Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"Yes, yes" or "Yes, no?"

Preface: This post is another in a series of "Nick-whining-about-something" posts. While it comes across in a rather negative light, I am quite happy right now. Things are starting to go better with work, and life is good. Now, just let me get this off of my chest.

I am sitting here at work being a little frustrated. I finally have a ton of work for the staff to do and they’ve been sent outside to work on the new tennis court. I’ve informed the Chinese management that they have a lot of work to do for Max and I now, and I asked if it would be ok if they stop their work and come and work for me…

I heard Lou… I understood what he said in Chinese perfectly… he said “Yes, ok. They can stop working and go back to the office.” But, all of the staff kept working outside! I knew they did not want to be outside and they would much rather be in the office, so I asked why they continued to work outside when Lou had said they could come back and work for me.

Their response? “Well, he said it was ok for us to go back, but he didn’t really mean it. The look on his face changed. He really wants us to stay outside.” Are you kidding me?!

Oh, that’s right. I forgot what country I am in! In China people never say what they really mean, especially if the answer is “no”. Saying no is essentially the same here as saying, “kiss my butt” so people almost never do it. It doesn't maintain the "group harmony". Group harmony is a very important concept here. By no means does it mean that everyone in the group will actually be happy, far from it. Rather, generally no one in the group will SAY they are unhappy or say anything to cause a direct conflict. You can ask someone to do something, they will say yes to your face, and then proceed to go and do something entirely different. You often have to rely entirely on body language and facial expression to grasp the true meaning of what a Chinese person says. It never ceases to amaze me and it also never ceases to confuse me. There have been whole books written on the idiosycracies subtleties of Chinese expression and speech, but this is crazy.

It goes against pure logic... if someone has a grievance, they put it out in the open, work it out, and then bury the hatchet. By simply pretending that everything in hunkey-dorey, people are going to tend to dwell on their feelings until it eats a hole in them. This is why middle-aged housewives bonk their fat, demanding, ungrateful husbands in the back of the head with a frying pan after years and years of smiling and saying "yes, Dear."

Thank goodness there aren't many clock towers in China...