Sunday, March 13

Communication Between Parent and Child Across Three Cultures: A Case Study

Upon studying the ways Americans, English, and Chinese communicate, I have come to a conclusion that one single message can mean so many things when spoken differently. Let's face it, Americans and English  speak different Englishes. A single "How do you do" will prompt an American to say "Fine" when she should've answered with the same "How do you do."

Likewise, a single "What's up?" will prompt an English to answer, "The sky, perhaps" when all one needs to say is "Not much." In America, people aren't really interested in "what is up" per se, or how you're really doing. You don't have to spill out everything that happened to you that day. In other words, when an American says "What's up?" or "How're ya doin'?" just answer, "Not much." It is unlikely that an American will sit and listen to your complaints should you ever answer, "Oh, I've had a crappy day." Along the same line, "How do you do" in English is not really a question; it's a statement that should've been answered with the same statement. It's a common English greeting, not an expression of interest.

Now, the Chinese are a complete opposite. When a Chinese says "Ni hao (How are you?)" you should answer, "Ni hao" and nothing else. Never mind divulging everything that has happened to you thus far that day, it's just going to fall on deaf ears. On the other hand, a man from Beijing will greet you with "Chi guo le ma?" meaning "Have you eaten?" which seems like an odd way to greet someone, but that's how it's done in Northern China. You greet a person by asking if he has already eaten, and he will answer back with "Yes, I have, thank you." Again, you don't want to answer, "No, I haven't" because you may put your greeter in a difficult position--to feed you!

Here's an illustration on how Americans, English, and Chinese tell their child that she is overweight (I chose a difficult subject to tackle due to its sensitivity):

The Americans
Parent: Britney, you look great in that dress. 
Child: Thanks, Mom. 
Parent: Looks like you've grown. That dress seems a little tight on you.
Child: Really? We just got it last week, remember?
Parent: You sure? Well, doesn't matter. We'll get you another one that fits. You know what they say about cotton: it shrinks. How about a shopping spree just you and me today? 
Child: Cool. 
Parent: Hey, I was just thinking about how I am so out of shape. So I got myself a gym membership. I got you one, too, so we can go together. I need company. You game?
Child: Count me in, Mom!

Conclusion: As you can see, the American parent does not really tell her daughter directly that she's overweight. Instead, she tackled the subject with much courtesy and diplomacy. The result is quite astounding; the daughter is willing to go on a healthy regimen without feeling bad about her physical state.

The English
Parent: Sybil, dear, what have you been chomping lately?
Child: Nothing, Mother, just the usual cakes and crumpets. Why do you ask?
Parent: I think you're looking quite rotund lately. Lose the chubs, dear, for your sake and that of your future husband.
Child: Mother, you know fairly well that I've always had my baby fat. 
Parent: Baby fat, my foot! Sybil, I'm being very civil about your weight here, goodness knows what other people are going to say. The last thing I want to hear from your notorious Aunt Mable is that you're fatter than ever. I don't think that's what you want to hear either, do you?
Child: I can't believe we're actually having this conversation.
Parent: Well, we are, dear. So get used to it. Obesity is one thing Americans are good at, not us English. I suggest you do something about it. 
Child: I suppose. 
Parent: Well then, get on with it, and make the English proud. 

Conclusion: The English's approach is stark, yet witty with a hint of sarcasm and patriotism. There's no time to be nice; the message needs to be straight and forward. Notice, the notion that Americans are less superior is often brought up. In other words, English pride reigns supreme in every English conversation no matter the length and importance. And they always love to compare themselves with Americans. A conundrum, really.

The Chinese
Parent: Ah Mei, you now fat! You better lose weight fast.
Child: Thank you for teaching me to look good, Mother.
Parent: I say you fat because I love you. I want you to be beautiful and healthy. Fat no good. You just fat now. 
Child: Mother, I stop eating now.
Parent: You make me proud. Your ancestors are proud, too. Look at Lisa, she very thin, very pretty, all men like. She weighs 75 lbs. You are 100 lbs. Must lose 30 lbs in a week. I know you can do it.
Child: I will only fruits and drink tea. I will exercise 10 hours a day. I will hide in my room until I become beautiful so I won't embarrass family and ancestors. 
Parent: Fat no good, Ah Mei. Fat no good. I am bad mother to even let you go fat.
Child: Mother, it is my fault to eat so much noodles and roast pork. I will make you proud. Promise.

Conclusion: The Chinese is even more direct that the English minus the sarcasm and wit. If you are fat, you are fat. And achieving perfection is the key to life. The parent strives to make her ancestors proud, to carry the family name with her head held high. The daughter understands the parent's burden and will do anything to make that happen no matter the difficulty. Filial piety and complete submission are important and crucial.  

(I should be writing my closing here, but I really don't need to. The examples above speak for themselves. Do write with your comments, I'd love to hear them all.)      

Thursday, March 3

Bad Upbringing

There are certain people in this world who think that sitting right in the middle of your doorway is A-Okay. Well, news flash: It's NOT! So here's my problem: I work in an office. I usually close my door because the factory workers who work in the same building yak a lot during their breaks (way too much even for my taste). They are usually loud and obnoxious. That's why I close my office door. I don't want to know who got who pregnant and whose uncle went to jail (you get the idea). Break time in the building is like Prison Break, except that these "prisoners" don't ever leave. They just linger forever to yak, yak, yak about their whole life story.

Now here's the kicker: Every time I open my office door to exit, I find one of these "prisoners" sitting right in the middle of the doorway. And they don't excuse themselves either, which is why I am so upset. I have to literally push my way out of my own office like trying to get on one of those Japanese subway trains with hundreds of people sandwiched in between. Except that I am in my office. I shouldn't need to do that. So I came up with a solution. I started to work with my door open thinking these minions will somehow register in their pea brains that I am actually in the office and will eventually use the doorway to enter or exit. And still, I never fail to find a factory employee sitting complacently right in the middle of my freakin' doorway! Are these people so thick that they don't even know where NOT to sit? 

I discussed this with my wife and all she did was shake her head and say, "Bad upbringing." And that got me thinking. I should not be angry with these people just because they are in my way. In fact, I should be more empathetic; I should put myself in their shoes and understand how it is like to be brought in homes that don't enforce PROPER ETIQUETTE!

As Johann von Goethe once said, "A man's manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait," and that's probably why I keep seeing ugly people everywhere nowadays. Ugh.

But no matter, I will make a conscious effort to feel less upset now whenever I see Mr. Big Butt or Miss I-Am-Too-Heavy-to-Move propped in the middle of my office doorway. I'm just going to shake my head and sigh, "Bad upbringing."

Now get out of my doorway!

Tuesday, March 1

Wait, It's Already 2011?

Wait a minute, it's already 2011? No way! I must've been sleeping all this time. No, wait, I remember. I was sauntering down 45th Avenue and saw this green thing that kept hopping next to me. I leaned over immediately to see what it was, and there in front of me was a grinning, slimy frog. I was about to step on it--you all know how I love to step on frogs, right?--when it started to talk (this was the part when I almost passed out, but for some reason I didn't).
"Do me a favor, handsome," it croaked, "kiss me and I'll be your princess forever. I'm pretty and extremely talented. I can make you a happy husband." Another grin.
"Oh, I'm married, miss. I won't be kissing any princess anytime soon, let alone a frog," I said, quickening my pace.

You see, I was on 45th Avenue for a purpose, and that was to visit my favorite bookstore on number 276. It was an antique bookstore located in one of those grungy basements that looked like a tarantula lair. All I wanted to do was to go peruse some old books and get home.

Anyway, back to the story at hand. I brushed the frog off and gave it a nasty sneer, but the good-for-nothing amphibian kept catching up with me. To tell you the truth, it was quite a persistent little nut job. So I stopped, humphing something in French under my breath, and asked the frog to leave me alone or I'd eat it in something kungpao (the good thing about being Chinese is that I can eat anything). Then I saw a tear, and it was so clear I actually saw my reflection in it; I realized just how handsome I really was. So I stooped and said, "Well, green frog. I'm not sure why you'd bother yourself with me, but I'd kiss you for ten bucks."

At this point, I couldn't be bothered if the amphibian was really a princess after all, but I'd read enough stories to know that if I should kiss it, it could transform itself into a beautiful princess. So what the heck, I did it. I kissed it. One big, wet smooch! My mouth was all slimy after that, but I didn't care. I wanted a princess. A rich one, too!

But nothing happened. The frog politely said thank you and started to hop away.

"Hey, wait a minute you little green thing!" I yelled. "You are supposed to turn into a princess."

"No need to."

"What do you mean, no need? You promised!"

"I'm already a princess. My name is Princess Katak, and I am the princess of Swamp Kingdom located just down that gutter over there." For some reason she was all smiles, and I knew right away that she was telling the truth. It was the royal smile, I must say, that gave me the assurance that she was true royalty. But who cares, where was my princess?

"I asked for a kiss and you gave it. I told you I was a princess, and I am. I never said anything about turning into a human princess," she continued. "And just so you know, I am beautiful by amphibian standards."

My head was already giddy. I should be at a bookstore by now. "Okay, never mind the fact that you misled me, but I want my ten bucks as promised. NOW!"

"In my world, our money is our spit. One spit for every buck. Ready for it? I'd love to pay you."

At this point, I was beyond speechless; I was beginning to forget many things, including my name and my purpose in life. I did not respond.

"I thought so," the green thing snapped before hopping away toward gutterland. I guess I must have fainted or something because I cannot remember anything else after that. All that I recall is waking up next to my wife sometime in March. And the rest is history. But hey, I'm back, right, which is reason enough for everyone to jump hysterically in celebration. So there.