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6 Misconceptions Chinese People Have About The US



Ben Cost

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About China

Now before all you SJWs lecture us on cultural relativism, let us make it abundantly clear that this piece doesn't aim to paint Chinese people as ignorant (see the article we ran on "misconceptions foreigners have about China" just two weeks ago). Its purpose is to point out some misconceptions that we expats will experience in China. Here are the ones specific to US expats (unfortunately I can't speak for all expats), so you'll know what to look out for when you arrive. The proper response isn't forming a Twitter commission (hint: they don't have Twitter here), but recognizing that most of these stereotypes are spawned out of curiosity rather than malice. Also remember that China is a largely homogenous country that was vacuum-sealed from outsiders until yesterday. 

Americans Are Fat

We can't deny that there are some water buffalo waddling around the US of A. But as much as many Chinese like to think that we Americans amount to giant asses with fingers who motor around Walmart while our Filipino caretakers cram fried mayonnaise balls into our maws with a plunger, this is not the case. And this accusation is pretty rich coming from the actual fattest nation on earth. So the next time an ayi calls you plump, smile and play the token laowai, knowing that you'll have the last laugh when their grandson balloons up like the bad guy at the end of Big Trouble In Little China in five years. Hopefully by that time China will have taken off its geopolitical beer goggles.

American = White 

If you've lived here for over a year, you've had the following conversation with a cabbie at least a hundred times. 

Cabbie: "Where are you from?"

You: "America"

Upon which, if you're a shade darker than alabaster, the cabbie will say, "but you don't look like an American." 

At this point, you could either retort with "does Obama look American?" Or you could recognize that in China, unlike the US, nationality = race. You could arrive on US shores on a tire swing speaking two words of English, and the minute you fill out your paper work, you're American. Compare this to China, where you could be 95% ethnically Chinese and speak like Dashan, and you will still never be considered Chinese. As a half-Asian (Wasian), I'm called half-American and half-Chinese here even though I'm 100% American. There are Chinese-Americans. There are no American-Chinese.

This is not to say China is xenophobic. On the contrary, while the Donald erects a Great Wall on the US' Southern Border, more foreigners are becoming Chinese citizens than ever before, and the visa laws are becoming increasingly lax. We've all heard of the American Dream. How about the Chinese dream where an American can build a brewing company from the ground up and have it acquired by InBev? Or become a managing editor of a major city rag at 22 when they’d be fetching coffee at a congruent company in the US. 

Americans Are Nice

I’m not going to lie and say I don’t miss the customer service back in the US. Has the phrase “oh no, after you” ever been uttered in the history of Shanghai? Nonetheless, Americans don’t have a monopoly on hospitality. American nice and Chinese nice are just different. Generally speaking, Americans are nicer to strangers but meaner (for lack of a better word) to friends while Chinese are the opposite. When you make a friend (especially older) here, you have a friend for life. You'll never be able to pick up the tab, you'll be invited over for CNY dinner and stuffed like a foie gras goose, and you'll have your balls constantly busted about your weight, relationship status etc....especially after a few Tsing Taos. The flipside of this is total strangers get treated like total strangers — cut in front of, pushed on the Subway without remorse etc. In the US, people treat strangers well — holding doors, apologizing profusely for bumping into someone — etc., while with friends, they’re more likely to go Dutch on meals, not reciprocate with gifts. They also have much lower tolerance for friends “overstaying their welcome” than their Chinese counterparts do. Though American niceness varies from region to region.

Americans Aren’t Family-Oriented

This is a huge generalization as the US is a melting pot of different cultures (including some whose filial piety gives the Chinese a run for their RMB). But let’s go by the so-called traditional Norman Rockwell American family. Generally speaking, our old folks’ main occupation isn’t nannying their grandchildren until they come of age to take care of their aging parents like in China. This can seem quite cold in the Chinese eye. But we just define “home” differently. According to Vision Times, “To Americans, home means family, where your family or parents live. If an American says they miss home, or are homesick, it usually means they miss their family. Chinese emphasize the structure, such as a house, instead of family members.”

US Food = McDonald's, KFC

American cuisine will never hold a candle to Chinese cuisine. It is a bouillabaisse of foods from fallen empires spanning a mere 250 years. China has been cooking Imperial court dishes 4,000 years ago while our European ancestors were eating "two-legged mutton" and bashing each other over the head with donkey jawbones. 

That being said, equating US food to McDonald's, KFC and Budweiser in China is like basing Chinese cuisine on some moo goo pain you ate at a Panda Express in Omaha, Nebraska. Maybe this insight is a bit dated as there's been an influx of quality American craft concepts in the MK as of late and there are more Chinese tourists visiting the US than ever before. But until recently, you'd see Chinese men taking dates to KFC and Pizza Hut because they thought that was middle-to-high-end Western food. In the US, these are places you eat at solo at 3am when no one will see you. We know it's crap.

Not to mention that, according to Shanghai restaurateur Mr. Hu, "while a lot of China increasingly turns to factory farming and processed fodder (hence the increase in buxom, feedlot chickens), the US becomes ever-more obsessed with organic, heirloom food." He hopes this is just China's "other white meat phase" and that it will come full circle to where China is once again pushing heritage eats. 

The US Is Some Hypercapitalist Wet Dream

A lot of my Chinese friends still see the US as some capitalist utopia. You want a capitalist utopia? Look in the mirror. China is projected to become the largest economy by 2050. It mints a new billionaire every week. Wang Jianlin is pacmanning up the US entertainment industry. While New York has one bike share firm, Shanghai had to cap its number at 30 to keep share bikes from choking the streets like some giant Skittle-colored kudzu vine. Their transportation system runs the US network off the tracks. Need we waterboard you with more examples? Didn't think so.

Related: The 6 Best And Worst Things About Living In Shanghai

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