Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Don't stand so close to me!

And don’t look over my shoulder, either!

A year or so ago, I was doing a course on “cross-cultural awareness” for a bunch of Chinese engineers, and started to compile my own set of notes on those quirks of Chinese behaviour which most bug the crap out of foreigners. It soon got to be rather a long handout.

A recurring keynote was China’s prevalent lack of respect for privacy – whether in regard to personal space, personal information, or personal property.

One of the things that I have against hiring a Chinese cleaner is that they don’t just clean, they routinely rifle through your drawers trying to find that embarrassing ‘white-eared elephant’ photograph from your college days.

In a classroom, students always come up and rummage through the papers on your desk during a mid-lesson break.

At the office, colleagues always take up position right behind you for an extended gawp at whatever’s on your computer screen.

When my old landlord summoned the building management flunkies to read my water meter the other week, three of them showed up – one to read the meter, and the other two just to go snooping around my apartment!


JES said...

Must make using an ATM a nerve-wracking experience.

I don't know where I read this, or exactly when, but... well, it was years ago, anyhow: one theory about the supposed "coldness" of New Yorkers to out-of-towners is that it's got nothing to do with unfriendliness or incivility. It has everything to do with being one person among millions jammed into a relatively small area -- the only way for people to have privacy in such circumstances is to erect walls of invisibility around every person on the street with whom you're not actually interacting.

This made so much sense to me. It helped explain, among other things, why New Yorkers (well, most of them by far) are so nice when you do interact with them.

I guess, though, that in a culture geared more to the value of the collective mind, it makes "sense" to see as much as possible of everything everyone else is up to.

(Ah, euphemism...)

Froog said...

Funnily enough, I think people have been reasonably well drilled about not standing too close at the ATM. But almost everywhere else it is a problem. I have blown my top several times at students who do that rummaging through my papers thing in class.

And I just had one of my academic publishers for whom I edit papers tell me that it is considered "perfectly normal in China" to give someone's bank account information to a third party without asking them first. I blew my top over that as well, so the violence of the explosion may not have been quite so apparent.

I thought, but did not write, "So, what you're telling me is that bad manners and lack of common sense are perfectly normal in China?"

I fear it is so.

Froog said...

I omitted a "but that was in an e-mail" from that last comment.

Boy, my brain is still addled from lack of sleep!