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Cultural Splat

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"How should I strut my stuff in Chinese?"

I found this offensive. It must look stupid for me to be offended at something that harmless, but it shows a fundamental lack of understanding of Chinese culture. And that so happens to have set me off today, I guess.

It's in poor taste to "strut your stuff" directly by describing how good you are.

We tell people we're good at something by BEING good at it, not by telling them.

If we're good at something, it's because our teacher or parents did a good job of teaching us. Based on that, showing off means praising our teachers.

We call attention to our positive traits by reflecting on how they can be improved and seeking advice on such. Attitude and aptitude go hand in hand. Those traits that we care most about are most likely our strongest ones.



( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 3rd, 2005 06:35 am (UTC)
I saw that post as well, and thought it a bit odd. Definitely an unconventional approach to trying to convince your teacher to give you a good grade, seeing as they were taking a tack (tongue in cheek or not) which I know for a fact tha majority of graduate students/professors HATE to see - that of "I really need this A because I want to go to [insert excellent school of choice here]."
Dec. 3rd, 2005 02:59 pm (UTC)
"I really need this A because I want to go to [insert excellent school of choice here]."

The entire concept seems strange to me.

Maybe that's because I live in a little fantasy fairyland where people are graded objectively, so the only way to get an A is to produce work that's worthy of an A; sucking up to the professor or saying you want to go to X school will have zero influence on your grade.

My other reaction would be "Why, good sir: if you want to go to $EXCELLENT_SCHOOL and you know you need good grades for that - by all means earn those grades!" Because it does seem as simple as that. That way you don't need to tell your teacher where you intend to go; it'll be irrelevant to him.
Dec. 3rd, 2005 08:28 pm (UTC)
I think there's a certain trend nowadays that encourages people to be bold, brash and aggressive in their assertiveness to the point of being tasteless and crass. I see this everywhere, Asia, Europe, North America, it's not limited to any region in particular.

The idea is to stand out, to get the professor's attention, to make someone smile or laugh or provoke some kind of emotional reaction, even if it's a negative one. Professors are told to value the student who vehemently disagrees with them because that may be the only student who is actually listening.
Dec. 3rd, 2005 08:47 pm (UTC)
It's a trend that I see in applications; everyone has seen those silly e-mail forwards or webpages with "essays/resumes/cover letters that actually worked!" and it's some smartass attention-grabbing, makes-the-reader-laugh thing, like the infamous "... but i have not gone to college" essay. Or the tale of the diplomatic official who granted a student a visa for an original answer, and the next day, everyone used the answer that student gave.

I'm not sure it's a trend that can be defeated, though. The truth is that people who get remembered (whether positively or negatively) do stick out in memory. Our memories are designed to remember the exceptional. But it's increasingly difficult to do something truly exceptional. So people rely on individuality in expression to make up for undifferentiated acheivement. Some people are just good conversationalists or writers, through talent or practice. The rest depend upon shortcuts, gimmicks, tricks, and bold gambits.
Dec. 3rd, 2005 08:51 pm (UTC)
Yes, and it's sad that we let it work.
Dec. 4th, 2005 08:01 am (UTC)
What's the alternative, really?

I mean, sometimes people can genuinely be memorable because they're eloquent, intelligent, good conversationalists. And you remember them because they tell good stories, and you remember particular stories out of that. Or particular interests they describe stick out in your mind. Is there a clear-cut difference between someone who knows how to talk, someone who perfects a few good memorable stories, and someone who perfects a few memorable phrases?
Dec. 4th, 2005 11:23 am (UTC)
People are just asking for more than they are actually doing.
I think giving a person an A won't just help him/her at all; it's called pampering. Btw, who got herself/himself in this bad position [i]to ask for a grade[/i]? Just a wonder then.
Dec. 3rd, 2005 10:05 am (UTC)
That post ticked me off as well, though I don't agree with your implication that only Chinese people are modest -- a common misconception here; it annoys me more every time I run into it.

Anyway, I thought the replies - at least, the ones I saw yesterday - were for the most part nicer than I would've been in telling the person "hey -- bad idea."
Dec. 3rd, 2005 12:19 pm (UTC)
I don't feel that she was implying at all that "only Chinese people are modest."

I believe that her point was that in the Chinese culture, one's abilities are not so much a reflection of a person's self-worth, but rather a collective reflection of the abilities and values of one's elders, parents and teachers.

While modesty is considered to be a valuable trait in most parts of the world, I have not often run across the concept of one's abilities being praise of one's parents in cultures that are Eurocentric.
Dec. 3rd, 2005 04:35 pm (UTC)
Types of queries or responses like that initial post in that comm is a major reason why I rarely even lurk there anymore, but I like staying in it because occasionally there's something I think is useful.

Not ironically, it is one of the reasons why I think there are cultural tensions because of people who don't "get" it culturally and ignore, dismiss, or don't care about cultural issues. Also, I find it wonderfully appropriate when they go on the offensive and defend themselves/attack others when told something is inappropriate: it proves how little they understand and - if it wasn't so painful at times - it's fun to watch themselves dig their own grave more deeply.
Dec. 3rd, 2005 08:16 pm (UTC)
your implication that only Chinese people are modest

I read my post again and I don't see where I made that comparison at all... but I'm sorry if it came out that way, that was not my intention.

What I meant to express was her usage of the Chinese language in this particular instance is inappropriate to the Chinese culture. It's syntactically and semantically possible to translate directly, but that the result is rude and offensive.

And I gave rough descriptions of how you would attempt to do what she's proposing (praise herself) in Chinese and make it more culturally acceptable.
Dec. 3rd, 2005 10:10 pm (UTC)
Yes - sorry, have been pissy about that because of a number of recent conversations that went along the lines of "you're modest and polite, not like a foreigner at all." Shouldn't have snapped at you.

I liked the four-character verse thing, but come on -- on the -ong rhyme? She's only a first-year student! Better let her off with something easy, like a nice simple 律诗.
Dec. 3rd, 2005 10:26 pm (UTC)
A first year who can write a 4x4 -ong rhyme would deserve an 'A' =)
Dec. 4th, 2005 10:16 pm (UTC)
would you please explain, why the -ong rhymes?
Dec. 4th, 2005 10:18 pm (UTC)
It's just a random final that I picked. It could have been -ao or -ang or anything else =)
Dec. 4th, 2005 10:51 pm (UTC)
Ah, ok. would you suggest any other guidelines, particularly -- any "don't"-s?

I'm considering doing it -- not to "strut" anything, but because I think I owe my teacher a lot. I'm under impression that he worked much harder than his students (myself included).
Dec. 5th, 2005 12:23 am (UTC)
Nothing else really comes to mind for "don't"s... but a thank-you letter is very different from an assignment that's straight-up asking for an 'A'.

A mock letter of recommendation for your teacher to the Dean to consider him/her for tenure might be an interesting approach =)
Dec. 3rd, 2005 09:13 pm (UTC)
People like that are so irritating; and, if I were a teacher I would almost be more inclined to give such a student a lower grade out of spite and annoyance. I realize that's immature, and hopefully she will just get a grade that reflects her work all semester.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )


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