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Which one is your first name?|
For us Chinese, it's family name first and given name last – perfectly logical. But it's the other way around for Westerners so they often get confused when reading a Chinese name for the first time, and feel compelled to ask the above question. So as to avoid confusion, many Chinese living and working overseas have adopted the Westernized way of saying their names – given name first and family name last.
Are you not happy?
I remember when I went to France and my French friend met me at Charles De Gaulle Airport. She was all over me in an instant, giving me kisses and hugs – very melodramatic like we'd not seen each other for years. There were some Chinese students studying overseas in Paris at the time and they were there too. Being as overjoyed as anyone can expect to be, meeting people from home when you're in a foreign land, we shook hands and exchanged some words. My French friend was puzzled and asked us, "Are you guys not happy?" How can we explain that it is customary for the Chinese to feel happy on the inside and not lay it all out in plain view on the outside? But, hey, there is always an exception to the rule. I have a Chinese friend that just loves making faces and using this or that gesture when talking.
What surprises you most about our culture?
When I first arrived overseas, my colleagues, friends, and teachers all liked to pop the question, "What surprises you or shocks you most about our country and culture?" If I were to answer truthfully, I would say that there's nothing that's too shocking about this new country that I hadn't known before I came. The reasons are simple, we Chinese have gotten used to Western culture, politics, and everyday life through the plethora of media available – television, films, newspapers, and the internet. So really, aside from the fact that we're still not that fluent in the language, there's little that could be called "culture shock" in my experiences here. Of course, foreign friends are not too satisfied with this answer as they expect that you'd feel a whole lot, leaving a backward country and arriving in their modern cities with towering skyscrapers.
Do you have "guanxi"?
The Chinese word "guanxi" had become one of the few words that has been adopted into the Western lexicon. One time I was applying for a job position at an export company overseas and the HR manager took me aside and asked, "do you have guanxi in China?" Really, we Chinese aren't the only ones keen on keeping guanxi, you Westerners do the same! My American friend used to tell me that he’d been kissing up to his teachers ever since grade school and it got him better grades. My Chinese friend said it best when he tried convincing me that having "guanxi" or connections has somewhat different connotations for Westerners than Chinese: "If Bill Gates referred a young man over to another computer company for a position, and if this is an American company, then the boss is going to think that this young man has been referred by Gates so he must be good at his job and he’ll decide to hire the guy. If this was a Chinese company, then the boss is going to think Gates referred him and if he doesn't hire the man he's going to be seen as doing insult to the good relations between them, so yeah, hire him."
Why is it so difficult to learn Chinese?
Many foreigners are keenly interested about the Chinese culture and would very much like to learn the language. But after a while, the four tones of Mandarin (mā, má, mǎ, mà) get so confusing for them that they often throw up their hands in resignation and cry: "Why is it so difficult to learn Chinese?" Of course, one has to admit that learning any new language is difficult, but what's even more crippling for the Westerners is the very fact that they have formed a kind of emotional barrier against learning Chinese. For example, in their lexicon, one can find that the word "Chinese" is often used to describe the unfathomable, or something that looks of value but cannot be of practical use. In English, references to the "Chinese puzzle" mean anything that is unfathomable and unknowable; "Chinese boxes" used to refer to those sets of little boxes within bigger ones, but has now evolved to describe anything complex; "Chinese copy" refers to copies of something that have transferred over all the mistakes and imperfections of the original. Also, when I was a student studying overseas in France, when the teacher had handed out tests at the end of the term, students were heard exclaiming in protest: "C'est du Chinois!" (This is Chinese!)
Do you know kungfu?
When walking down the streets overseas, one Westerner or another will come up to you and start mimicking punches and kicks and chant "kungfu" or "Jacky Chan". These are admirers of Chinese martial arts, apparently, and they want to show what they could do for their Chinese friend. Once we got talking, they'd ask unanimously: "Do you know kungfu?" In the eyes of these foreigners, we may not be like Jacky Chan, climbing walls and doing all these incredible stunts, but they do expect that we'd no doubt be able to take down a few gangsters or troublemakers. I was in Tanzania on a business trip and planned on taking a casual stroll along the streets of Dar es Salaam, so I asked the reception staff at the hotel whether the neighborhood around that part of town is safe at night. He turned to me and said, "It would be safe for you." Obviously, locals think that every Chinese- or Asian-looking person is capable of kungfu and are thus hesitant about robbing us.
Do you carry mint-scented rubbing oil?
It is difficult to think about what to take along on a trip overseas. Aside from the everyday wash items and clothes, you also have to think about gifts for your foreign friends – like embroidery items, folded fans, stamps, handkerchiefs, and, wait for it, mint-scented rubbing oil. The oil is neither manufactured nor exported overseas, so it’s hard to come by for the foreigners that enjoy the mint scent and its other medicinal effects (soothing effects on skin irritations and fatigue) – especially those foreign friends in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. One of my friends recently traveled to Latin America. When the customs officer asked for his passport and saw that he's a Chinese national, the officer apparently reached forward with his palms up, saying something, as if asking for extra documents. When my friend found out that it was mint-scented rubbing oil the officer wanted, he happily handed one bottle over and was quickly cleared through customs and sent on his way.
When did Peking change its name?
When overseas, there are always Westerners that ask when did "Peking" change its name to "Beijing"? I always manage to point it out clearly to them that Beijing is Beijing, it has never changed names; all that’s changes is how foreigners call it in English, shifting from Cantonese phonetics to official Chinese pinyin. Once, after I’d finished explaining, a French guy who knows a bit of Chinese posed another question, "Then how come China doesn't try to have the name for their country changed to ‘Zhongguo’ for international use?" I was at a loss for an answer. Perhaps after the return of Taiwan to China, we can change the name of our nation collectively to Zhongguo?
Does dog meat taste good?
When I was in Paris, a French friend had asked me this question: "Do you like to eat dog meat?" I didn't know that it was trick question at the time; no matter how hard I tried explaining why the Chinese have this custom of eating dogs, I had essentially admitted to eating dog meat myself – which was the answer he was after in the first place. Westerners are disgusted by the fact that we eat canines that, to them, are "man's best friend". It is hard to explain to them that although our dogs perform essentially the same duties as those in the Western world, we, as a culture don’t view canines as "man's best friend". For example, in the Chinese language, if you want to insult someone, you call them an expletive that has to do with the word "dog" - "dog traitor", "dog sh*t", "a dog getting cocky because it's got a better owner", etc. So, in Chinese society, it makes pretty good sense why someone would want to eat dogs. Let's not say that we also eat other delicacies like shark fin, bear palms, and bird's nest – otherwise, the animal lovers would be all up on our tails.
How do you eat soup with chopsticks?
Many foreigners are also keen about learning how to use chopsticks, especially when they're eating Chinese food. But there is one puzzling problem: how does one eat soup with two sticks? There was one foreigner who came up with a brilliant answer about how the Chinese would use the chopsticks, using them much like a straw when it comes time for drinking soup. What wild imagination, huh? I told them in all seriousness that we put down our chopsticks and use a spoon, or drink the soup directly from the bowl. My foreign friends remained skeptical, coming back with: "Is it just that simple?"