Do you get left out of conversations?
This thread made me think about conversations I have with Chinese people.
I had a student once who said that her mother-in-law rarely speaks directly to her. At dinner, her mother-in-law will say things to my student's husband such as "Does your wife want more rice?"
Now that I have a baby, I notice I am a hit with middle-aged Chinese woman. If I am out with my daughter, they love talking to me. However, if I am out with my daughter and my wife, I am usually left out of the conversation. I will try to join the conversation. Then they often will say to my wife, "His Chinese is good," and then continue on without me.
Before having a baby, I noticed this as well. I see a conversation in Chinese. I know what is happening. I try to join. Whamo--left out.
I have come to the conclusion that in China there isn't the concept that everyone should be included in a conversation. I don't say this to complain (although I must admit it is frustrating at times). I'm just wondering if I am the only one who notices this? Is this something Chinese people teach? It may sound ridiculous, but I have seen it happen enough times that I can't help wonder if this has something to do with Confucianism? Or is this just a normal thing when two cultures bump into each other? Generally, the people that leave me out of conversations seem good natured enough.
calkinsDecember 28, 2010, 09:03 AM
Xiaophil, you're definitely not alone! This "phenomenon" also happens in Taiwan, and it happens a lot.
The other day I was having Christmas dinner with friends (all Taiwanese) and I was selecting items from the menu (麻辣火鍋 spicy hot pot). The waitress came over to me and said to me in Chinese, "Wow, you can read Chinese?!" I replied in Chinese, "I can read some." Her reply (typical) was 哇，好厲害喔！（Wow, that's amazing!).
She then turned to my Taiwanese friend and said, "What would he like to order?"
This annoyance happens all the time!!!! I feel your pain.
This restaurant 现象 happens to me too. My wife says that, oddly enough, it is their way of being nice, which I sort of get in a backwards way if I think about it, but really I don't. I really wonder what is the underlying thinking here.
I would love insight as to why this is polite. I really do try to appreciate other people's reasons for doing things. I think differences in manners are the hardest to wrap my head around. Certain things to me were passed down as laws of the universe, but I have come to find that they are not. (That and why are there no cars passing thru the cross walk while my walk light is red, but as soon as the little guy turns green cars go zipping by? Do we all wait together and all go at once?)
Hi xiaophil, calkins and orangina.
I'll take a stab at this... a waiter is being respectful to you by putting you on a pedestal - if you were the Emperor in ancient China, no way would he dream of talking to you directly. The Chinese collective is a of mix of complex unspoken hierarchies, many of which are formulated innately in a person's mind through cultural influences. If a waiter perceives you as being higher in his hierarchy, he would be uncomfortable speaking "up" to you. It would also be his responsibility to prevent you from losing face by making a mistake in ordering from the menu. Hence he protects you.
I think it is one of the intriguing things about Chinese culture that a person can be treated like an idiot and an Emperor all at the same time.
I have a variation on this story. We have a favourite hot pot restaurant, been several times. On this one occasion my wife and I went with two Chinese friends but I did all the ordering. At the end of the meal, the 老板 brings the bill over and usually asks you to check that you got everything okay before she tells you how much you owe. On this one evening she came over and handed the bill to my Chinese friend to check. (He actually arrived late and had missed all the ordering.)
I said to her - 'I will check it'.
She turns to me and asks 'Oh, .... YOU can read Chinese?'
'Um.. yes'. [At a hot pot restaurant you have to read to order - you mark off items on a printed sheet with a pen they give you.]
Then unfortunately I had to climb down off my high horse as I mis-read one of the characters. Damn! :)
pretzellogicDecember 28, 2010, 09:33 AM
This is a tangent, so feel free to ignore, but I was curious if you're out with your daughter, and some Chinese mom looks at your cute baby, then gives you a five minute lecture about how cold the weather is, and your child is insufficiently bundled up, and about to freeze to death, you bad parent you. I get that.
Yes, it is quite annoying. We are always told we should never ever hold her erect. And about the weather, it is always a wind thing. Even if there is almost no wind, and the wind is warm (like an indoor draft), we are risking a cold. I wonder if Chinese people know that colds are caused by viruses?
But I should say that at least they care.
Ha ha! I don't have kids, but the parents in Taiwan put WAY TOO MANY clothes on their kids. It's unbelievable. It could be 20 degrees celsius (about 70 F) and a kid will have 3 shirts on, a sweater, and a thick winter jacket with fur! That is no exaggeration. On top of that, most places have the AC kicking full throttle during winter...so the kids are sweating from all the clothes they are wearing, then they come into a building with the AC on.
I don't understand this one.
Calkins, that's an interesting observation. Here in the US, teenage kids wear too little clothing in the winter. (And parents can't make them wear any more.) My daughter's boyfriend only wears a sweatshirt-hoodie even though it's 20 degrees F outside, the wind is blowing and its snowing. I feel like buying him a winter jacket, but I'm not his mother. Most teenage kids I notice are like him. My daughter is dressed warmer, with the always popular North Face jacket and UGG boots. My college-age son always wears his snowboarding jacket, which doesn't look all that warm to me, but he says it is. Ironically, my daughter is the one who's caught a cold this winter!
I'm going back to Chinese class today after a 10-day break. I'm afraid my brain is just not in gear this morning! I probably will have a hard time understanding what my teacher says.
Don't forget the rag down the back of the shirt to collect all the sweat. I had to ask about that. The woman I asked replied to me in wonder, "Do American kids not sweat?" Different strokes for different folks!
:D My soon to be sister-in-law visited me here in HK with her six-month-old in November. Almost the whole time her son was just wearing a onesie, the kind without any legs. Of course at the same time all the Hong Kong kidlets were outfitted in little snowsuits. So she always had people coming up to her and asking - wasn't the baby cold? She just had to reply that they were from Canada.
In the days when I was regularly getting "the lecture" about my about-to-be-frozen-to-death children, my Chinese was almost non-existent. I knew I was getting the lecture, but I only understood "cold" and "hands". I would just smile and say, "oh, I didn't know", and "thank you".
but I think this is quite a common thing regardless of the subject matter.. it's the "you should pay attention to me because I know what will keep you safe" thing.. and it's not the same as it is here, in the west, where people are saying "you should pay attention to me because I know more or better than you".. no.. it's not ego at all really.. it's a genuine concern and sincere need to make sure you and your children are ok.. and that's what makes it bearable I think :)
Yeah, in retrospect, I didn't really have a problem with it. I assessed the weather differently than a typical Chinese mom, but I was always amused by the lecture. I guess in the back of my mind, I thought these women giving me the lecture were being sincere. I guess I was thinking the entire interaction was a cultural touchpoint that I was witnessing. Plus a "father/mother" thing as well.
hiewhongliangDecember 28, 2010, 01:33 PM
Great subject matter, xiaophil. I agree with you that the Chinese in general there is a lot less emphasis on the concept that everyone should be included in a conversation. It isn't that people are rude. Quite the contrary. It is just that the question of a person's inclusion into conversation is a matter of valuing and fair-treatment for an "individual", and that takes a back-seat to "collective" factors such as face, obligations, reciprocity, manners, hierarchies, etc. After the mind subconsciously churns through all these complex factors to decide on an appropriate course of action, there isn't much room left to consider whether someone is being left out of a conversation.
My wife hates it when in gatherings my friends are obviously bored but I make no attempt to bring them into conversation. I tell her, "We are Tao. When the Tao flows to his corner, he will be spoken to." My wife just thinks I'm lazy, simple as that. :-)
Thanks for the explanation. It seems to me a few years ago I felt a little annoyed when I heard that some Chinese people think foreigners are simple. But after living in China, I have seen how complicated it can be living in Chinese society, just as you show here. Now I think they might be right.
bweedinDecember 28, 2010, 04:15 PM
If they weren't talking to me, they would just speak the local dialect :)
but usually at least one person at a time would be delegated to talk to me lol
ok, the restaurant thing. . . I don't know how applicable that can be because doesn't one person (man) usually order for everyone anyway?
Yes, definitely get this - the recent CNY at the 老家 being a good example. I can't understand a word of minnanhua, so it's generally a boring trip- but to top it off, the mandarin, when spoken, is so heavily accented that I feel like I'm a newbie again! Thank God for several weeks of Economist downloads on the ipad...