hold hands while walking down the street together.
But it is not acceptable when...
...you use your hands, rather than a fork and knife, to eat a piece of pizza in a restaurant.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You really cracked me up!
Nice observations !!!
-Yong Chi Chen

1:51 PM  

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