Some days I really struggle to be culturally sensitive and lose my resolve to stop people from “losing face”. There is a line between bad manners and cultural idiosyncrasies, but I don’t know where the line is and I don’t know if it is fine or not.
When some of the guys on our staff sit and have a private conversation during a project group meeting, talking loudly enough to be heard above the person currently speaking to the group – is that just plain rudeness, or is disinterest during a briefing session a cultural norm here in China?
When we, as the bosses, arrive in the office in the mornings and give a general greeting – is it a standard cultural behaviour to ignore your bosses when they arrive in the office, or do they just not notice us, or is greeting your boss just not important to enough to drag you away from your computer screen?
When people boarding the subway push their way through the passengers that are trying to disembark – is it general bad manners or is it just the Chinese way of life – push to get ahead no matter who is in your way in case someone stops you from achieving your goal and you don’t get another opportunity?
When driving along the road and you find you need to turn across oncoming traffic, and you just make a left turn exactly where you are, no matter how many cars have to wait behind you or how many vehicles in the oncoming traffic are put out while you finish your against-the-flow manoeuvre – is this driving method actually taught in Chinese driving schools, or is it acquired behaviour as you realise that no one is going to make way for you so you better make your own way, no matter who is inconvenienced?
When I was growing up, saying “Please” and “Thank you” became ingrained in my psyche – it appears that saying “thank you” in Chinese culture is a rare phenomenon. I really struggle with this one.
To the best of my knowledge the reasoning is something along the lines of:
- You don’t say “thank you” to people who have a close relationship with you if they do something for you – it’s something that they should do and therefore there is no need to thank them.
- You don’t say “thank you” to strangers that do something for you like holding open a door, or moving out of your way in the subway – they don’t need to do it and if they do, it’s their own decision, so no need to thank them.
- The only time “thank you” is said is when something extraordinary and of life and death importance is done for you.
And from what I have read in the newspapers, this kind of event is happening less and less frequently as people are too scared to step in to help someone in a difficult situation in case they are blamed and sued for further injury. So society is becoming more and more fragmented as people are extremely loath to “get involved” in helping someone in trouble.
Some of this is changing and not everyone behaves in the ways described above, but there are some days when it is absolutely typical of life around us.
Surely something is wrong with this picture. I find it very sad.