What is this handbasket we’re in, and where is it going?

Dry Conversation in Little China

In China’s most recent bid to pull off a good first impression as thousands of tourists are expected to pour into the country for the upcoming Olympic games, Chinese citizens are being encouraged to take to heart a “don’t ask” list when conversing with the throngs of foreigners. Lists of the eight don’t asks are being thrown up all over Beijing, stamped with the Olympic logo and all.

Conversational topics that are common in China, but are somewhat of a taboo in western cultures, are openly discouraged. According to the list –

“Don’t ask about income or expenses, don’t ask about age, don’t ask about love life or marriage, don’t ask about health, don’t ask about someone’s home or address, don’t ask about personal experience, don’t ask about religious beliefs or political views, don’t ask what someone does,” –Reuters

I guess the only conversation that will be taking place between the two cultures will involve the weather and where the hell a man could get some dog, in which case the foreigner should be dissuaded and turned to a different delicacy for dinner.

Another hot topic in Chinese conversation etiquette is that of talking to physically disabled people.

Locals are told not to use phrases such as “It’s up there,” or “It’s over there” when talking to anyone who is visually impaired, and to avoid phrases such as “It’s behind you” to physically impaired athletes.

Here’s where it gets insanely hilarious. Instead of saying the things above, residents are encouraged to use phrases such as “You are really great!” Or “You are wonderful!” And presumably, “That person behind you makes $25,000,000,000 yuan a year; now go over there.” I suppose patronizing someone is better than giving them directions.

To me, Chinese officials believing that western tourists cannot handle Chinese culture, which includes conversation with the locals, is infinitely more offensive than being asked about my age or income or personal experience (23 – very little – I’m writing). But then, I can see some out-of-the-loop, camera-packing, fat American tourist taking offense to her age being queried about as she waddles around Tianmen in a pair of unflattering latex shorts.

Here’s to hoping that Chinese residents do the right thing and expose us westerners to Chinese topics of conversation. It’s their culture, we’re visiting, they shouldn’t be “encouraged” to avoid it.

Now what was your name again? You were how old, now? Are you having sex? Good, good.


July 24, 2008 - Posted by | All the news that's fit to hear, Chinese Olympics, Diatribe

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