I think there’s a general myth out there believed by foreigners that the Chinese are a rude people, especially to strangers. First, it’s probably a bit presumptuous to slap a label on a billion people… but it’s not difficult to see why there is this surface impression after being in the city for a day or two… You see how people drive and how people shove each other on the subway, and you start thinking that there is no common courtesy in this place.
However, I’m writing to put that myth to rest. First, neither Tenille or I ever had to stand in a subway while we were holding a baby, no matter how crowded it was. (And it gets super crowded…) When people see us holding Andrew, people jump out of their seat and insist we sit down.
Also at first, the noise from all the honking makes the city feel a bit like New York. One big difference is that the horn is used in China (in general) as a courtesy, much like how bicyclists in the US use their bell or yell “To your left!” In America, the horn is an outward expression of anger, and hence considered rude to use. I’ve never seen someone use the horn in the US like they use it in China. In the US, often the horn is accompanied by gestures and colorful language. I think as an American, this is one possible confusion and misinterpretation of the noisy traffic in Beijing. And honestly, it’s crowded over here. There needs to be some simple mechanism for coordination to move as many cars, people, and bikes without major disasters on every corner…
The 2 Chinese people that we now have regular contact with – our Chinese tutor (Bill) and our Ayi (Housekeeper) Luo – are genuinely wonderful people. Always eager to please and going out of their way to be of service to us. We are very lucky to have associations with both of them. And they are certainly both a wonderful representative of their people. It could be argued that we may not be getting an accurate impression because we’re their customers and paying them. However, I’ve had enough bad “customer” experiences that I don’t believe being a customer necessarily mean you are treated nicely. An experience at the customer service desk in a French airport comes to mind… And I don’t mean that the Chinese are better than the French (as the French are a wonderful people in their own rite), I’m just saying that a customer relationships doesn’t necessarily mean friendliness nor courtesy.
The other day, I was walking around an unfamiliar part of town with Andrew (in a frontpack) looking for a piano store. I had an address printed out in my hand. It basically said “300m East of the Music Conservatory.” The taxi dropped me off at the Music Conservatory. After about 5 minutes of walking around, it was clear that I was lost. I asked an elderly lady, maybe in her 60’s. She at first didn’t understand me and kept walking, but then saw Andrew and came back to look at my paper… Then she gestured to follow her. I must have followed her for about 1/2 mile. Then we stopped, and she started saying something. My guess was, “But, it should be right here!”… Then I heard the pianos… it was just about a 100 feet away. I thanked her, and she smiled and then started walking back the other way… She walked 1/2 mile out of the way to lead me to the store!
Finally, I was having a conversation with one of my Chinese coworkers who just recently got back from his annual trip to visit his parents. He wistfully told me that he wished he could stay there forever. I felt I had a small glimpse of the many hundreds of people packed in that cafeteria who are the only child in their family working in a far away city from their proud parents. I’ve asked a lot of people about their Chinese New Year and the answer is almost always the same. Spent it with my parents and family. It was fantastic! Ate too much!
The folks I’ve been associating with are a people with value akin to my own as well as our many friends back home. They love their family. They look out for each other. They express common courtesy. Now, don’t get me wrong… there’s definitely a network of folks that are out to defraud you… but I just wanted to report back that all of our associations so far have been kind and wonderful people.