I often like to give bad, ridiculous advice because the results are often hilarious. Or maybe because I’m misanthropic and like to see people give me dirty looks. Regardless, one of my favorites was to yell, “Push and shove!” whenever a large group of people were pushing through a doorway or trying to get down a crowded hallway. I’ve recently learned, though, that that particular line isn’t because I hate people; it’s my heritage.
Many friends claim that the craziest drivers come from their region of the United States, but all of them would certainly change their minds on coming to China. Welcome to the country where three cars fit in two lanes, where drivers only merge by cutting someone off, where cars don’t even slow down during right turns on red lights, where it doesn’t matter if you’re from England or the US because people drive on both sides of the road. But the problem isn’t just driving; businessmen will answer their phone. In meetings. Most vendors rely on imperfect information to inflate prices, and one must write down a taxi driver’s number to get honest results. And apparently Chinese geometry developed separately from Western geometry, as the amorphous, shoving blob is favored over the line to getting on buses.
From an academic standpoint, this rude behavior seems surprising. Psychology books I’ve read have distinguished Oriental thinking from Western thinking for their strong sense of community. The Chinese base their government ideology on mutual respect and help to prevent underhandedness and economic disparity. It seems, however, that on a direct, person-to-person level, the only way to move forward is to knock down the person in front of you.
While all this seems disgusting to me (being raised in Western society), I feel that their society is simply a reflection of American society. Maybe the Chinese are disrespectful to strangers, but I know firsthand that respect matters tremendously more in the household and to friends. Family discipline remains an important structure. Among friends, there’s a constant sense of good purpose and showing off, to the point of vicious battles to pay for restaurant bills. In American society, most people act sincerely in reaching out to other people, with orderly behavior in public and courtesy to all. The trouble, however, brews at home, where kids get away with behavior that would never be tolerated in a Chinese home.
It’s hard to say whether one is more correct than the other. I have my own gut feelings about it, but even those are biased by my upbringing. Most, if not all, judgments suffer similarly, because we all have our own social expectations. Disregarding the moral consequence of this, I do know that the difference will become an important issue as China grows. The Olympics have proven that China has the bang to matter on the international scene, but the clash is going to make things tough. The culture matters in the business world, where the Chinese must feel they’ve won every deal, while Americans tend towards subterfuge to get a later advantage.
While significantly incompatible, the cultures can find the middle ground, as we are all human. And looking across, people can accept the best that both have to offer. And maybe we’ll all figure out that when we say “push and shove,” it really is a joke, no matter who the target is.
*I was very tempted to title this post “Chinese Douchebaggery” (credit goes to the writers of “The Daily Show” for that word), but I realized that even with disclaimers, the title would overshadow the actual purpose of the post.