That’s How They Do it Here


I’ve been here for a week now.  In some ways I am adjusting and in other ways I am not.  My chief non-adjustment has to do with sleep.  I woke up this morning at 1:30 and never even dozed off again.   I’m sure it has something to do with my age, but it is frustrating. I slept until 6 am yesterday and was sure I was making great progress, but it seems like it’s a one step forward/two steps back kind of thing.  By this afternoon I will be miserably groggy, but right now I am fine.  I continue to learn to live in the moment.

Speaking of lessons, I am thankful for all I have learned over the years in my travels to Italy with my students.  We humans have a tendency to confuse culture with levels of civilization, and even culture and ethics and morality. When other folks do things differently than we do, we tend to think either that their culture is inferior to ours or that their culture is just plain wrong.  We point this out to our sutdents and help them to see that charging customers to use the restroom is not an issue of morality or a sign of backward culture.  It’s just the way they do it here. It’s part of the culture. You want to pee?  You pay.  End of story.

I’ve gotten used to the differences in Italy. I know that I should order and pay for my coffee first, then take my receipt to the counter and get my amazing cappucino.  I realize that if I stand demurely in line and wait for someone to notice that I need service, I will starve.  Getting a pannini can be a little like playing rugby. I am hungry, so I join the scrum.

This lesson has helped me in my first week in China.  Things are so very different here.  It feels like Italy was my travel training wheels and now I’m trying to make it down the road on a big girl bike for the first time.  So far, most differences have to do with eating.  First, there’s the issue of utensils.  We went to a restaurant and I nearly panicked when I realized there were no forks.  Chopsticks are fun to play with at home .  You know, you get your Chinese take out and you enjoy playing briefly with the chopsticks.  Everyone laughs, drops a few kernals of rice in their lap, gets a few in their mouth, and tries various means of stabbing a shrimp or two. Eventually, play gives way to hunger and you revert to a fork, at least I always have.  This time I was not being offered the choice.  In addtion, when I picked up the water, poured  by our lovely waitress into a pretty porcelain cup, I almost droppedit.  It was HOT.  I’m not talking about a lack of ice.  I’m used to that. (See Italy above.)  We’re talking steaming hot.  I looked at my son.  He grinned.  “That’s the way they do it here.  They think it’s better for your digestion.”  Okay, so I’m eating what I can of my delicious food with the chopsticks and sipping my steaming hot water, but I’m kind of a mess.  Napkins?  Nope.  Well, you can ask for them but you get a whole box and they charge you for them.  Apparently, if you use chopsticks properly, you never need napkins.  We paid our money and got our napkins, because that’s how they do it here.

The box probably says, “Napkins for stupid foreigners who can’t use chopsticks.”  No matter, I was thankful.

More later…

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