Chinese Foundational Saying: “Clothes, Eating, House, Traveling”

One of my better Chinese students in the communications course she took this summer wrote about the above saying. I need to find out more about the “Clothes, Eating, House, Traveling,” maybe those are safe topics to talk on. The 38 Chinese students I taught are already into their second week of classes at the liberal arts university they are enrolled in. Some are giving mixed reviews about what they are learning.  One girl student asked on Facebook what she should give a speech on concerning fingernails which would be of interest to her audience.  What a topic! I mentioned she could talk about torture. Turns out this 19 year old Chinese didn’t know what I meant by that.  Just as well.  Some other American friend mentioned that she should talk about the art of fingernail painting, that might get the girls enthused.  Despite the squeamish topic of torture, I think the guys might prefer hearing about that.  The following is more about the differences in communication between cultures:

There are huge differences between the American and Chinese cultures, which directly affects the way people say things and what they talk about. In China, people are taught to be inconspicuous, to not draw too much attention on themselves. So, they will always “give faces” to other people who cannot handle their own situation perfectly; they won’t give a very extreme or straight answer to anyone for fear that they may stand out among the crowd. While Americans are taught to behave in a more direct way, they pretend to be more outstanding than others. They do things to make them better than common people, performing more actively in the group, thinking alone to be a success. The following are examples which shows the situation according to culture.

One example is that if Chinese want to refuse someone who wants to date them, they may not really say “no”, but they will talk with them for a long time, use different kinds of excuses; saying they are quite busy, feel sorry about not dating with them. All in all, they will always “give face” to anyone else (except they are angry about the people who they are talking with). Meanwhile, for Americans, they may feel reluctant to refuse someone directly for fear of making the person feel unwelcome or discriminated again. They will often try to convey their willingness indirectly by saying “it’s not convenient now” or by repeatedly postponing an agreed-upon time for doing something together. (“American Ways” p.26)

Another example is that Chinese people will not say what they really think about, they will never show their heart to a stranger. So, even if Chinese people are desperate for something, they will use words or other ways that make the owner give the thing to them instead of asking for it directly. However, Americans will ask directly if they want it very much, they will not hold back their opinions. Because Americans prefer to get straight to the point rather than do things in a round about way.

When Chinese people meet each other, they may say “Have you eaten?”  They do not actually want to take you to a restaurant if you say “no”, it’s just a beginning to start a conversation. For two Chinese people who know each other they will start the conversation with “Where is good food?” or “When should we eat together?” The reason why Chinese people will start with such topic is that Chinese people consider “eating” is very important thing in their daily life. Here is the saying that conclude the foundational things that Chinese people agree on,” Clothes”, “Eating”,” House”, ” Travelling”.

However, when Americans first meet someone, they will engage in a kind of conversation they call small talk. The most common topic of small talk is the weather. Because it’s the least personal topics they will talk about. (“Americans Ways” p.28). So Americans don’t want to talk too much about their person life. Therefore, it’s important to know the culture of people who you are talking with especially if you want to make friends with that person. Americans do not care about how others look at them, so they are trying to show their own character to others. In conclusion, the way Chinese people talk is really different from Americans.

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