.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Friday, September 07, 2007


Breaking the ice

Spending time with Liu Ping has given me the opportunity to learn a little about cultural differences. In the light of what I have written in recent blogs, here is some of what I have learned.

I explained to her that in Australia and perhaps most western countries when ones routine brings us into close proximity with another person on a regular basis that polite conversation will usually ensue. The process usually starts with eye contact, perhaps a nod of acknowledgement and in time a friendly 'hello'. To me the eye contact is important. If someone is prepared to eyeball you it indicates that they will respond to the above process. If they don't want to be friendly then they won't make eye contact. I have found that this works much the same everywhere I have travelled in south-east Asia.

Before I switched buildings at the university here in Hangzhou I found several staff members would not make eye contact even though I would see them several times each day. Eventually I came to the conclusion that things must work differently here. When I switched buildings I decided to say 'nihao' anyway even though staff might not make eye contact. And I got a response. Having been in the building now for a few weeks I find I have a friendly relationship with staff and some regular guests.

Liu Ping agreed that people in China do not make eye contact the way we do in the west and that taking the initiative the way I have is appropriate.

There are exceptions. One notable one happened one day when I was walking in the park beside West Lake. There was a small group of young people walking almost parallel to me. One guy was staring at me quite obviously. 'Nihao,' I said, hoping to ease the discomfort this created in me. He just kept on staring, no smile, no sign of recognition, just a blank staring face.

I didn't know any appropriate Chinese to follow up with but wondered if he might recognise one or two words of English. 'Where I come from, it's rude to stare.'

No response.

'And it's polite to say "hello".'

Eventually he turned away. I got the feeling his friends found the situation embarrassing.

When I related this anecdote to Liu Ping she said that his behaviour was rude here in China too. She had no further explanation for it

Labels: , , ,

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?