Okay, maybe starting this topic was a big mistake for two reasons.
1. I only have so many hours in the day and there is a LOT of weird shit I don’t understand here, and;
2. I’ve been in China six months, sure, but I reckon you could be here for years and still find there’s a lot that doesn’t make any sense from an outsider perspective. I’m a long, long, long way from expertise.
Nonetheless, here goes, a list of the top four differences between China and my home, as seen by me (NB: we work for a company dominated by Han Chinese and live in a predominantly Han neighbourhood, and so it is the Han way of doing things I reference below.)
1. Social expectations, culture and interpersonal interaction
In China, all of these are essentially constructed differently from home. It’s a cliche to say that structure and hierarchy are valued to a degree that we find strange, and yet it’s true.
I have to admit that I still have only a limited grasp of ‘face’ and how it works here. But I’m learning, from ‘research’ online and from closely following the interaction between people in my office and their own interactions with us.
It’s NOT okay to directly contradict somebody or tell somebody they’re done the wrong thing. Ever. Even if they’re wrong. Hell, especially if they’re wrong. They will lose face, you will lose face by making them lose face, other people will lose face by witnessing it. It will be a big face-loss convention.
To extend this: in my experience, anything opinion given by a superior is immediately parroted as gospel, and and instruction from said superior will be followed no matter how impractical or unnecessary.
For example, this was relayed to Ian through his Chinese assistant.
TA: (“Boss) says that we now have to spend five minutes of class with the children sitting quietly, pointing at their books.
Ian: Why do we have to do this? What is the purpose of this?
TA: No purpose, but (boss) says so.
Me: Um, is she a teacher? Has she ever been into a class?
TA: No (pulls a face).
Ian: Then this is entirely stupid and pointless.
TA: Yes, but (boss) says…
Pros: Well, on the surface at least, it’s pleasant to never be told you’ve done the wrong thing.
Cons: To my mind, there are many and they are major. How are standards meant to be applied under these circumstances? How can people be inspired to improve their perfomance if they can never be told it needs improving? If constructuve criticism cannot be given and taken, then small problems can easily become much bigger problems. Grrrrr.
Scottish entertainment involves going to the pub or watching/playing football (the two are frequently combined). Us Aussies have more varied social habits; we can go to the pub, watch/play football OR got to the beach. Win!
Chinese entertainment involves doing karaoke. Sober. I think this photo sums it up.
Pros: Karaoke evenings usually involve beer, at some point in the proceedings.
Cons: It’s karaoke. Ritual humiliation is not my idea of a good night out, I must admit. But it does make for some wonderful photos.