9 June 2004 2004 nian 6 yue 9 hao

Culture: These Crazy Chinese

When my sister went to Germany on exchange, she made a list in the back of her diary of all the things which seemed strange in her eyes, and entitled it "Crazy Germans" (tongue in cheek, of course). You could make a similar list for any foreign culture, and I'm sure that when somebody visits my country and compiles a "Crazy Australians" list it will be a bloody long one! A vital step towards understanding other cultures is to realise that nothing can be taken for granted, and when we read this kind of list with an open mind we have to ask "Who are the crazy ones, us or them?"

I have put together this list of unfamilar things that I have seen in China. For a few of these customs I could give a good explanation, but I have resisted the urge to do so. For some other items, I can't make head or tail of them at all. If you can explain all of them, then consider yourself zhongguo tong (an expert on China).

Just to be fair, here are a few things that some foreigners in China do which seem strange in chinese eyes:

 
Little finger up

I think that this is European, possible greek, it is very obscene, it litterly means jam this up your ....

You usually put your left hand in the fold of your right elbow and punch the air upwards with your right hand and make a loud grunt. It's very bad manners.

Eating Pigs livdr is also common, I thought that liver and onion pies were popular in Australia.
Angry Chinese Blogger [homepage]
10.06.2004 , 11:45


Liver and onion are popular in Oz - Todd you should know that! There are alot of things on that list that are quite common all over the world. But it was a interesting insight on what you think is "crazy" over there Todd. I enjoy your blog and insights.
Onlooker
10.06.2004 , 14:07


I hope I'm not shattering any hopes when I say that I have never even seen, let alone eaten a liver and onion pie in Australia. (But there is steak and kidney, admittedly).

Hand gestures and other non-verbal language is an interesting topic. It actually varies quite a lot between cultures, but people often take it for granted. Making an "O" shape with your thumb and forefinger means "good" or "okay" in America and Australia, but means "asshole" in Germany (if I remember correctly).
Todd@waze
10.06.2004 , 21:29


Steak and Kidney, how very British.

If you want to see some interesting gestures try baltic Europe, there are stacks of thumb related gestures and most of them are rude.

The fingures crossed sign means something very obscene in the Neatherlands.
Angry Chinese Blogger [homepage]
11.06.2004 , 08:14


Is the standard paper size really B5? I had to get something photocopied for the bank once, and they told me it had to be B5 paper. Coming from the U.S. where we use "8.5 by 11," I had no idea what this "bi4wu2zhi3" - as it sounds like spoken - was supposed to mean, and the bank lady was just like, it doesn't matter, just tell the photocopy people and they'll know. Anyway, I gave the photocopy woman the document and then when I said I wanted "bi4wu2zhi3," she suddenly stopped and was like, "oh, in that case, we'll have to use this other machine." Since the bank people gave me special instruction to use B5 paper, and since telling the photocopy lady I wanted B5 paper led to her having to make some special accomodation, I got the idea that it's not the standard paper size.

Also, I've never seen plain old "new" in the back window of someone's car, but I see "new driver" (xin1shou3) pretty often.
Carly
12.06.2004 , 10:31


Working in a university, I see a lot of paperwork, and most of it is B5. I'm used to it now, but coming from Australia where everything is A4, the paper here seemed quite small at first! It seems that A4 is becoming more and more common though. Oddly, most files and folders are A4. (What was the size of document you gave to the photocopy lady? If it was larger than B5, then that might explain her surprise).

You're right about the "xin1shou3"...I misread it. I've deleted that point from my list now.
Todd@waze
12.06.2004 , 15:23


Hmm - it was my residence permit (somewhat smaller than the average passport).

I actually never noticed that the paper was any different here than in the U.S., but looking now at some of the old papers I have lying around, it's longer and thinner here. (Which would suggest that it's A4 - perhaps A4 is already standard in Beijing?) I also never had any idea that the entire rest of the world uses this other system of paper sizes. If only the U.S. would adopt the metric system?
Carly
12.06.2004 , 17:56


RE Chinese not wearing deodorant:
As a Chinese blooded foreigner, I must say that Chinese generally don't have the body odour that westerners do. I have no way to prove that but I used to play rugby and American football and being in the locker room after a game or practise was like being in a gas chamber.

Re: Chinese showering once a week:
Although they shower once a week at times, this is intriguing to me because they always wash their feet at night AS WELL AS their underarms, neck, and private area with warm water. More 'well to do' Chinese shower everyday (sometimes twice a day I've found) but they go to a shower/bath house to 'scrub' themselves once a week or so. This weekly scrub can take up to 2 hours.

More useless info I've learned...

Oh, by the way, we're only talking about the northeastern Chinese. In the south, they shower all the time and they don't do the full body scrub down. No clue what the deal is in Xi'an or Beijing!
Dezza [homepage]
14.06.2004 , 13:35


Oh regarding my first point, a few of my teammates once commented that I didn't stink as bad as they did after exercising..but maybe that's just me? haha
Dezza [homepage]
14.06.2004 , 13:37


It's a scientific fact that the majority of adult Chinese and Japanese have a much less pronounced body odour than Westerners and Africans.

It's actually a genetic defect in one single gene that practically only occurs in Eastern Asia. The reason is homozygotic carriers can't produce the greasy stuff that is both responsible for earwax and carries most of the pheromones and such from a.o. the glands below your armpits.

Two consequences:
-You can easily know if a person will be 'naturally smelly' by checking the presence of earwax.
-First-generation offspring of Asians and non-Asians is almost invariably 'naturally smelly'.
Tuur [homepage]
15.06.2004 , 20:02


Isn't body odur also effected by diet? I've been living in China since Febuarary eating only local food (Western food is almost non-exsistant out here) so my red meat intake is almost zilch. As a result, I've noticed I do stink less than I normally do and I don't need to use deoderant as much. I think it may also be genetic but from my exoeriance diet plays a part in it. But yeah, us Westerners do have a stronger body odur. WE STINK! hahaha

Don't want to sound offensive here but I've noticed allot of Chinese people have really bad breath. One guys breath was so bad I hasd to stand back when he spoke, I didn't realise breath could smell like that. Any explanations?
Sean
16.06.2004 , 12:29


Actually the little finger up sign is sign language (as in 'speech' for the hearing impaired) for "bad". Sorry to say the chinese didn't invent it, unless they are responsible for the creation of sign language itself. I guess you learn something new every day, don't you Todd?
Greg
16.06.2004 , 13:22


Thanks Greg. I'm having doubts now, so I've removed that piece of information about the little finger pending further enquires.

According to this site, a raised little finger is indeed the sign for "bad" in British Sign Language (BSL), but I'm not sure what it means in chinese sign language (there is no international sign language) and so whether there is a connection between this and the gesture used in China is still not clear to me.
Todd@waze
17.06.2004 , 22:50


Sean: luckily, I haven't encountered very many people with bad breath. Most people brush their teeth regularly. The rural family I stayed a night with in January did too.
Todd@waze
18.06.2004 , 18:27


Todd

In the use, the little fingure up "used" to be obscene, litterally "sit on this or shove this up ... I think that it's gone out of fashion now
Angry Chinese Blogger [homepage]
30.06.2004 , 21:16


oops, I meant in the US
Angry Chinese Blogger [homepage]
30.06.2004 , 21:16


Check out my blog on Chinese Grammas.
Sammy [homepage]
28.02.2005 , 19:38


Well when I was over in Asia I loved the fact that I could use a parasol and not look strange (although I was a Westerner and they would have thought I was strange for my kind), but I love staying out of the sun and covering up I only wish I could do this in Australia every time I go in the sun - instead I just use sunblock.......but nothing works better than a parasol! Just think about it in the 'olden days' women would always cover up their bodies so they would stay white........so I'm just living in the wrong time/or country.
Merryn
16.08.2005 , 13:10


Well when I was over in Asia I loved the fact that I could use a parasol and not look strange (although I was a Westerner and they would have thought I was strange for my kind), but I love staying out of the sun and covering up I only wish I could do this in Australia every time I go in the sun - instead I just use sunblock.......but nothing works better than a parasol! Just think about it in the 'olden days' women would always cover up their bodies so they would stay white........so I'm just living in the wrong time/or country.
Merryn
16.08.2005 , 13:10


I thought hanging mobiles on a string was done worldwide? In England people hang keys on a string around their neck. It was cool for a while. Well, it's 'cool' to do that just as it is cool to stay white. Like in the Victorian times.

Oh, and who likes grape skins? It's not very nice.
Chinese Girl
27.12.2005 , 20:03


Makes me wonder why us silly Europeans and Africans bother to produce yucky earwax. Both my ears are blocked with earwax right now and they are really painful :(

Perhaps an attempt to dislodge irritating earwax motivated our early hominid ancestors to develop tools which started a feedback loop; bigger brains, bigger ears and ever more complex tools ;)
Ginger
03.02.2006 , 18:15


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