Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Futility of "Why?"

It’s always been in my nature to be curious, to discover the ins and outs of how things work and to question why this is so. In this respect I’m like a perpetual 3 year old, always pushing the envelope and I suppose getting on peoples’ nerves by asking sometimes unanswerable questions. Well, if it’s true that curiosity killed the cat, than I really must have 9 lives, because living in China has given me tons more opportunities to seek answers for some seemingly strange behavior.

They say that every behavior is communication and I know this is true. Behavior communicates our deepest values, beliefs, our underlying cultural assumptions and our personal ideas. Different cultures have different ways of expressing these things and believe it or not, within the context of the culture, these behaviors usually make sense.
The trick for me (and every other foreigner) is to put aside my own cultural framework and try to see the world with a different set of glasses. Not an easy task!

I want to know why~

1. People write on their hand to show me the character they are talking about instead of writing it down on a piece of paper, so I will have it available when I need it again… especially since most of the time I don’t know the characters anyway.

2. It is OK to hold a baby over a public sink to urinate when everyone will have to use the same sink to wash their hands after they go to the bathroom.

3. I have to take part in the “Human Amoeba” process of getting on a train, being pushed and shoved everywhere, when everybody has a ticket with a numbered seat already waiting for them to sit in.

4. It’s OK to tell me how fat I am, but it’s not OK to openly talk about relational issues, an impending death of a loved one, or to cry in public.

5. People think it’s OK to publicly hack, spit, pee, pick their nose, fart, or launch snot rockets wherever or whenever they feel they need to. I mean seriously! Who does that?

6. People would rather send me in the wrong direction, than admit that they have no idea where the place is that I just asked them about.

Can I explain all the reasons behind the behaviors that seem to drive me crazy in this new culture? Definitely Not! But I have come to the conclusion that it is futile to be constantly asking “why?” After being in China for just over a year now, I have switched my questioning strategy to something much more practical. More and more I am beginning to ask, “What?” ….and I don’t mean “What the @#%& is this all about?” I try to ask myself what this behavior means in this context. What does it say about China, the culture, the belief system and values? What are the assumptions I’m making from my own cultural framework that are making this behavior difficult for me to understand or accept? What am I supposed to learn about Chinese people and what am I learning about myself in the process? I am sure of one thing. I will never figure out all the whys or whats of any culture…my own included, but I know that if I am going to call this my home I sure need to keep trying!