On pretty much every blog you’ll read written by a foreigner living in China, the main focus is always on those little differences in Chinese and Western thinking. Things like the Chinese inability to queue properly, the non-existent health and safety procedures, the ridiculous bureaucracy… and given that my last post was about what I consider to be “funny Chinese habits”, I’m happy to admit that I’m as guilty as anybody else.
However, whenever you read about it you’re usually reading about it from the foreigner’s perspective, making the Chinese version of things seem very odd. So when I read this guide on Chinese-foreigner misunderstandings written by a Chinese person, it actually gave me a little more perspective, particularly things like this:
Chinese believe that you needn’t say “thank you” to family members or good friends after they help you, and that saying such a thing actually implies an unfriendly or estranged relationship. But foreigners are accustomed to saying “thank you” when a family member or good friend helps them, and they are taught to use polite language such as “thanks” and “please”. So, when you’re hanging out with foreigners, you definitely don’t want to be ungenerous with your “thank yous”. Not saying “thanks” will cause foreigners to assume that you are shy or impolite.
As an Englishman who was brought up with the maxim “manners maketh man” firmly in mind, I occasionally get a little bit annoyed when people don’t say thank you, especially if I’ve gone to some effort. Apparently, however, their apparent rudeness is in fact a compliment – they’re implying that your relationship is friendly and close enough that the “thank you” is implicit. Subtle, China. Subtle.
Also, I always thought that “laowai” (老外 – a common word Chinese people use to describe foreigners, literally translated “old foreigner”) had a slightly negative connotation to it. Apparently it’s actually a more respectful term – and now I think about it, the reason I thought there was a derogatory connotation to the word is because of the way other 老外 use the word.
There are plenty of other common cultural misunderstandings on the list, including compliments, eye contact and the odd Chinese habit of giving yourself a round of applause. Well worth the read if such things interest you.