by Chris Bodenner
A reader illustrates how even cultures known for their patience can frustrate people:
Being from Canada, the simple act of trying to exit a crowded city bus usually involves trying to inoffensively indicate to the other passengers that your stop is next. Contrast that with China, where people just push their way through. I went there for the Olympics in 2008 and I soon realized that my apologies weren’t even registering with the locals – in fact, I probably looked like an idiot saying “sorry” every time someone bumped into me on the Beijing metro.
On a similar note, I went to Israel in 2006 and the company that was hosting the visit took us to Masada, the ancient mountaintop fortress. At one point during the tour we ended up in narrow corridor while our group of five Canadians waited for a group of Israelis to pass. After about a minute they cleared out and, as we moved on, our guide laughed at us saying that in Israel, if you don’t push your way through you’ll never get anywhere.
This got me thinking of how my inoffensive Canadian behaviour (standing patiently, not saying anything) could be considered annoying to any Israeli tourists that happened to be stuck behind us.
Another reiterates how rude tourists accompany any economy that suddenly booms:
The “ugly Chinese” tourist has a precedent in the “ugly Japanese” (and the “ugly American” before that).
I remember a couple of decades ago, being in a Munich beer tavern, when the previous generation of Japanese suddenly found themselves rich enough to hit global tourism sites. A group of Japanese tourists, seriously stressed over too much wurst and a lack of rice and miso, celebrated the end of their German tour by knocking back a few too many beers and singing impromptu karaoke in very loud voices. In the end, they got absolutely hammered and jumped atop the tables to show the stunned Western patrons a rousing version of their traditional Japanese summer “O-Bon” dance. It was behavior you see here in Asia during any given local community’s annual harvest festival.
This all has a cogent economic explanation. Paul Krugman, before his current role as shrill liberal attack dog, used to explain the Asian economic miracle in terms of “inputs” boosting productivity, or agrarian laborers leaving farms and rice fields for the factories, stores or those other middle-class employment opportunities that migrated to Asia from the developed world. These jobs pay more than farming. First Japan, a now other Asian countries have created a middle class able to afford travel for the first time.
Yet this new middle class remains steeped in their agrarian roots. At heart, they are rowdy serfs with little time for our stodgy bourgeois notions of personal space, privacy or speaking in a relatively quiet voice in restaurants. In China’s case, you need to throw in the fact that decades of socialist mismanagement of distribution networks instilled in its citizens a deeply – deeply – held notion that waiting patiently in line is a great way NOT to get what you’re waiting for.
These notions don’t disappear just because you now have had a few years of better management. Japan, again, shows how this will play out. You now have a generation of Japanese that have adopted a more restrained way of conducting themselves when abroad.
Another turns the spotlight on American culture:
I was born and raised in Brazil, and live in DC. Americans are indeed very strict about enforcing their personal space in ways that can be frustrating. For instance, when riding the Metro, one will often see a “crowded” train car that actually has a lot space that would be available if people were more comfortable standing in slightly closer proximity. Perhaps Americans’ strong sense of individuality gets in the way of accomplishing collective needs, and we could learn something from our Chinese counterparts.
Still, I wouldn’t go as far as the three Chinese tourists I saw sharing one urinal in a restroom by the Washington Memorial.
Read the whole discussion thread here.