by Chris Bodenner
Some pushback on the thread:
Your reader’s story about the flight to Adelaide was completely underwhelming. Who hasn’t seen oldish folks, of many nationalities, out of their element on airplanes and at airports? How would your reader like it if their first experience with air travel occurred when they were 50, and was conducted in a language they had no understanding of? A bus load of camera clicking tourists is a pain no matter where they’re from. Yes, the Chinese, being new to travel, may be a little worse, but it’s no different than the standards of behavior they follow in their own country. They’ll get better as they gain experience of the wider world. But all this bashing is unseemly and a tad bit offensive. Get a grip people, and try to be a little understanding. Chinese standards of personal space are different from Americans’. If you’ve ever been to Beijing rail station, you know this.
See above. Coincidentally, I had set aside that video a few months ago because it was so striking, not knowing if we could ever use it for a post … but wait long enough and a Dish reader will bring up any obscure, interesting point. Another writes:
The story about the Adelaide trip left a really bad taste in my mouth, because it exhibits exactly the sort of empathetic closure that often underscores unconsciously racist attitudes. First off, full disclosure – I’m ethnically Chinese, but I’m not from the PRC, and as you might have surmised by now, I’m a native writer/speaker of English. And I do agree with many of the comments about Chinese tourists, especially if they are in tour groups. I ought to know; my native country is a favourite tourist and immigration destination for Chinese nationals. In London, if I see a cluster of Chinese tourists coming down the road, I head for the pedestrian crossings.
In the Lake District, I would immediately take another path. In fact I am often angrier at them even than my white friends, because I am caught in a double bind – just as I would avoid those tourists, I am myself faced with suspicion when I go around Britain, despite being perfectly conversant in English. The flip side of “Chinese tourists having a bad reputation”, it turns out, is that a tourist can be guilty of nothing more than being or looking Chinese.
But I digress. That supposedly amusing story sent in by your reader, about the parents visiting their child in Adelaide and getting things all mixed up, is a very different situation from those group tourists who have not learned, or do not care, to respect the culture they happen to have travelled to. The reader himself indicates that when he says at the end that this was probably the first time that couple has been outside China; yet he does not consider the implications of that.
In a country where vast swathes of the population are still quite poor, and where simultaneously the rich generally have no compunction about showing off their wealth by jetting about, it is very clear to me which group the clueless couple belong to. If they have not been overseas before, and yet have a son who is studying in Adelaide, consider the efforts they must have made for their child to make it there. The skill of knowing airports, air travel and customs work, or to know how to navigate unfamiliar terrain, is not a skill these two hapless people chose not to learn despite having disposable income to fling on overseas trips; it was a sacrifice they made so they could now visit their kid who made good in Adelaide. Your reader, who claims to know a lot about East Asian cultures, curiously seems to have completely missed this point about filial piety and parental love.
Do we really expect, in the context of the previous post about the lack of a guidebook culture, or the general lack of cross-cultural knowledge, that a middle-aged Chinese couple – a middle aged couple from anywhere – would have known perfectly how to get about and handle themselves in a foreign country, after a long flight, when they know no one (and their son had yet to arrive) and do not speak the language? That is in no way amusing. Comedy works best when it kicks upwards – against rude, privileged Chinese tourists who defecate in heritage sites and talk at full volume all the time. I’m completely fine with mocking those people. But to kick downwards as your reader does, from their privileged position (since they “get around” and have ample opportunity to be irritated by Chinese travellers), is not amusing at all.
For some reason I suspect that if that Chinese couple spoke the same language as your reader, or were visibly from the same culture, then they might have been better disposed to them, or to consider them for what they are, ie. clueless and uninformed from inexperienced, as one might be expected to be – rather than judging them simply by what they do or look like, ie. ridiculous and worthy of mockery. Clearly, if the reader has seen fit to post this “amusing incident” even after knowing the facts about the Chinese couple’s situation, I’m not sure such empathy is much in evidence.
On a semi-related point, given the long-standing awareness of how the Chinese tourist market is large and continuously growing, I have to wonder why it seems abnormal that the Chinese tourists could not speak English, but very normal that none of the flight crew know how to speak Chinese. In the ’80s and ’90s, certainly, there was no shortage of enthusiasm about putting up signs in Japanese for the benefit of similarly English-challenged tourists. Admittedly, Japanese tourists are generally better behaved than the Chinese; but I don’t remember that snobbery is a key tenet of capitalism (or democracy, or indeed any universal conception of social forms or rights). Once again, I know the complaints, and I agree with them; but just as English speakers mock the French for their arrogance and refusal to budge on their Frenchness, how is it not sheer arrogance to mock the Chinese without making any effort to come closer to their culture and language, if only to tell them to speak a little more softly?
Thank you for your attention, and I do apologise for this rant.