I thought I had it figured out – my family had finally viewed me as an adult and an equal and Icould expect to be treated with common courtesy as a human being wherever I go. Boy, was I wrong! In the United States of America, adulthood is reached at the age of eighteen, but in China, parents will always consider their children as children, and adults will never view those younger than themselves as equal regardless of age. This mindset involves forever viewing young people as inferior, immature, and unable to think or act on their own. I realize my words sound extremely judgmental and close-minded, but this major cultural difference is one that I have struggled with. When my friend Emily came to visit me from Vietnam, we both experienced these differences firsthand and ended up spending hours discussing and reflecting upon why my family and friends refuse to let me go any place by myself, why they insist upon paying for all our living and eating arrangements, why my grandparents refuse to believe us at the dinner table when we say that we are full, and why my uncle’s personal assistant had to overemphasize that we know nothing about Chinese culture and educate us (rather disrespectfully, I would say) by taking us to a museum about Ancient China. The fact of the matter is, none of these occurrences are necessarily negative things. I believe that on any other occasion, Emily and I would appreciate others’ hospitality and learning more about other cultures. However, all these occasions, even the ones that did not involve outright judgment from the Chinese side, were all performed in what we view as a demeaning manner. Since we are used to being independent and doing as we please in the states, suddenly being viewed as children who needed depend on older family and friends in significant ways really bothered us.
Furthermore, many norms of common respect that I had gotten used to in the states did not apply in China. First of all, vehicular traffic is very messy – pedestrians do not have the right of way, and as a result, must be extremely mindful of bicycles, motorbikes, and cars that can (legally) cut right in front of them even when the crosswalk claims that it is safe to cross. When we crossed a major street to arrive at the metro station near our hostel in Shanghai, Emily and I would get on the verge of cursing out at the drivers and motorcyclists who would cut inches in front of us at ridiculous speeds while honking cacophonously and simultaneously yelling insults at us. Also, people do not line up and often shove others out of the way to order food or buy tickets. Cab drivers, waiters, and salespeople will often snap at customers for something simple as asking a question. I often feel tension walking around or trying to get place to place simply because of these norms that I am not used to.
However much I find these cultural differences frustrating and strange, though, I must learn to understand and accept these customs. If I claim to be an open-minded American citizen who views everybody as equal, I cannot set my own American standards as the norm. What I view as disrespectful or unorganized may be viewed differently by the Chinese. By being so impatient and judgmental, I am only hurting myself by allowing my stubbornness to prevent me from fully enjoying this experience. After all, I even said that I want to break free and live irrationally. Holding onto my own cultural expectations will make doing so impossible.
I have learned a significant amount about Chinese culture thus far. Now that I am in Taiwan, I hope to encounter and appreciate even more interesting discoveries about its culture.