Culture Clash

Today’s blog post is really a product of  stuff we discussed this week in class.I chose to discuss Culture Shock with the students, as so many things seemed to be leaping out at me over the last few weeks.As I have said before, even though we have now been here a while the “differentness” of things is still zapping my brain.Even though I know that traffic rules are really a recommendation and are not enforced I find myself wondering how anyone can ever drive here.Being a pedestrian is also challenging when bikes can zoom at you in the wrong direction and half of the pavement is being dug up to build the metro.

But other things are also irking me recently.I know that manners and customs are culture-based,but kids peeing and worse in the middle of the street is not my favourite thing about China.The smell of durian and stinky tofu does not do it for me-have I been here too long? I don’t know.There are always going to be things about this place that entrance me and others which are baffling or even vexing.Anyway,I asked my students what they felt would be puzzling if they were to be instantly transported to New York or London.WE listed things that are different: chopsticks,fashion,language,education system,hairstyles,manners,heck-pretty much everything right? Indeed,the more time we spend here,the more alien we feel,really.

The girls can often be seen wearing really really short skirts,or shorts,black tights and super high heels.My mother would never have let me out of the house looking like that.And yet they are super modest,sexually inexperienced and the opposite of how they LOOK to me! Confusing,right? They often ask me about how college girls behave in the West and they can’t understand the sexual liberation they see on TV shows.It’s all so contradictory.Then there is the alcohol thing.I know that students in the West drink far  too much,have wild parties and stay up all night.This has already shocked our friend from Jimei University who is now studying for her Masters in Connecticut.But isn’t being at University all about cutting loose and having some fun and being young? I mean we all did stupid things at college but then we grew up,right? Anyway the kids here just study,study,study.It’s lights out at 11pm and off to sleep,and no internet for them.They spend their weekends in the library.I remember my college days and feel a little sad.But they seem okay with it and for them it’s normal.We discussed the fact that Chinese girls hold hands when they walk out on the street.I suggested they not do that in the US or the UK.

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Judy,Witty and Shirley at D’s birthday party

Another topic we discussed is the students’ unwillingness to discuss.I have one class,Majoring in Chinese as a Second Language,who are outstanding.With them I manage to have real discussions and exchange of ideas.But most classes in China,when you ask them what they think about something,you will be met by stony silence.You never know if they don’t understand or are afraid to answer.I asked the students about this.They said,it is impolite to be too direct in your answers.They are also not trained in Critical Thinking,and most Chinese teachers just want them to regurgitate what they have been told.They are not supposed to express an opinion.It is hard to get them to say much except by doing roleplays,which they really enjoy,because then they can kind of hide behind a fictional character or projection of themselves The students’ idea of a party seems to us really immature.We had a party for D’s birthday and they brought us really childish presents- I mean is was adorable and all but these girls are 3rd year University students- we don’t know how they will have real relationships with boys and get married if they just giggle and blush when you talk about guys and stuff.Their idea of a great night out is to go to KTV together,eat birthday cake and sing corny romantic love songs! However,it is also refreshing compared to all the over promiscuity of the West in a way.

The students are so helpful,respectful and also friendly to us.They actually feel it is an honour to help us out with tasks such as going to the bank or the phone shop or helping us to buy stuff online.The whole experience here is just so different from what we were expecting.

Just like last year, today we had Sports Day where we had to run around the Sports field and wave at the students,hear some speeches in Chinese and then watch the opening ceremony complete with scantily clad cheerleaders with pompoms.BUt this year there was a novelty-they got hold of National Flags for all the foreign teachers to carry,so that was a great laugh.

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4 thoughts on “Culture Clash

  1. I’ve had culture shock twice in my life, I’m not sure I’d have it now, I’m a bit too world-weary, it would take something pretty drastic to trigger it again I think. Anyway, my first culture shock was Egypt when I was about 20. It was my first ever flight – and it was awful, turbulence was ridiculous, I think the pilot was drunk and I puked – ….e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e. Mortified! Anyway I come from that into Luxor, and it hit me. It was just so alien, I couldn’t fathom how people lived like that, the smells seemed heightened and the biggest thing that hit me on a subsequent trip to Cairo…..men linking arms!!! Some girls do that here, young girls, but never would you see a couple of men linking arms. Strange.

    The second time was when I was first hit with Israeli….honesty. It just floored me, it took me a few minutes to pick my jaw up off the floor, I remember wanting to ask “you do know you just said that out loud and not in your head, right?”. :-D

  2. Oh right! When I first arrived in Jerusalem,my downstairs neighbour a little old Moroccan lady Mrs Duek came up to welcome me and quizzed me was I married,how much I earn and what my future plans were.I was flabberghasted.

  3. Oh and to link it back to China….

    I was only in China for a month, and I think I either didn’t see or didn’t want to see the cultural things which would jar with me. Although I have to say that the lack of availability of dairy products was most definitely a culture shock for me. I mean, you can get milk, yogurt and something they call cheese, but it was sometimes a trek to find them. (Note: I survive off dairy products – yogurt and cheese are my best friends). Also the food….you simply can’t go to China and not have a culture shock with the food, like when I ordered some kind of Chicken curry and pulled out a chicken foot from the depths of my pot. It goes both ways though, I remember some visiting Chinese students being horrified at the thought that they might be forced to eat….. SANDWICHES!

  4. Oh god don’t get me started on the food.We actually found a Greek restaurant downtown that has FETA and we also get Cheddar and proper NZ butter from Metro supermarket.But the Chinese really don’t like milk products and we are not crazy about Tofu.So there we are.

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