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"Chinese People Ask Stupid Questions"

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Re: Chinese people ask stupid questions

In Western culture, if a friend tells us bad news, we respond with something like "I'm sorry to hear that" or "*hugs*" or something like that.

In Chinese culture, we ask questions about the situation. We're actively thinking about what you've just said and asking questions shows we care. It's not to be nosy or to pry, nor do we always honestly really care what the answer is. We just don't express care, concern, support and sympathy the same way.

Sometimes, we do this in English as well. Usually, closer friends will ask questions. And moreover, North Americans don't always care what the answer is either. We'll ask people "how are you doing?" but it's just a canned PING-ACK protocol to which the response should be "Fine, thanks" and nothing more. The perception is that we don't want to know how you're really doing. I've seen and heard countless people complain about that.

But in some of the simpler cases in Chinese, it doesn't translate well and it sounds downright stupid in the context of Western culture.

For example, you're living with family and you come home from school. In a Chinese home, you'd be greeted with "are you home?". You may think, "DUH, yes I'm home, I'm RIGHT HERE AT HOME aren't I?" But we don't say "hello" in that situation in the same way that we do in English.

It's a cultural protocol. It's a natural response. It doesn't mean we're redundant, senile or stupid.



( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 19th, 2004 10:43 pm (UTC)
"It's a cultural protocol.

Suddenly I find myself imagining an OSI seven-layer model for human relationships. I think we'd learn a lot if we stuck a packet analyzer in the middle of conversations between people across cultural lines.
Mar. 19th, 2004 10:45 pm (UTC)
I agree! =)
Mar. 20th, 2004 03:44 am (UTC)
Huh, interesting. I never really thought about it, but I guess I can see that when I think about it a bit. I think my dad did that a lot (less over time as he's been assimilated I suppose), and I think I do that too sometimes (although not as often as he did).

Rachael always used to get upset at me because anytime something was bothering her I'd ask questions to find out more about it. I wonder if that was just my nature or something I picked up culturally. She always complained that I never just offered her comfort, I always had to analyze the problem. (That's certainly not entirely true, of course, but there were many times when I asked first and hugged or sympathized after.)

It just seems natural to me, though - if someone's upset about something, my instinct is to ask about it and get them to talk about it. Some of it is definitely out of a desire to understand it and potentially help solve it, but I think that some of it is also just to get them talking, to open up a bit and let out whatever is bothering them. Talking about something can be painful, but cathartic. Hmmm. I dunno, it's not even 7 am so I'm not entirely awake. ;)
Mar. 20th, 2004 11:27 am (UTC)
I find that some people feel like they're being interrogated and that makes it feel like the problem is their fault.

But for real problems, I think it's a good thing to try answering all kinds of questions about it to explore the different angles because it may not be as big a problem as you thought or the problem could be elsewhere that the emotions somehow transferred to something else.
Mar. 20th, 2004 05:42 am (UTC)
That's really interesting, I love hearing about different cultures social protocol. The English Q: "How's it going?" A: "Fine thanks" always struck me as a bit of a strange exchange. I'm sure there are so many more, but I'm too immersed in it to see it objectively. Have you noticed any other English and/or Chinese foibles that you can think of off the top of your head?
Mar. 20th, 2004 11:30 am (UTC)
The English Q: "How's it going?" A: "Fine thanks" always struck me as a bit of a strange exchange.

It might be because "Hello... Hi" is a little to short and abbreviated, so people tried to be more friendly and warm with "How's it going?".

Have you noticed any other English and/or Chinese foibles that you can think of off the top of your head?

I have. I just don't remember them off the top of my head now that I'm put on the spot =D =D
Mar. 20th, 2004 03:42 pm (UTC)
Hm. But you know, I've noticed that the "Hi, how are you?" is less of a question than a greeting. The answer I get most of the time to "how are you" is another "how are you?" in response, maybe a few will answer perfunctorily, "fine (or good), how are you?" There's a canned response; a good experiment to catch that is asking a question that it doesn't make sense to answer with "fine" or "good", but is still just perfunctory. I've noticed that sometimes saying "what's up?" gets a "fine" or "good" response because it's just automatic.
Mar. 20th, 2004 06:59 pm (UTC)
I've actually just said "hi" and completely ignored the "how are you" part before... then after a while, I started feeling bad and started saying, "good thanks, you?" =P But, yes, it's really just perfunctory. There's no way someone expects to have a whole conversation while walking past me in the corridor =)
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 20th, 2004 01:24 pm (UTC)
I usually just go "Yo" or "Hey" or just wave if I see people I know but don't want to stop for conversation.

I don't mind the "how's it going" if we're sitting down somewhere hanging out. But if I'm trucking it down the hall opposite someone, I'm really in no mood for anything longer than "hi".

"Yo" isn't quite me, but I say "Hey" or "Hi". =)
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 20th, 2004 02:42 pm (UTC)
Everyone around me says "yo" too. =)

Airships =D
Mar. 20th, 2004 07:01 am (UTC)
This is the second time I've heard the way people interact compared to some transfer protocol or another. It was first described to me by a friend who has Aspergers Syndrome. He had to conciously analyze patterns in social behavior and make rules for himself before he could operate in a social setting. You might say he constructed a human emulator.

One of the things he told me is that most conversations naturally include something like a CRC. I imagine pointless questions fit the bill. (Really? Seriously? Are you kidding me? etc...) Sometimes it's not questions. In any case, it's usually recognizeable as a prompt for one person to continue speaking. Though sometime's it's confusing. I have one friend who fills this need with "Shut up!". Heh.
Mar. 20th, 2004 11:37 am (UTC)
he constructed a human emulator

That's so interesting. I sometimes wonder if I have a mild form of Aspergers too, but I seem to be decent at people interaction, so I never bothered.

Conversational CRC!! I love it! XD

"Shut up!"

Haha, that's a good one too. It's all in the inflection though, it's longer and more drawn out though, like "shut uuuuup..." accompanied by a look of disbelief =)
Mar. 21st, 2004 06:17 am (UTC)
""Shut up!"

Haha, that's a good one too. It's all in the inflection though, it's longer and more drawn out though, like "shut uuuuup..." accompanied by a look of disbelief =)"

Yeah, but she says it in IMs.
Mar. 20th, 2004 09:43 am (UTC)
In Chinese culture, we ask questions about the situation.
hmm, yeah interesting. I never thought of it this way. and sometimes when I ask questions, I feel that people may feel that I'm prying...so this means I'm chinese at heart but feel judged westernly, ha!
Mar. 20th, 2004 10:17 am (UTC)
I like this post.
Linking to it in my journal =D
Mar. 20th, 2004 10:44 am (UTC)
Makes me think of "ni chi bao le ma?" which my aunt never fail to ask in any telephone conversation.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )


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