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Monday, June 18, 2007

The nerve...

Wow, I'm really amazed at the nerve of some people. I've heard a few foreigners (yes, we Americans can be foreigners too) here in China talking with impatience about the accuracy of Chinese translations into English... Hello!! This is their own country!

What would these same people say if common government signs in the U.S. such as on street signs were even shown in Chinese at all? They'd probably huff-and-puff about the fact that everybody needs to know English... But to carry on their U.S.-centrism and apply that within other countries? Now that takes gall...

While I am appreciative of China seeking to bolster their image and economy and in the process make life more convenient for foreigners, these people are independently governed and can choose whatever language or languages or lack of languages on their signs that they like.

What a contrast in character... You can argue about the motives (boost tourism, etc.), but I find the more tolerant attitudes boil down to the common people too. Many people in China consciously consider that they think life should be made easier for foreigners, whereas in the U.S., they are just expected to fit in without the slightest concern (that I have seen anyway) for how easy it may be (assuming these people are not faced with even more hostile attitudes). On the contrary, you commonly find attitudes in America that it is much harder to find in such a degree elsewhere: abandon any trace of your "ethnicity", "language", etc., and get on board with being the model white citizen.

Besides, the U.S. could also improve its tourism as well as its international image if its citizens showed a bit more tolerance of others (do you really think cheesy stereotypical roles for Asians, etc. in Hollywood films, etc. are just unnoticed by the rest of the world, for example?)

Granted, the number of foreigners in China is a lot less, but the whole world could really take a big, big lesson from Chinese hospitality. I don't know how many times I've struggled in vain to pay for a meal here. Can I imagine a common American (at least in the cities; people in the countryside generally have much better manners unless they belong to the also still large bigoted class) paying for the meal of a Chinese visitor to show them extra kindness for the difficulties they face? Oh, that would be something...

Now, if anyone actually ends up reading this, I can imagine some Americans jumping it with characteristic lack of tolerance for any self-criticism and complaining about this as being anti-American or saying something else predictably arrogant and unwilling to self-examine. Guess you can't say, "If you don't like it here, get out of the country" since I'm already out of the country. :) That phrase should probably be turned back on them when they complain about policies that allow multilingual signs, etc.

I should say though that there are indeed many generous-hearted Americans, but for some reasons even many of these seem to be amazingly oblivious to the fact that their fellow compatriots can indeed be selfish to foreigners or minorities.

Chinese media also has one focus that America does not. Consideration of culture and daily life of people in many other countries. America has its self-absorbed lens and mirror pointed in constant self-obsession back at itself---to a degree which is quite amazing. The only chance to learn about other cultures in America is if it is a hot-dog eating contest in Japan, a human tower of people that tumbles down in Spain, or whatever extreme thing like this that can hold the attention-span of most American TV junkies (which by the way includes the absolutely disgusting and inexplicable obsession with topics revolving around murder and other dark aspects of human nature which are quite rightly held by other culture's as unworthy of such extreme attention).

Now, such selfishness will only get its own deserts. Ignorance of the world has its costs. The greater moderation and less confrontational attitudes actually, I would say, harbor well for China's economic as well as cultural future. Does China have its own citizens who are so China-centric that they will hurt themselves by so doing, just as Americans hurt our own country by extreme nationalism? Yes, it does. And I hope, for example, that China, as with America and the rest of the world, will agree on a U.N. education platform which includes "world citizenship" as a part of the basic curriculum to cultivate attitudes which both better benefit all on earth but also best address self-interest. But first take the sliver out of your own eye, my fellow Americans... Now if that attitude would prevail ever more in America, we would really have something to be proud of in the world...

2 Comments:

  • Wow, Brett I have one question for you. How long have you felt this way? Have you always felt this way about Americans for a long time? Or did this emerge more recently, perhaps during your stay(s) outside the U.S.?
    While I can accept your criticisms, the argument remains how prevalent this American jingoism is. I don't know the answer, but I don't think jingoism defines the American character like you seem to. And yes I do think you're being anti-American, especially with your last comment that if Americans changed their attitudes they would have something to be proud of. We aren't perfect, but who isin this world. We have things to be ashamed of like other countries, but we have contributed great ideas that have bettered the world.
    When you talk about America's amazing self absorption, I didn't think about Americans, but Brazilians. Many Brazilians I've known living here in the U.S. surrounded by Americans & their culture, only care about themselves & all things Brazilian, even though they live here and reap benefits they can't in Brazil. Otherwise, why would they be here away from the greatest country in the world,Brazzzil. (They don't want to become Americans, ie. citizens, but want to remain foreign nationals, ie. Brazilians.)
    I do admit that Americans are self absorbed, but this is somewhat explained by the U.S. being a large country(in terms of size, population, and resources) that has traditionally been an island to itself like Brazil has.
    Asian countries, including China, traditionally have been known to be insular and closed to the outside world. This Chinese hospitality & consideration for others culture which you talk of is an entirely new phenomenon. As you said, it is reflective of China's efforts to improve her economy. It is in China's self interest to be hospitable to white foreigners with money & perceived skills and knowledge to help China make herself a world economic power. You are living in China during a special time in an atypical city, Shenzen. Shenzen is a new city that is very important to the Chinese economy and where foreigners have clout;hence signs in English. Are there signs in others languages for illegal-legal-foreign workers(other Asians) in Hong Kong or Shenzen(if they're there also)? Does China make these workers lives easier with decent working hours, health care, or language classes? You are a foreigner who was treated well, but you're member of the elite(Do you believe that Spike!) The poor always get treated worse.
    I have other questions about China hospitality & acceptance. Can you become a Chinese citizen and be considered as Chinese by the Chinese? Will your mixed-race child be considered real Chinese?
    One reason why Americans are intolerant today of foreigners is because they feel threatened by them. We are experiencing the largest immigration wave in the country's history- one that we can't control because it's mainly illegal. The numbers arriving are so large that native Americans(you know what I mean) feel their culture, way of life, is threatened and that the immigrants have less pressure to assimilate & learn English. Indeed, the potential for fundamental American culture-identity change because of these immigrants is greater than it has ever been. When a host feels like they're overwhelmed by their guests and that their house no longer belongs to them they quckly become less hospitable. The problem is the numbers are so huge!Obviously, the foreign population in China does not threaten it with cultural change (Interesting:How many foreigners would it take?).
    Indeed, China has the luxury of being kind and the incentive to do so, since they perceive foreigners as being an aid to their progress.
    There's more to say,but I think I covered my main points. I do agree with you that foreigners in any country have no right to demand signs in their language. It is not a right that you can demand in a country that's not yours. Do we agree?
    Anyways, someone actually read your blog and responded. I enjoyed reading it even if I don't agree. Lastly some of use tv as a window to the world: we're PBS junkies.

    Paul Cuesta

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wednesday, 01 August, 2007  

  • Yes, I have noticed this behavior from many Americans for a long time. And no, my time in China has not made me feel more this way--actually, it has made me more mellow about it as it both helps me see things more objectively and in relief as well as puts me in a tranquil zone where people are not constantly going after one another's jugular on TV, etc. (though it has confirmed me in other ways to realize on more than an intellectual level that whole large civilizations can and do see and do things differently, just as I often do).

    I was saddened to see you throw an "anti-American" label at me for expressing my opinions here. Although I am quite tired of certain attitudes of my fellow Americans, it is out of my patriotism and wish to enhance our honor in the world, that I use language which is intended to stir up, yet not to antagonize, and it is certainly not at all to be despondent or to overlook America's admitted advantages. And my words certainly do not disparage the American system itself (thought he partisanship apparatus could sure use discarding).

    The Bible says "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent."

    God is a big part of this, because I really do feel that people of many countries--but certainly the country which finds itself at the moment in a position of preeminence--idolize their nation rather than the God Who is the God of all nations and creatures. What kind of lack of compassion is it for our media to focus on a few American deaths, while hundreds, thousands, and as we all gravely know, millions might be ignored in the rest of the world...This is pure callousness which ought to be confronted and corrected, though it is not unique to America; but I speak this to my fellow Americans because I, as an American, have credentials to speak; if I join some organization and begin on that same day to make criticisms and recommendations, people will think I really have gall; but if I have been there and part of it, I certainly feel I have a right to make constructive--if pointed yet not personal--criticisms.

    We warn the powerful because it is within their capacity--at least it should be within their capacity.

    And while I embrace globalism and aims which do not limit themselves to serving any vested portion of the world, I recognize that my power of influence first relates to myself, then to my family, then to my city, nation, and then the world. I first should foremost criticize my own self and recognize my own weaknesses before speaking about others; I can then translate this to my own family--I can speak more things to my wife (albeit hopefully tactfully) then I will go around mentioning to others, and so on up to the national level.

    I believe your reply only further underscores my point. Americans like to argue, sometimes at the cost of an opportunity for them to learn something from another.

    In addition to this, Americans have quickly formed opinions about everything; even if they have never encountered an idea before, it is common for many Americans to tell you what is wrong about an idea (you are not, I feel, such a person, btw); from primary school to the grave, people are encouraged to express themselves, regardless of their knowledge or experience.

    Viewed from a positive angle, this reflects a concern for independent thinking, egalitarianism, and for concern with society, but viewed in a negative light, this is childish arrogance and stupidity. It seems to matter so much more about style and bravado than it does to humility, pondering, and openness to new ideas. While Americans are open to all kinds of material experimentation, I do not find that Americans on the whole are very willing to entertain new ideas in a humble light (there are again, many good and unbelievably brilliant exceptions). I feel we need a new culture of learning. I hope you or anyone reading this can understand that I am truly expressing this with my honest opinion and in the aim of improving our condition--it is not at all to inflame or disparage someone's quite legitimate patriotic feelings (including my own) for a country which does have its great strengths, as any fair person or nation should admit.

    While you are right that we are isolated geographically, we are not isolated from other countries by immigrants. We have great opportunities to learn about others, and besides people like yourself, most Americans do not do this. It quite sadly and strangely took something like 9/11 to make Americans actually pay some attention to the rest of the world. Human might respects human might.

    However, I do think that although we have many immigrants, I should be understanding of the fact that minorities in any country will be viewed inevitably to some degree according to the majority's standards. It might help things out for Europeans that they can easily travel to a sovereign neighbor and see that some ideas are relative because other sovereign societies are organized differently, whereas it is harder for one to view minorities (with no or little sovereignty) from the perspective either of their global place or as their own legitimate relatively self-sufficient island (same thing with race too--although God is surely above race or gender, efforts which portray Him in such a light do make people think about their attitudes to others).

    For example, maybe it has never occurred to Americans that some Mexicans may view the American territory according to a historical struggle just as other countries have such grievances (regardless of which position if any is more correct). They might not consider the possibility that others may think it more objective for the United Nations to determine borders, to prevent or redress such injustices as that done to the real "native Americans". They might not realize that democracy also means seeing America as one part of the system, rather than the controller of it all.

    America's material success is a hard position to be in. Even a whole family may focus on the older brother or a "successful" younger sibling, while the younger sister is minimized or reproved for her perceived or real comparative shortcomings, not realizing, that it is the imbalance which contributes in at least some measure to the differences.

    I won't talk here of China's shortcomings--which it as any other place has--because it is really not my place. I don't draw such a fine line as to prevent such discussions with trusted friends, family, etc., but I believe they can and have run things pretty darn well for thousands of years without me.

    Yes, you are correct that I am a (white) foreigner, but that is, pardon my French, B.S. to say that the kindness I have received here is due to them wishing to get my "money" or "skills". Yes, there may be some unwanted deference at times (unwanted at least when it is, say, in preferring my English teaching to that of say a black South African for the "correct" English--this is not everybody's attitude, by the way, so don't latch onto this for future use as as a weapon), but I have made some of the most sincere friendships here than I have made anywhere. And you cannot say it is for mere English learning, because many such friends do not even like to speak English. The kindness I have felt was more pronounced the farther away from I was from a big city (or at least the east coast cities), and from those people, whether in the countryside, or a city-which-feels-like-a-countryside (like Zhengzhou did when I was there), the hospitality most often has absolutely no strings attached, outside of perhaps a legitimate desire to portray their country and people in a positive light.

    Can I become accepted as Chinese if I became a Chinese citizen... By many people, yes, I certainly think so. Granted, they do not have so much of an experience with it, so it is hard to make a comparison.

    Three other things:
    1) Most Americans I encounter do not watch PBS; you are a great and welcome exception.
    2) As far as signs in a language, I think it is harder to say for the U.S. because it is comprised of many different peoples (though China has its own ethnic diversity for sure too). If especially 2nd-generation immigrants want to expand openness in their own country, I'm all for it, while obviously things like the cost of laws, etc. compelling such signs ought to be weighed. But often, the impatience of Americans I find is not only about being compelled by law--they even have aversion if a business puts up the signs voluntarily. No, I don't believe there is anything inherent about a country that states what its language must be. Times change, as do languages as you well know, my fellow TESOL bud...
    3) I'll end on a note of definite agreement. I fully agree with you that the condition of facing large waves of immigration does tend to make societies less welcoming wherever they are--and I know there are many Americans who have been welcoming and yet have unjustly been responded to with demand for more, a real lack of gratitude in some cases, etc. That is a positive feature of America that portions of it really do try to make accommodations--even sometimes more than is necessary or even rationale; but the fact is it is a rare person who can really put themselves in a minority's shoes (actually it helps being in a foreign country like here, even though I don't face any real problems) and there are going to be a whole lot more abusing of minorities in any country in the world, including the U.S., than the over-hyped (by the majority) over-accommodating in the other direction; we have to start looking at ourselves as being just one member of the world community, and being humble before God as a nation, just as I believe we ought as individuals.

    all the best,
    Brett

    By Blogger Brett, at Monday, 06 August, 2007  

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