Monday, September 22, 2008

tmi at its finest

The Chinese are an interesting bunch.

Sit next to American on a 5 hour flight from Sacramento to Kansas City, and by the end of it you'll know their families financial situation, where their children attend college and what they are studying, and all about how the death of their grandmother when they were 14 years old deeply impacted their life and has made it difficult for them to truly love anyone.

Sit next to a Chinese person, and if they happen to know English, they might tell you about a great movie they saw recently or a funny anecdote about a vacation they took three years ago, but they're not going to open up like Americans do.

I've never been one to become BFFs with people on planes (I prefer to sleep, thank you), but in the words of Fight Club's Tyler Durden, the United States is a nation of people that love single serving anything: sugar, cream, butter, ketchup, floss, or a friend. The microwave Cordon Bleu hobby kit. Shampoo-conditioner combos, sample-packaged mouthwash, tiny bars of soap. The people I meet on each flight? They're single-serving friends. It's like having a real relationship, only with none of the commitment of ever having to see the person again.

And yet, ask an American how their day is going or how their weekend was, and you will undoubtedly get a generic "Fine" from pretty much everyone. A response of "Oh, it was fun but I didn't get much sleep" is considered an in-depth answer.

In China, do not ever ask "How was your weekend?" unless you REALLY want to know how that person's weekend was. I'm not just talking a simple "Oh, it was actually pretty crappy" description, I'm talking full on details that you, an American, would no more share with an acquittance than you would your toothbrush. In other words, it would never happen.

During the ten minute break between my ESL class I went to meet Romy, and while walking through the hall I caught her speaking to one of the Chinese teachers. On her way to meet me (she was about 10 feet away from me at this point) she casually ask the teacher how her weekend was. The conversation went something like this:

Romy: Oh, hi, how was your weekend? (starts to turn and walk away at this point, expecting a one word answer like "Okay")
Teacher: It was really bad, my mom got really sick and I had to take care of her.
Romy: (Turns to face the teacher again, caught off guard from the actual response to her question) Oh, no! But she's feeling better now, isn't she?
Teacher: Yeah, I think so. She had really bad diarrhea and I had to take her to the hospital and they had to put an IV in her arm and everything.
Romy: Blah blah blah.
Teacher: Blah blah blah gross detail blah another gross detail blah blah diarrhea blah vomit.
Romy: Blah blah.

At that point I stopped listening because I was so shocked that the word "diarrhea" was actually being uttered in real life, outside of a doctor's office, between two people that have never even spoken to each other before that I couldn't even pay attention to anything following the "rhea".

I guess it's not that shocking when you consider that Chinese people regularly hawk loogeys in public and potty train their children on the street.


the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

This is something I learned--rather painfully--once I got "serious" about being a scientist. And yet, I still make that mistake every Monday morning.

Andy said...


And well, I can't complain. Latin people are warm and welcoming and they won't lose the chance to make new acquaintaces and talk a lot.

I just don't know if we're THAT open to disgusting matters.

Anonymous said...

At least they weren't talking about hawking loogeys while having diarrhea on the street.

Strawberry said...

TIM - omg that is hilarious, now i ask people the same question in hopes i'll get a crazy answer

andy - chinese people are all about being disgusting

anon - ya, that happens here, too