I have just returned from a work lunch. We had dim sum at a local restaurant here in central.
I have been living in Asia for a few years now and would count myself fairly “au fait” with the more important table manners required when eating with my local colleagues. However, today it came to my attention, that while the Chinese seem to be fairly strict with their dining etiquette; “these chop sticks for serving, these chopsticks for eating. Serve your neighbor tea before you serve yourself”, they appear to be less worried about others.
Growing up I was taught the fundamentals; don’t chew with your mouth open, don’t talk with your mouth full, hold your cutlery like ‘this’ not like ‘that’, elbows off the table etc. As life went on and things like mobiles phones were invented new rules were learnt; no mobiles at the table, no texting, no talking and certainly not Angry Birds. As I looked around the table at lunch I counted 15 out of the 17 people from our group doing everything I had been taught not to. The other two were myself and the woman ordering more food.
Two problems I have with this:
1. What is the point of going out to lunch when everyone is on their phones to other people?
2. Why should I have to wait to use the green serving chopsticks to pick up that pork bun when I can use my own just as well (I don’t lick them for god’s sake).
You’re not respecting my world of common courtesy when you yell at me to pass that basket of steamed goodies with a mouth full of special fried rice. So, why should I bother waiting for the ‘serving choppies’ to snap up that last steamy ball of fluffy, porky goodness that I see you eyeing off from the other side of the lazy susan? Huh?!
Because I’m in your country. That’s why. I’m in your house and I need to respect your rules.
I can’t expect you to pick up my homelands practises and not spit on the street and drop your guts in confined spaces, when you are visiting Sydney, if I don’t respect yours (she says still waiting for those bloody serving chopsticks).
This is why we travel; this is why we explore the world – to learn about other ways of life, to learn respect for others, to learn understanding and to open our minds up to other ways of living. To learn that there is no one correct way of doing things, how to be humble… Oh, and tolerance – we all need a lesson in that at times.
Cultural diversity is the spice of life and without it the world would be bloody boring. It’s so easy to think that other cultures do things ‘wrong’ or that they are ‘odd’…but it’s important to keep in mind that you’re pretty ‘odd’ too!
Have you noticed how Aussie blokes love to add ‘o’ or ‘y’ to peoples last names? I, myself know a Phelpsy, Lloydy, Jonesy, Robbo, Manno, Dicko, Tommo, Johno, Davo…list goes on. The fact that the word ‘footy’ in Australia can actually apply to Rugby union, Rugby League, Soccer…touch football? Which one are you referring to?
And what about those strange Australian colloquialisms and rhyming slang? A schooey (short for schooner), “Ronny Cootes” (if you don’t know what that is your too young to be reading my blog), ‘feelin crook’, meat pie (scored a try), dunny can, ever been referred to as ‘rough as guts’?, Jo Blow, jumbuck, dingo, havin a smoko, flaming gallah, bush tucker, drongo, ocker, and how about the ‘billabong’? I mean SERIOUSLY… what in GODS name is a BILLABONG?
A usual Australian term of phrase for someone you have just bumped into is typically “hows it going?”…hows WHAT going? Be a bit more specific perhaps?
Needless to say I could go on and name the bountiful list of Aussie oddities, usually bought to my attention with thanks to the expat community here; “No I will NOT pass you your thongs. Your FLIP FLOPS are here though!” …this HILARITY is a regular from the Kiwis and the Brits.
It’s all too easy for me to sit on my high horse and poo-poo the public burping, shuffling down the street and stopping suddenly so that I walk straight into the back of you while you cuss at me in Cantonese, talking loudly on your mobile on public transport, the cabbie turning the radio volume UP when I take a phone call, and pushing in front me at the cash register like you were there all long.
I have to admit, that on further examination, we Australians are just as strange, can be ruder than rude, potently offensive under various circumstances (usually involving alcohol), and can be seen as having our priorities back the front particularly with regards to family.
On any given Sunday here in Hong Kong you can walk past a street of restaurants, all of them full with local families. The sense of ‘family’ is undeniable and the idea that nobody is too busy for Sunday brunch warms my heart and is something that I think should be adopted in EVERY household. I don’t care how dysfunctional your family tree might be, if we all sat down for a nice lunch things might be different. The Chinese are definitely on to something in a domestic sense.
It’s a vivid reminder of the important things in life, when you see a young Chinese girl helping her 100 year old grandmother do some shopping on the weekend. Unfortunately, I have usually just had my face squashed into the backside of man who has stopped suddenly to write a text message when I am witnessing such things, so the experienced tends to be slightly marred while I attempt to untangle my legs from his legs while simultaneously trying to detach my hair that is being ripped out of the roots by a woman with an umbrella that snagged me while trying to push ahead.
What I’m trying to say is that while I do have temporary brain snaps with regards to some aspects of local culture, I’m appreciative of the differences. I acknowledge the distinctions and while sometimes poking fun at the contrasts, I am well aware of how lucky I am to be experiencing them in such a concentrated circumstance. I’m reminded of just how valuable my lessons here are whenever I go home and encounter small minded individuals that have all the answers of the world, yet have never been stepped foot outside their backyard.
Travel is one of the only things that costs money, but invariably makes you richer.