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Gareth is an Australian who has lived in JiangSu, SuZhou (Heaven on Earth) for a few years - he is a keen observer of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and the changes that are occurring in China at break-neck speed. He can often be found on his a nightly 'perch' in front of his bar in the famous Bar Street in Suzhou, talking to the locals in his bad Mandarin, teaching the 'flower-selling girls' English, eating street food and smiling at the local chengguan (neighbourhood police). Gareth also has several other businesses in China around Business and English training. His experiences have been varied and interesting and his years in China have taught him to be wary of promises but excited about prospects, not a bad situation to be in!
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A Chinese moment    

By Garreth Humphris
3549 Views | 18 Comments | 7/15/2012 1:31:55 PM

Upgrading the 'Face' - Chinese style!

The Chinese Dragon Boat Festival had given me a bit of an excuse to just ’kick back’ for an afternoon. I have been really busy the last month; moving office, then moving home and starting another 3-4 consulting jobs and I’ve been spinning around in smaller and smaller circles slowly going crazy!

I spent a few hours with some local expats chatting about old times, joking with each other, commenting on the passing parade of high heels and short skirts and generally doing nothing...not quite a ’full holiday’ but at least for a few hours.

After one friend had gone, my other companion leant over and said to me, “You notice since Andy started learning Chinese at university, he’s become more bloody Chinese!”
“How so?”, I asked, “well, for one, he’s adopted that damn ’Chinese maybe’ attitude”.

I had to agree with him there - in my limited observations, I have noticed the Chinese have to ability to answer any question with stony silence - originally you think they might be ’pondering’ a deep and philosophical answer to find that actually, nothing comes from it - just silence.

To most foreigners, who can't tolerate more than 15 seconds of silence, this is one of the most annoying character traits of Chinese people in China.
In short any question can have 3 possible answers, they are;
1) The “inconceivable yes” (used when there is a possibility of an outcome, no matter how small - or ’I think that is what you want me to hear, so I’ll say it to appease you’),
2) the “maybe” (used when I might be able to wing it, use guanxi or pray to a deity to get the result) and
3) “silence” (used when the answer is actually no or when I will lose face if I answer).

When people do ’the silence’ thing to us a few times, we tend to think they are idiots, using the silence as a ploy to gain thinking time...but thinking nothing to share! If only the Chinese person said something like...”I don't know”, or “I’ve not thought about it before”, or “good question, let me think about it!” then we might be a little forgiving but instead it is stony silence.

In stressful times, it becomes more pronounced - when a foreigner really wants to “bounce options” he/she is often faced with this silence which is often interpreted as ’indifference’ or ’lack of empathy’ and this is even more infuriating. It is especially prevalent when a mistake has been discovered, an unsolicited short-cut taken or just a plain ’risky’ decision has been made. In this case, the Chinese person usually “shuts down” to weather the storm and doesn't necessarily take any lesson from the situation. The proverbial “talking to a brick wall situation”.

Using the “look at what you’ve done wrong, let's discuss how to fix it” method doesn't work well in China because any criticism is either taken with total defeat (beat me, get it over with and I’ll be on my way) or total indignation (you can't say/do that, fuzzy logic about unrelated topic explanation, ’in China....’, I win).

This also manifests itself into the 'Chinese can’t make a decision’ ideas also prevalent amongst Westerners living in China. The confrontationalist “this option or that option, you choose one” style of logic many foreigners apply is not an easy paradigm for Chinese to comply with - being faced with the dilemma of determining the lesser of two evils, the Chinese person will often use silence, especially if the outcome of either action will involve a loss of face. The alternative is to explode into a 'foreigner go home, we don't need your kind here' or 'you are a bad man, my mother says you are bad, my sister says you are bad and now I think you are bad' - take your pick of the tirade.

My foreign engineering associate gave his Chinese foreman the following ultimatum when he discovered the contractor had constructed a wall incorrectly according to the construction diagrams. The options were ’tell the contractor to tear down the wall and start again (because they can’t read the instructions)’ or ’tell the contractor to make these necessary (but costly) improvements and they can getaway with the error they made in the first place (because they can’t read the instructions)’ are both equally a distasteful to the Chinese supervisor. Which is the less one? To foreigners, it’s “do it right” and the people will get it right, to the Chinese it’s “do right by people” and the problem will right itself.

I have often wondered how this went - it is not merely enough to know another language, you also must learn another culture and the expectations that go with it (and it’s foibles and limitations compared to your language and thinking style).

I have a German friend who had studied Chinese for many years outside of China before coming to China (and was a very fluent speaker) but I had the feeling they spoke the language with no real empathy for it - I would watch my Chinese counterparts squirm as she spoke to them - she pulled no punches, she insulted and attacked them in their own language, to devastating effect. I asked her about it one day, about how she was speaking German-style Chinese! She laughed and said you had to speak straight and correct at all times, but of course this isn't necessarily true! We all soften our speech for different times and occasions, have polite forms and euphemisms to disguise unpleasant meanings.

So where is all this heading for Chinese dating?
When I asked a pretty girl out on a date, I got silence...
Was she thinking?
Or was it a Chinese Moment?
Maybe I have to wait a few days for her to decide!!

Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
Comments
(Showing 1 to 10 of 18) 1 2 More...
#2012-07-15 14:29:17 by cstorvik @cstorvik

Gareth, it was a no.

#2012-07-15 17:57:28 by xin73 @xin73

No one is perfect, each country and nation, there is a relative issue.In particular, the Chinese and foreigners to talk more cautious,After all, the gap between Chinese and Western cultural.Must think carefully before answering questions.
Our Chinese and Chinese conversation, where the need for silence, simply blurted out.Of course, some logical problems, is must through their brains in order to have a more reasonable answer.
I don't believe you Westerners brain reaction speed and computer as fast as,Without thinking can immediately answer any questions,"Westerners really are a genius"!!!
The hypocrisy and reality, exists in everyone's heart, no matter you are God or people!
Chinese people's conversation is not what you say so annoying.
I hope you understand Chinese people, more understanding of Chinese culture.Any question not one-sided conclusions.

#2012-07-16 15:23:09 by aussieghump @aussieghump

@cstorvik...thanks!

@Xin, I have a feeling you have come to the wrong conclusion about this piece. It is not about whether 'one side' is better than another, it is about the difference in expectation and understanding that different foreign people get from conversations with Chinese people. It in no way implys that anyone is smarter or faster at thinking, just that the expectation is different.

If you read it again, you will see two instances where the actions of 'foreigners in China' are totally inappropriate to Chinese people - and are explained that way! With due criticism!

Even though I have lived in China 10 years, have employed Chinese people and have a great many friends in China, I still become very 'annoyed' at the Chinese Maybe - especially when there is something important to be discussed or rectified - you may be so familiar with it that you don't even see it as being an 'issue' between cultural communication.

It is not unique to me - it is a common 'complaint' of foreigners living/working with Chinese. It is also something that Chinese should be aware of when working with foreigners - that their Chinese-ness habit is being mis-read by their foreign counterparts in a very detrimental way! That in these situations, the Chinese person is seen to have 'meiyou banfa, meiyou xiangfa, meiyou jiehua", and will not be taken seriously or considered for promotions, etc. There are minor 'changes' that solve a very serious problem - and I have offered them here freely!

In fact, your comment 'almost' goes to the argument that many Chinese approach the situation with - "this is China, like it or lump it" tirade that often arises!

So please read again with a 'kinder heart' and you may see that it is not about the 'one-sided conclusion' you have chosen to see!

#2012-07-16 16:01:52 by luvtasting624 @luvtasting624

maybe they didn't know how to express in English correctly !

#2012-07-16 16:24:31 by cindy103 @cindy103

I think you better to learn more about chinese culture and Chinese people. its not a good way to judge peolple as per your few experence.

#2012-07-17 15:21:25 by aussieghump @aussieghump

I mean no offense to the commenters - but you see the mentality I am talking about... "You don't understand China - go away!"

The idea is that you cannot take an objective eye to Chinese culture/society if you are not Chinese! And if you are Chinese, all problems are acts of God, accidental, Fate or should be fixed by the government! or we don't talk about them!

I agree that my experiences may be 'small' - after all I have only lived in China for 10 years, only employed a few hundred workers and high level support staff (with good English skills). I have only run my small 'personal' business for 7 years. I only hold discussions with Chinese people from all walks of life on a daily basis (through my work and also through my personal interests). So my 'in-China' experience is limited.

To the ladies commenting, if you are entering relationships with foreigners, hoping to visit foreign countries or hoping a foreign partner will join you and live with you in China, then what I am expressing here are valid, long-held 'beliefs' and 'reactions to' Chineseness!
For example, the face-saving actions of Chinese people can easily be interpreted as 'lying or cheating' by foreigners in emotional circumstances or of 'apathy, cruelty or lack of caring!'. If this is the result, you will have relationship troubles.
So you too also have to understand that tolerance of other people's beliefs/actions is also required - just as you 'demand' it from me!

To be very clear - you are not being 'judged' as to whether one thing is right or wrong, you are being informed as to how some of your personal and cultural traits may be interpreted by others in ways that you do not expect.

#2012-07-18 01:07:58 by xin73 @xin73

Hi aussieghump

I first show, I to your content not to argue with the attack.I understand your article content.my comment is more comprehensive overall,so please understand and do not mind.

Chinese like to use:"inconceivable yes”,maybe , silence" to answer questions.don't you think it is a kind of oral Zen?

Of course, any simple question for more than 15 seconds to answer, It is annoying.Not all people are like this,I mean is that this phenomenon can not be summed up all the Chinese people.

I can understand the problems mentioned in your article,I have many relatives in foreign countries, they live there thirty-five years.their way of life are more westernized,communication between us to both feel sometimes I feel incredible.So I can understand your feelings.

A person not afraid of the others don't understand you,most afraid of their own do not understanding others.If in life we would like to sincerely get along well with others, to understand others,we must first learn empathy,put yourself on the other 's position to consider.

I also hope that Chinese people should be more considerate of others,this is a moral cultivation.

My comment to this, hope you can calm accept the annoying problem.

Don't be these senseless issues affecting your happy mood

#2012-07-18 16:02:19 by anonymous3955 @anonymous3955

someone considering entering into a relationship with someone of another culture should be full aware that there will be differences of opinion relating to cultural "habits". Tolerance/patience/understanding are paramount, along with a true desire to know the other person as well as study their culture. It does not seem Garreth is being judgmental but just giving his perspective based on his experiences. However, in any case being a hypocrite or not, we can still learn from other peoples experiences and comments whether we agree with them or not.

#2012-07-19 13:30:59 by anonymous3960 @anonymous3960

Gareth, for someone who has lived so long in China, you sure have a lot of gripes about the place. I am surprised you are not accustomed to it by now. And after 10 years you have still not found a love match? I find this strange. Maybe you need to venture outside of your local expat congregation area. That is, if you are indeed serious about finding a love match.

#2012-07-19 16:06:23 by aussieghump @aussieghump

More people suggesting that I have are 'gripes', 'complaints' or 'hates' about China!!! - I am accustomed to it, but it doesn't make it any less important to know, understand and comment on...

These are only observations, made after a long period of time, by an observer who has been living both inside and outside of China! If you don't like or see merit with them, label me as you like and 'don't read' them!

I have had these discussions with many people, both Chinese and foreigner, and can confer that these are major cultural differences that do cause contention and issues...ask anyone trying to do business in China and you get the same answers - the Chinese 'Stony Silence' is a business and personal relationship killer...

So 'gripes', no! I accept that I live somewhere that is different from what I am used to and that people can run their own lives as they see fit. Honestly, if I 'hated' the place do you think I would still be there??? I am free to move anywhere I wish.

The difference is this is a website that is a mix of Foreign & Chinese - a place where attitudes and conventions clash together, so I feel that discussing these issues in this environment is an apt scenario. Foreigners and Chinese looking for partners need to be aware of some of the cultural clashes they will have and how they might contribute to them - and believe me, this is one of them!

BTW: I am not in China 'searching' for a life-mate - I live and work here but I do not actively prowl to seek a mate - certainly this would be nice to find, but I have my criteria and foibles and if love happens, it does!
Assuming I am some sort of cantankerous, China-hating misogynous fiend who is angry about being 'single' and rejected by Chinese women is not true. I work closely with foreigners and Chinese on a daily basis, in English and in Chinese! - and in fact, assuming I am like that is a little insulting from someone who doesn't even want to identify themselves!

In general, I try to put my life out there through the stories I write - I try give a balanced view, but of course it will be from my more than slightly-biased viewpoint - but read the article you will see I am equally talking about inappropriate behavior of foreigners! Read other articles that I have written and get an idea of what I have said and shown about my perspective in the past!

I am fascinated in what I see and learn in China - it is not without it's difficulties - but it is, no doubt, an interesting and challenging place to call home!

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