Mental Floss is one of those websites that I read obsessively, until one day I don’t and then I forget it exists until it then pops back up on my radar and I start the whole trend again. For some reason it hasn’t earned a bookmark, which would help it avoid it inevitable demise in my mind. But then again, not even BuzzFeed and those quizzes that I find oh-so-addictive is actually in my bookmarks. Instead, I occasionally see a BuzzFeed quiz pop up on my Facebook feed, take about twenty-seven different quizzes and then go cold turkey for a few weeks. (By the way, a few weeks ago BuzzFeed told me I should really be living in the Netherlands, which after our airport experiences there last fall, is totally spot on! I am pretty sure I secretly an Amsterdam-ian at heart.) I think I am a bit of a bookmark Grinch, as it is tough to make it onto my list. I have folders for “writing ideas,” “fashion,” “fingernails” and “exercise,” but outside of those categories, it’s pretty tough luck!
But, all of that is to say that this weekend, Mental Floss somehow popped back up within my internet surfing, with perfect timing, as I stumbled right onto an articled called “12 Chinese Travel Tips for Visiting America.” It uses Google Translate (always a scary proposition!) to translate Chinese website travel-tips for visiting the US. After reading through the list, laughing out loud at times (seriously, and not just LOL-style) while simultaneously scratching my head in confusion, I figured I’d share my thoughts for all of my Chinese readers (Okay, I have no Chinese readers. My blog, like most blogs, is blocked in China, so the only way to access it is through a VPN. The First Lady spoke about this very issue- not my blog in particular, of course, but of freedom of press/speech in her remarks to a group of students in Beijing today. Expect to see no changes.)
You can pop on over to Mental Floss to get the detailed explanation for each of these, but for my zero Chinese readers, here you go:
1. If an American Goes Silent, You’re in Trouble- I find this ironic, as the Chinese (at least in Sichuan) are *very* loud people. I can’t walk down the street here without hearing a little old grandma screech at her grandchild (not in an angry manner necessarily, it is just the tone in Sichuan!), be assaulted by someone on the subway hollering into their cellphone about the great stinky tofu they just had or enjoy listening to the couple in the elevator loudly discuss how tall I am. I’d be worried if a Sichuan-ren went quiet!
2. They Don’t Realize How Weird it is to Just Call Them by Their First Name- I can see why this would be weird for a Chinese visitor. In the States, especially in the west, we don’t have a lot of strict protocol with titles. I love the advice that if one doesn’t feel comfortable addressing an American by their first name, they should just smile. That’s totally what I do when I can’t remember someone’s first name!
3. They Deliberately Do Their Own Laundry- Maybe. I think most of us would gladly let someone else do it if it were affordable. This suggestion obviously came from a website made for wealthier Chinese travelers who can afford to spend time in the US and apparently can afford an ayi at home. But, I do have to say, just last week my mom was commenting on how therapeutic she finds hanging clothes on the line, so maybe there is more truth to this than I know. (Personally, I hate line-hung clothes. Yes, the smell is nice, but I’ll just a fabric softener sheet in my dryer that smells like “sunshine” and avoid the possibility of a bee in my undies!)
4. They Don’t Know Anything about China but Don’t Let It Bother You-Again, probably true, but don’t take it personally. American’s don’t have the world’s best geography skills. (Heck, we call ourselves “American,” forgetting that we share the continent with more than twenty other countries!)
5. Stop Everything, Listen up, and No Interrupting- “Americans also allow others to criticize the United States.” Here is where the freedom of speech and press in the US really shines. I may not love the opinions being spouted on cable news, but I concede to them the right to spew forth. In China, taking a different opinion from the ruling party is likely to get your newscast shutdown. Sometimes I ask myself, in a sing-song voice, of course, “What would the fox say?” and then go looking for other options.
6. Don’t Get Too Close. They Might Knock You Over With Their Constant Gestures.- While I think I probably do gesture a lot when I talk, I think this heading is a bit misleading. The issue is less with about hand movements and more about personal space. It doesn’t exist in China. So yes, you are probably going to get smacked if you are right up on me while we have a conversation. There was one day when I was at Metro Supermarket with a new arrival, getting her a membership card. We were standing in line to fill out the paperwork, when I felt something very close to me. I turned around the there was a tiny old woman standing so close to me, it was like vertical spooning! And there was no need. She was the only other person in line, meaning she could have taken three steps backward and been fine, but if she had done that, someone else probably would have cut between us and she was not going to give them that option, so I was slightly molested as I waited patiently in line.
Long story short, Americans have rather large personal space bubbles. Respect them!
7. Handshakes: You’ll probably need a cheat sheet- I have never thought of handshake etiquette as being particularly daunting, but apparently it is. The only thing I would add to this advice is to firm up the dead-fish handshake that is so common in China. Americans want a firm, tight shake- none of this limp wrist, clammy palm stuff that passes in the Middle Kingdom.
8. If Their Haircut is Ugly, Make Your Eyes Bright and Say, “Cute!”- Possibly very true. If I tell you your haircut is cute, there is a 95% chance that I do think it is adorable, but an outside, 5% chance that I think it is horrible, but can’t come up with anything else to say on the spur of the moment. But really, if your haircut is awful, you know it. Let’s just pretend together that it isn’t.
9. You May Not Fondle Furnishing- This one is endlessly baffling. I would love to see the original Chinese to see what word was used that earned the horrible translation of “fondle.” What exactly is happening to my furniture?
10. Shorts + High Heels = Call Girl- I’ve really got nothing on this one. While I am not a fan of the shorts/heels look, I am not sure this necessarily the best way to pick out a “call girl.” (Who still calls them that?!) I am also confused by this heading’s details that tell visitors it is okay to wear a vest at any time. Is there something particularly strange about vests that we need to single them out for fashion-attention?
11. Show Humility to Ladies—They’re In Charge- Yes.
12. You’re Doing a Good Job in Your Own Way- This one made me laugh because it comes across as horribly condescending, like Americans are a bunch of kids earning “participation” ribbons at the annual school track and field day. We’ve now officially been patted on the head by the Chinese travel agencies and can continue doing a good job, in our own little, quaint way.
Since Thad spends his days issues (and denying, don’t forget the denying) visas, this article struck home on many levels. A huge thank you to Mental Floss, who will now be back on my internet surfing schedule for at least a day or two, as you greatly brightened my gray Sunday afternoon. Remember folks, no furniture fondling.