Note: this post is not meant as negative (towards Nederland or China) and it is about the overall tendency of people, there are always exceptions (do exceptions really confirm the rule?). And also, sorry that the post is so very long!
“Culture is a set of shared values and beliefs which encourage certain behaviours and make them socially accepted. All cultures, countries and organisations welcome, tolerate or sanction different behaviour according to their underlying values and beliefs”.
I have been missing Nederland quite a lot lately, mostly because I don’t feel part of the Chinese society (yet?). Nevertheless there are some habits within the Chinese culture that remind me of my home.
To humour myself, and maybe others, I’ll try to describe some Dutch habits and some Chinese habits. Some are funny, some are pleasant and some are out right irritating… Lets see where this will end up.
In public the Dutch will only show strong emotions when there is no alternative. “When you’re happy, please don’t be using too much vocals”, is what the Dutch think (unless there is a football match of course). Threatening to make a scene is a very usable way of making the other party do what you want in a lot of cases (cause, what would the neighbours think?!). The Chinese are much less inhibited.
A thing that we Dutch have in common with the Chinese is the dread of queues.
The Dutch do not line up and show hardly any consideration in public for a person’s gender, age or efficiency for that matter, and neither do the Chinese. This tendency is best seen in public transport.
I can’t count the times where I had to fight to get off the train in Nederland, because for some reason everyone thinks it will be so much more efficient and faster to drone in front of the train doors as soon as they open and try to get in before anyone gets out. The same goes for getting in the train, people start pushing to get in.
If you find yourself (a person who believes waiting a second to let people get out first before you get on the train) in the “we-want-to-get-in-the-second-the-train-arrives-crowd” they rather knock you down than see the wisdom of your actions and they will show their disapproval by making all kinds of irritated noises (hissing, clocking their tongues, etc. but not too loud of course!).
Although the people here in China are being stimulated to wait and let people get off the subway before they push their way in, most of the times it is a struggle and even an out right war at times to get out or in. This goes with a lot of pushing, shuffing and elbow work (but nobody complains!). Though this behaviour really annoyed the hell out of me in Nederland, here I actually understand why people do this (most of the time); the subways are crowed and the trains are over full most of the day, so if you don’t push and shove you will simply not make it on the train (nor the next, or the next and the next).
Beside the difficulties in public transportation, Dutch and the Chinese make it a sport to cut in line, they all do it and they all like it except when someone cuts in front of them.
The funny thing is that most people (everywhere) don’t like this behaviour, but still they do it.
Another thing the Chinese government is trying to stimulate is to get people to stop spitting and launching their snot on the streets. I think it is working since I see a lot of people spitting in the trash cans instead of on the street. On the whole I don’t really mind all the spitting, most of the time I have my headphones on and won’t hear the accompanying noises and when something is really bugging your throat you might as well get rid of it (I guess…). In Nederland people who spit are considered as anti social, here they are people with clear throats.
When dining it is very normal here to call out (loud!) for the waiter or waitress, this is not seen as rude, because “how else are they to know you need them?” In Nederland the waiter or waitress is beckoned by making eye contact or by raising a hand (sometimes accompanied by a, not too loud!, “miss” or “sir”). This is a very subtle way of getting ones attention and sometimes results in having to wait quite a while to get served. Finger-snapping or calling out is considered very rude.
Another difference during dinner is that in the West everyone has his own plate of food, here all the dishes are placed on the table and everybody shares in the food.
I really like this because it makes it feel so much more like a communal happening.
In paying the bill Chinese and Dutch differ as much in this as the distance between the two countries.
The Dutch will make clear beforehand who intents to pay the bill, otherwise there is the silent agreement to “go Dutch”, where everyone pays a part of the bill, no one feels embarrassed about it and feel they all contributed. Unless it is a date, then the woman might offer to pay her share out of politeness and/or to show her independence (though she expects the man to pay!). When friends go for dinner it often happens that the inviting party will pay.
The Chinese do it completely different, they fight to pay the bill, especially when the dinner party is a mixed group of Chinese and foreigners. When a Chinese takes you out for a meal, he/she will be embarrassed if you paid the bill. (see post: National holiday).
Tipping is fairly uncommon in China, I haven’t figured out yet why. In Nederland some people tip and some people don’t, and it is seen as a sign of appreciation with service.
China has squat toilets and Western style toilets. The squat toilets are something I had to get used to and did with out too much trouble, but the state most toilets are in still amazes me and prevents me to use public toilets most of the time. For some reason most people have no aim where it concerns the toilet even though the whole squatting exercise makes it so much easier (for men especially). Even when the toilets are “clean” (how clean can a public toilet be, no matter where it is?) it still smells bad (sometimes extremely so). This is because most sewer pipes can’t handle toilet paper, so instead of throwing the paper in the toilet there is a waste basket next to the toilet where you need to deposit the used paper.
Still, most toilets (that I dared to venture) where not much worse than the Dutch public toilets, I’ve seen some bad ones during late nights in clubs and pubs!
Despite their lack of aim and the tendency to spit everywhere, they are almost obsessed with hygiene; in all the toilets there are soap dispensers and sometimes even instructions on how to best wash your hands. Floors in school, in restaurants and shops are constantly kept clean and the streets are cleared of litter all during the day (at least in my area and in the centre).
In every major city there is noise, but it seems extra loud here, I guess that has to do with the sheer amount of people and the way traffic works here. To make sure other road users are aware of their presence almost everyone uses their horns and bells. I am very happy with my Ipod here!
The enormous amount of people might also be a reason for the fact that most Chinese don’t mind standing very close to each other during conversations and in public transportation, they are just used to it. In Nederland it can be considered quite rude to stand too close to others without clear reason. The Dutch find their personal space and privacy very important. You notice this in a lot of situations. For example; friends (unless very, very close) won’t drop by your house unannounced, unless invited it is seen as impolite to stay until dinner is served (you will not be fed unless invited beforehand), when in a shop the shop assistant will (hopefully) only help you when you ask for help and so on.
This brings me shops and the shop assistants, when ever in a big supermarket here there are at least five assistants who will follow me around trying to help me purchase what ever I might need. This is a habit that irritates me, although I understand they want to be helpful, I can not help but feel rushed and invaded. Please leave me alone, I can find my own way, thank you very much!
Although I see many Chinese run from here to there all during the day, no matter the heat or traffic, I have the idea that after the days work they are much more relaxed and free without a lot of planning. Dutch people like to order their time in agendas and on calendars (having a full agenda sometimes seems to equal a full life), but I haven’t encountered one student owning an agenda… And when a Chinese colleague says he will be five minutes it could just as easily be thirty.
In the beginning this threw me off a bit, I like to be on time and showing up even five minutes late will make me feel guilty (not that I’m never late! It will just make me feel shit). Now I know and I’ll plan differently, instead of counting on my colleague to be five minutes and rushing to meet him, I take my time.
In conversations, personal or business, Dutch people are very direct which is often mistaken with being rude. We don’t mean to be rude, we are just being direct and “honest”, we want to know where we stand and let others know where they stand. Saying “no” to ones face is (mostly) not taken wrong or personal. The Chinese on the other hand want you to feel good and want to avoid (at almost all means) to be rude, so they are much more gentile and subtle in saying “no” for example.
Again this brings me to another point. In the short time that I’ve been here, I’ve been told that I’m great, beautiful, smart, etc. numerous times (I know I am!). The Chinese seem to be very open and superlative in their positive observations. The Dutch aren’t, unless it is extremely cool and great (like an “A+++!!!”). I couldn’t help but wonder if all the complements where meant…
Okay, I think I’m almost there now (and if not, this will still be the last point because even I had enough of this subject). Also in the category of conversations; no topic is taboo when talking with a Dutchy, but informing on someone salary will mostly not be appreciated (maybe because business life and personal life are tried to be kept separate?), something that is quite acceptable other cultures like the one I’m living in now.
To finish this post (for my feeling a bit overdue), what my mother and brother list as Dutch habits:
-In je neus peuteren en de pulk aan de onderkant van de bekleding van je stoel afvegen. (picking your nose and wiping the findings under your chair)
-Met het licht uit vrijen. (making love with the lights off)
-Onderaan de schappen van de supermarkt kijken op zoek naar de laagste prijzen. (searching the lower shelves in the supermarket for the lowest prices)
-Lege kaften van boeken in de kast zetten om interresant te lijken. (putting empty book covers on your shelves to look interesting)
-Kankeren met tyfus ziektes. (lit. cancering with typhoid deceases. Meaning cursing with deceases)
-Nooit de koe bij de hoorns vatten. (never grabbing the bull by its horns)
-Ouders maken het strafwerk van hun kinderen. (parents writing their kids lines)
-Met twee woorden spreken, welke doet er niet toe. (speaking with two words, which doesn’t matter. This one might need some explanation: to teach their children to be polite, parents will tell their kids to speak with two words when answering. The children in turn will not use it to be polite, just to show their parents they’re being stupid)
-Het hebben van een partij voor de dieren in de politiek. (having a political party for animals)
WAAR EEN KLEIN LAND GROOTS IN KAN ZIJN (wherein a small country can be great)