From the day I first stepped on American soil, a series of comparisons have been in my head. What do Chinese do, what do Americans do, what things that Chinese do would not be accepted in America and vice versa. I always hope someday these impressions about America from a Chinese perspective will be published in a palm-size guide for travelers. Anyway, here’s a glimpse of the comparisons:
Chinese: For women, in particular, they carry umbrellas, rain or shine.
Americans: Nah, on rainy days, the hood on our jackets will do. Nobody will walk with an open umbrella under the scorching sun.
My experience: I can’t buy an umbrella in a small supermarket. Or I should say not every supermarket in America sells umbrellas.
Chinese: Women don’t leave their handbags on the floor. For safety reason, they put them either on the nearby chair or behind their backs. Plus, the floor is not as clean as it looks!
Americans: As soon as a woman sits down, her handbag, open or closed, will be next to her feet.
My experience: It takes me a while to get used to leaving my bag on the floor. I sometimes wash my bag though. Luckily, there’re more carpeted floors in America than in China, which can drive hygiene freaks like me crazy.
Chinese: Don’t let the babies play on the floor in public. The floor is dirty. And the babies are likely to stick their germy fingers in their mouth. Ugh!
Americans: Let the kids have fun, make a mess!
My experience: It’s great that American babies are allowed to enjoy their freedom. But I can’t help thinking how nervous the Chinese mothers would be if they see children rolling around on the floor in a restaurant or playing hide-and-seek under the dining tables.
Chinese: Parents often warn the kids not to talk to strangers. They’re likely to be crooks!
Americans: “How’re you doing?” is said as frequently as “Thank you” to strangers.
My experience: In America, if a stranger doesn’t judge me as a Chinese who may not speak English, he’ll say “Hi” or “How’re you doing today?” I’ll also smile to a passerby – which feels a little weird, but I enjoy it.
Chinese: Don’t put your legs on the table or step on the chair with your shoes. It’s impolite and it reflects badly on one’s upbringing.
Americans: Readers can stretch their feet on the coffee table at the Barnes & Noble. Sports fans can dangle their feet over the seats at the front row. If a girl wants to tie her shoes, she rests her foot on the couch instead of getting down on her knee.
My experience: This is one American habit that I can’t get used to. I think my habits are migrating toward something between Chinese formality and American laxness. I hope this doesn’t make me unsuitable for both cultures!