5 Ways the Chinese Will Offend You
As I said in a recent hub, 5 Ways to Offend the Chinese, I used to live in China. There are a multitude of things I loved while I was there – the food, the cost of living, the food, the friendliness of people, the marketplace, and did I mention the food? However, they do many things that we, in the West, simply do not do. It took quite a while for me to get used to these things. And to this day, I still have a little anxiety remembering #4.
1. They will lie to you
The Chinese have a code of conduct for people they respect. It is commonly called saving face. They do not want to tell you “no” if they like you. That is considered rude. So if you ask if they are coming to your birthday party, they will say “yes”. Even though they have no intention of coming. Their goal is to preserve harmony in their relationships.
Before you get too judgmental, consider your own “lie tolerances”. For example, every self-respecting male in the West knows the correct answer to the question, “Does this dress make me look fat?” Truth or not, the answer is “no”. Or would you ever tell your little niece that her drawing of a boat was terrible and she should not pursue her dream of becoming an artist?
2. They will publicly talk about personal matters - money, weight, and age
The Chinese will ask you how much money you make. They won’t even think twice about it.
In the states it is common courtesy to act as if we are not wealthy. In my mind I can hear many of you saying, “but I am not wealthy”. Consider this: the average annual income for a Chinese family of 3 is $9000 (http://money.cnn.com). How wealthy are you compared to that?
The people I knew who had that kind of money were certain to speak about it. We consider it bragging and rude, but they just don’t.
Also, they will tell you that you are fat. I was 5’ 5” and weighed around 130 pounds – not fat for an American, but definitely fatter than most Chinese. And they let me know about it often. Finally, I learned to treat this piece of information as if they were telling me I had brown hair. “Fat” doesn’t seem to have the same negative connotations to the Chinese as it does in the West.
Sometimes even before they ask your name, they will ask you how old you are. This one has never bothered me, but I’m including it in the list just so you will know :). To the Chinese, older is better and more respectable. They need to know if you are older than them to make sure they are treating you with proper respect.
3. They do not stand in line
When shopping or paying bills people just kind of huddle around the cashier. It is completely inefficient, however time is not a huge value to them. MANY times I spent over an hour trying to wedge my way toward the front of the group when I needed to pay my phone bill. As the Chinese are jostling around in the huddle, they will also be catching up with old friends or making new ones.
Craig Storti’s book, Figuring Foreigners Out, gives a lot of insight into this practice. He calls Westerners “monochronic” people, meaning that we see time as a commodity, and it is not to be wasted. The Chinese would be in the “polychronic” group. They see time as limitless. There is always more time, and people are never too busy. I learned a lot about valuing people over schedules from living in Asia.
4. They completely disregard traffic laws
Travel in China appeared to be utterly chaotic. It is truly miraculous that anyone in the country is still alive. I rarely saw anyone stop at a stop sign and often saw people driving on the wrong side of the road.
And heaven help you if you are a pedestrian! Remember the old video game Frogger? Where the little frog had to cross the water by jumping on passing logs and lily pads and cross the road without getting hit by cars? Crossing the street in China is exactly like playing Frogger in real life. You cross one lane at a time and wait for the cars in the next lane to speed past you before attempting to cross the next lane.
Think about Offense #3 and the traffic habits of the Chinese will begin to make a little more sense. Everything sort of flows together in a big huddle. Vehicles, pedestrians, and bicycles just blend together as they each attempt to end up at their destination. If nothing else, they are definitely better defensive drivers than we are in the West!
5. They will invade your personal space
Staring is not rude in China. And as a non-Chinese person in a country of a billion Chinese, you better expect to be stared at.
Touching is also not rude to them. They will likely touch your belly if you are pregnant. Or they will feel your hair if it is blonde or red. They especially love to squeeze children.
None of these things are wrong; they are just different. When I started really getting to know the people in China, it became easier and easier to overlook our differences in culture and learn from them and cherish our friendships. This is a big and diverse world. I hope we will not get so caught up in our differences that we fail to appreciate the incredible uniqueness God has given each ethnicity.