Steve's China Blog

Friday, September 15, 2006

Cultural comparisons

Here are some cultural differences between the US and China (partially derived from Cross Cultural Comparisons)...

If you're an American...

If you're Chinese...

You're fairly likely to believe in God; if not, you've certainly been approached by people asking whether you know that you're going to Heaven.

You don't believe in God. You accept everything claimed by teachers and "experts." If you find errors in their thinking, you will complain, but next time you will still believe them.

You know how baseball, basketball, and American football are played. If you're male, you can argue intricate points about their rules. On the other hand (and unless you're under about 20), you don't care that much for soccer.

You know how table tennis, badminton, basketball, and soccer are played. You can argue intricate points about their rules.

You think of McDonald's, Burger King, KFC etc. as cheap food.

You don't think of McDonald's, KFC, and Pizza Hut as tasty, healthy, or cheap food-- everybody knows that Chinese food is the most delicious in the world. Somehow, when you do go to McDonald's or KFC, you have trouble finding a seat because there are so many people eating there.

You don't consider insects, dogs, cats, monkeys, etc... to be food.

You eat almost anything, which includes a variety of mammals, reptiles, and insects. However, feasting on one-time delicacies such as monkey brain and bear paws is now prohibited and widely frowned upon.

You find a two-party system natural. You expect the politicians of both parties to be responsive to business, strong on defense, and concerned with the middle class. You find parliamentary systems (such as Italy's) inefficient and comical.

You find a one-party system natural. You expect the Chinese Communist Party to be responsive to business, strong on defense, and concerned with the poor. You believe the People's Congress Systems is efficient.

You'd respect someone who speaks French, German, or Japanese-- but you very likely don't yourself speak them well enough to communicate with a monolingual foreigner. You're a bit more ambivalent about Spanish; you think the schools should teach kids English. It's not all that necessary to learn foreign languages anyway. You can travel the continent using nothing but English-- and get by pretty well in the rest of the world, too.

You'd respect someone who speaks a foreign language, but, although you most likely studied English for at least ten years in school, you very likely don't speak well enough to communicate with a monolingual foreigner. In Hong Kong and Taiwan--which you were told are certainly China--you think the schools should teach kids Chinese. And that means Mandarin, none of that Yuèyu.

You think a tax level of 30% is scandalously high.

You think a tax level of 10% is very high.

Mustard comes in jars. Milk comes in plastic jugs, cardboard boxes, and occasionally in bottles.

Mustard comes in jars, but nobody buys it. Milk comes in plastic jugs, bags, cardboard boxes, and sometimes in bottles.

The date comes second: 11/22/63. (And Americans know what happened on that date.)

The year comes first: 1949/10/01. (And Chinese know what happened on that day.)

The decimal point is a dot. Certainly not a comma.

If you use a comma as a decimal point, your math teacher will punish you.

A billion is a thousand times a million.

Higher numbers go by groups of four digits. Above a thousand, you go from wàn (1 0000 or ten thousand) to yì (1 0000 0000 or one hundred million).

You expect marriages to be made for love, not arranged by third parties. Getting married by a judge is an option, but not a requirement; most marriages happen in church. You have a best man and a maid or matron of honor at the wedding-- a friend or a sibling. And, naturally, a man gets only one wife at a time.

You expect most marriages to be made for love, although your parents might arrange your marriage. And a man cannot have more than one wife at a time--legally--even if he wants to. For everybody besides the bride and groom, the wedding is a burden--they have to prepare the "red envelope."

Once you're introduced to someone (well, besides the President and other lofty figures), you can call them by their first name.

Once you're introduced to people, you can call them by their full name, but depending on their social status, you can call them by their family name plus their title. You can also call them Xiao (young) or Lao (old) plus their family name.

If a politican has been cheating on his wife, you would question his ability to govern.

If a politician has been cheating on his wife, you would never know unless he told you in person.

You count on excellent medical treatment. You know you're not going to die of cholera or other Third World diseases. You expect very strong measures to be taken to save very ill babies or people in their eighties. You think dying at 65 would be a tragedy.

Since medical fees are so high, you generally exercise and pray that you don't fall ill. If you're rich, you can access high-quality medicine to delay your death, but if not, you just wait for the inevitable.

Your country has never been conquered by a foreign nation.

Your country has been conquered by foreign nations, and you'd rather not talk about it.

You still measure things in feet, pounds, and gallons.

You still measure things in Chinese units sometimes; otherwise, you use centimeters, grams, and liters.

You stop at red lights even if nobody's around. If you're a pedestrian and cars are stopped at a red light, you will fearlessly cross the street in front of them.

You may or may not stop at red lights whether or not anybody's around. When you're riding a bicycle or walking on the road, you will trust your eyes over the stoplights.

There's parts of the city you definitely want to avoid at night.

There's parts of the country you definitely want to avoid, period.

If you have an appointment, you'll mutter an excuse if you're five minutes late, and apologize profusely if it's ten minutes. An hour late is almost inexcusable.

If you are male and your girlfriend is late for a meeting, you must wait there and be patient, and when she arrives, you should still smile. If you are female and your boyfriend arrives late, you will be very angry, and you will accuse him of not loving you. But after you are married, the above will be reversed.

About the only things you expect to bargain for are houses, cars, and antiques. Haggling is largely a matter of finding the hidden point that's the buyer's minimum.

The things you expect to bargain for are houses, cars, consumer electronics, clothing, food... If possible, you will haggle for just about anything. Haggling is to prevent you from being cheated or ripped off.

If you're talking to someone, you get uncomfortable if they approach closer than about two feet.

You will feel uncomfortable if a stranger--with the exception of a good-looking member of the opposite sex--is talking to you from closer than a meter away. If you are in a crowded supermarket, train, bus, queue--just about anywhere, as a matter of fact--you will have no choice but to bump into and push other people. In this case, comfort or discomfort is irrelevant.

The Cross Cultural Comparisons website is a pretty fun website, and contains more cultures than just the US and China. It is actually kind of interesting to see how many things in common so many cultures have. Enjoy!


  • here is no musical comparisons !
    check out my blog when you're free time !
    you'll listen online music from around the world!

    By Blogger renna, at 9:04 PM  

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