Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Did she just say that?!"

And a random photo taken from The Great Wall - to pretty things up a bit

I think one of the many cultural/social differences that is really obvious to me, as an American living here in China, is the Chinese tradition of BEING BLUNT.

In the U.S., its just not socially acceptable to tell someone they are fat or they eat too much or they have a big nose or they look as if they haven't slept in days. Those are things people may think, but for the most part, remain left unsaid. If someone were to point out these less than desirable characteristics, we would think that person was being rude or too judgmental or in some cases, just plain nasty.

In China, pointing out things like this is the norm and for the most part its not intended to be rude. I think to them, its very black and white... its just a fact: the sky is blue, the grass is green, the sun rises in the east, you have a big nose and you need to tone your arms. Fact. And what's the problem with reporting facts?

I was at the gym today, speaking with one of the Chinese trainers I had met the last time I went to the gym. She is thrilled I can speak Chinese and enjoys chatting with me - and I like her, too! But, today, she confessed that last time when I told her I was an American, she was really surprised because according to her, I look French. Yes. Apparently French people have big noses like mine. I smiled and told her no, I am American, but my dad is Italian. That made much more sense to her - apparently Italians tend to have big schnozzes too! I didn't explain to her that if she thinks my nose is big now, she should have seen it before my nose job! (I don't think that would have translated well!) Luckily, I am no longer a 15 year old girl self-conscious about my nose. Besides, supposedly, Chinese people think a big nose (they actually don't use the word for big, they use the word for tall) is attractive. Hmm.

As I continued on with my work out, I saw her walk over to a perfectly fit girl who had a little extra junk in the trunk. She points at her. "You. You use this machine. You need to lose fat here" (points to the girl's bum). I see the girl nod "yes, yes I need to lose weight in this area" (refers to her bum).

Next, she walks over to a plump lady. "You. too much food." The lady, "yes, I know, I bake too much." The trainer "you like to eat cake and sweets. Don't eat so often."

And I'm over in my corner, doing bicep curls (you know, to tone my arms) and smiling, because its so typical and sort of funny and I am really hoping the two ladies who just endured "the truth" understand she isn't trying to be rude.

The moral of this story? Don't ever ask a Chinese person if you look fat unless you want to know if you look fat! And if you plan on coming to China - toughen up a little bit, first!

With all this said - if you are not an American, what is the standard in your country for this sort of thing? Do you tend to blurt out the truth in this blunt fashion? Or is it like in America where we try not to acknowledge these things, unless we are asked (and make sure 500 times that the person really wants to know)?



  1. hahaha yeah growing up in a chinese family i definitely learned how to deal with "tough love." the more your parents complain about you to other parents, the more proud they are.

    my relatives constantly tell me i'm fat and being a medium in clothing in china is depressing almost. but i guess we've learned to shake it off. i think after living in america for so long i've become more accustomed to the endless and oftentimes empty praise and less of the brutally truthful critique. it is definitely a cultural difference.

  2. Angie, I know its this way with teachers too. For example, our Chinese teachers (the ones in the US) told us that they have to take a class about how to treat us, because American kids need a lot of praise and need to be TOLD that they are doing well, whereas in China, they aren't like that at all... so they are actually forced to take a class on giving praise to students, lol.

  3. I actually think in America you are practically criticized for being thin. I have been thin my whole life and since high school I have heard comments about my thin body. My H.S. was an urban school so yea I was MUCH thinner than most of the girls there and I wanted to have a sexy curvy body like all of them had. I was such a twig. After H.S. is when I started to grow my hips and stuff. Now that I am 32, I still hear omg you are so tiny as if its something to be ashamed of and that I can help. I am not in the greatest shape and it's so annoying when I mention that I am going to start working out, people ask "why?". Apparently you should only work out if you are fat here in America. It makes me laugh. I just say so I can tone up, be in better shape and health.

    I do know in other countries too I was told I was too thin and should eat more...(and by no means do I look anorexic...yet that is what I was asked in HS). I was in Israel and because I had such a picky and small appetite, it was as if I didn't eat in their eyes.

  4. I get to meet quite a lot of Chinese customers at my work and I always think they are sort of rude. Being blunt is something, but pushing, shoving, and treating other people like they are dogs really irks me. I know not every Chinese person is like that and I know there are cultural gaps I cannot begin to understand, but still I can't really get over this. Am I just seeing a cliché ? Or am I not culture-sensitive enough ? Or are they, in fact, rude (by our occidental standards ?)

  5. This was such an interesting blog. I think some medium between American and Chinese would be ideal. I think sometimes in America we are too concerned with being politically correct and could use some tough love at times.

  6. Steph :: I took that very same shot when I climbed the wall in May! I'm scrounging around to find it and email it to you! haha :)

    I agree with you. The most interesting thing about China is the people. There are definitely aspects I 'd love to implement here in America...I was told non-stop that there are things about Americans that business owners and professors admired and would love for China!

    Natasha xoxo

  7. haha I have heard that before but never actually talked to anyone who had encountered their bluntness first hand! Thanks for sharing, very interesting :) P.s. I think you look great!


  8. Hey Steph..loving the shot from Beijing...I have that same picture!!! (at least I think that is from the GW) anyway...I had a friend in China who was a little on the plump side and taxi drivers would tell her all the time she was "large"......she said she took it as a compliment because the older generation thought it meant she was super healthy. So, it just depends how you look at it. She felt pretty good after hearing that every time in a taxi. I love it. Makes me think that my mom jiggle is totally healthy and awesome! :) hahahaha.

  9. This is interesting - I tend to filter what I say, lest I deal with people's hurt feelings. I'd probably fit in well in China, haha (regarding this aspect).

  10. It's like that in Peru too! Once when I was sick, my friend Joisy had to give me a shot (in my rear!) and I was freaking out (I dont like shots) and she said "Amanda don't worry, you have enough fat it wont hurt" Gaaaah! And every now and then she will poke my tummy and laugh.

    Here in the market the women call me "Gordita" which means "fatty girl" which is SUPPOSED to be a term of endearment, but when you're an american and only hear things like that when people are talking bad about you..well, I cant help but have my feelings hurt.

    Funny how different cultures are!

  11. Northern Ireland's the same as America but I like the Chinese way: Say it how it is! :) I think it's kinder if people say what they are thinking TO you instead of ABOUT you.

    Kate x

  12. Haha, so funny and so true. It's perfectly normal for friends, family and even acquaintances to tell you you're looking fat. Much less sensitivity to the subject. I actually feel like in the U.S., it's extreme the other way; after all, a fact is a fact - but it's taboo to say anything "negative" about someone's physique.

  13. Now that was an experience, it's good that you didn't take what she said seriously.:D

    ***** Marie *****

  14. woah. my mom has a chinese friend and whenever she comes to our house, she tells us that we gained weight, we need to lose it and so on. it actually gets really annoying! haha.

    that is a wonderful picture, btw!

    <3, Mimi

  15. I totally agree, I picked this up on this when I was in China!

  16. Yeah. Used to that. I can't put anything in my mouth without hearing about how fat I'm going to get if I keep eating like that. I'm over it now.

  17. That settles it, I am never moving there. LOLOLOL! I do not have thick skin at all! More power to you woman, you are amazing.
    And your nose=perfect

  18. Very interesting. Bottom line is: I would rather someone be up front and "blunt," rather than to lie to me because they want to be "nice." Thank God for my baby sister (she's 20)......if I wanna know the truth about anything, I just need to call them and ask.

  19. Jennifer - I've always been thin and since high school I experienced the same sort of things you described. It does get frustrating! I've always worked out too and it started out because I was trying to get muscle on my legs! but I always felt like people would judge me for coming to the gym, thinking I had some sort of disorder or something. I remember once in college we went on a trip somewhere for a class, and by the time lunch rolled around I was starving - I remember I ate a few pieces of pizza and a group of girls said "well, you see her eat it but you don't see what happens after." SO RUDE! I've never had an eating disorder in my life and just people implying that I did was so beyond rude - plus I've never looked like I had one - I looked thin, but always healthy... so I can relate! I remember people saying "you're so skinny" and me not feeling at all like it was a compliment.

    French lover - its definitely not all Chinese people. There are rude people in every culture, but I do think its important to try to conform as best as possible to the culture you are currently in (for me, part of that is not taking offense when the trainer is really blunt to me). I think you probably just notice it more because they obviously stand out where you are.

    Jessie - thanks, lol. I'm not too worried about it.

    Natasha & Kel - thats really funny about the photo! This was a really non-touristy portion of the great wall, too!

    Anna- that's like my dad! If I want the blunt truth, I know I can always go to him!

    I agree with those of you that said a nice balance would be perfect! ha.

  20. and thank you all for taking the time to comment!

  21. Love this post! I went to get my eyebrows and mustache threaded yesterday and the Vietnamese woman who helped me said, you have a nice face, but it would be much nicer if you threaded the whole face. I said, oh, I didn't think I was hairy anywhere else on my face. And she said, yes and touched my sideburn area. I think 5 years ago I would have been offended, but yesterday, I just smiled and focused on the "nice face" part of the comment.

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