Chairman Wao - Rude is as rude does

Sep 10, 2008 at 10:43 am

I was raised right. 

Sure, I’ve done some questionable things, but my parents definitely raised someone who is polite and knows how to act in social situations. I could be classified as overly polite, but one of my biggest pet peeves over here is when ex-pats say how rude Chinese people are. I hear it all the time. Yes, there are several ways people behave in China that simply wouldn’t fly in the States (or anywhere else), but aren’t social norms different in all cultures? If something that Westerners perceive to be rude only bothers said Westerners and goes unnoticed by the locals, then is it really rude behavior, or are the Westerners just fish out of water? 

This isn’t the first time I’ve been in a different culture where I could be perceived to behave well. My wife Alicia’s Australian girlfriends were blown away when I opened doors for them, complimented their clothing or noticed when they had their hair done. To them, it was as if I had come down off the screen of a period drama. This is probably because the only time I heard an Aussie guy compliment a lady, he said “nice tits.”

Aussie blokes opening doors? Forget it. I was just doing things without even thinking, and they were cooing about what a gentlemen I was. (Note to American men: fish in a barrel, son!) (Note to American women: accent novelties wear off!) 

Let’s start with the spitting. People just hawk it up and let it fly all day, anywhere. Wait, maybe this isn’t that weird in Kentucky. But seriously, if you don’t like people shooting loogies, maybe you should go somewhere else. To me, it’s only gross if it hits you. 

Mainly you hear people bitching about how everyone bumps into everyone else. But these people are all Westerners. If you grew up in a city of 20 million, perhaps you’d have a different idea of personal space. You just don’t get much. I have a friend. We’ll call him, CC. At Oxmoor Mall one day, he conducted a little study. He said he was fed up with getting out of everyone’s way all the time. Why should he have to move? Just because it’s expected? So he started bumping into everyone, which was pretty funny. We got into a few scraps with other high-schoolers, but he did bump a grandma or two, which, naturally, I did not endorse. Westerners just assume you’ll get out of their way, and when you don’t, you’re a jerk. If everyone in China acted like that, people wouldn’t get anywhere.

Getting on and off the subway definitely requires knowledge of certain rugby tactics. Also, the first three times I hailed taxis, other people just hopped right in them, while I stood there with my mouth hanging open. But I’m a quick learner. It hasn’t happened since. People accept that in New York City, you can be pushy because it’s such a big city. Well, c’mon people! There are around 20 million people in Shanghai. What do you expect? (Side note: I’ve seen guns come out in NYC over taxi disputes. For real.)

Besides, most of the perceived “rude” cultural differences are fun. Dining out is a blast. The Chinese don’t really kick it in bars. For a fun night out, they go to dinner with friends. Restaurants are loud, busy, brightly lit places. Everyone is shouting and laughing. People are slurping their food and making messes. I feel right at home.

You’ll also never see a bar fight here. Unless it’s two white guys. I see fights on Baxter Avenue all the time, and over stupid shit: “Are you looking at my girl?” or “Dude, you bumped into me and made me spill a milliliter of beer!” And in Australia, a bar fight is how people tell time. “Aw, Bruce and Daryl are ’avin’ a go! Must be midnight!”

OK, some things I understand. I’m tired of seeing old men whip it out and pee right on the sidewalk in the middle of the day, and we suspect people are urinating in the stairwell of our apartment building, which is not cool. I may never get over that one. 

But as for the rest: If you can’t take it, go home. We are in China, after all.