Once upon a time, two men had a fender bender in a parking lot. One man had an expensive, new mercedes; the other a tiny, beat up VW. The mercedes got a scratch, but of course the junky car had so much damage already it was impossible to say if any new damage had been caused by the collision. The driver of the mercedes was already livid, but the attitude of the VW driver upset him even more. The VW driver was completely unconcerned. The mercedes driver was so angry at this attitude that he was beside himself, shaking with rage.
He decided to teach the other driver a lesson. He took a piece of chalk and drew a circle on the sidewalk. Then he told the man, "You stand right here in this circle and I’m going to show you something." Then, he went and got a sledge hammer from the trunk of his car and whacked at the VW. The man standing in the circle laughed, which made the other driver even more angry. He hit the car again. The man laughed even harder, and the mercedes driver got even more angry. Finally, he whacked away at the VW smashing it to pieces. The man on the sidewalk by this time was laughing so furiously he couldn’t even stand up straight. Fuming, the mercedes driver walked over to him and asked him, "Didn’t you see what I did to your car?!!"
"Oh yes, yes," was the reply.
"Well then, what are you laughing about?!!"
"While you were smashing my car, I stepped out of this circle THREE TIMES!"
My Chinese teacher just told me a story. An American woman was pedaling her bicycle in the bicycle lane of a road in Beijing. A driver in a car came into the bicycle lane, and blew his horn for the woman to move over and let him through. She felt the car ought not to be in the bicycle lane, so instead of moving over she stopped in the middle of the road and refused to let him by. He proceeded to get out of his car and smash her bicycle.
Sometime I’ll write in my BLOG about high context and low context societies. Suffice it to say, that no matter what the rules were about the bicycle lane, she was acting outside the rules that govern this high context society. In THIS society, nobody is entitled to his own space as a matter merely of prerogative. The slower person moves out of the way.
But what’s even more, she decided to impose her own ideas on how China is run. The Chinese guy also acted outside the norm for his much more reserved society, and it’s a sad commentary that this "cross cultural exchange" turned out so badly. But it’s hilarious, in a sense, that here is this middle aged American woman gonna come over here and set China straight. Like, are you SERIOUS?
And then there’s the attitude problem. One of my friends who is a Canadian citizen called me today very upset. She was at a gathering for expats on Sunday, a fundraiser where food etc was sold from booths to raise funds for charity. While her husband was getting some food, she sat in some chairs and waited for him. There were two women, two children, plus two more chairs for the husbands. They saved their husbands chairs by putting some stuff in them. A British man came over. Without asking, he threw her stuff on the ground, and took the chair. When she protested, this man came back, hit and shoved her. He said the chairs were for HIS use because HE was BRITISH. He did have an elderly person with him. She told me, "If he had asked to have a chair for his mother, I would have given it to him, but he didn’t ask. He just threw my stuff on the ground and took the chair." The detail I left off is that my friend is oriental in appearance. His assumption of prerogative was apparently based on racial prejudice and a belief in his own cultural supremacy.
But wait, doesn’t GW have a whole STATE DEPARTMENT full of handlers to educate him about these things? Does he listen to any of them?