Thursday, September 07, 2006

WTF Conversations - Intro

As I have already mentioned a few times, and Nick at Whyguoren has pointed out, in China you often find yourself having conversations with Chinese people that just make you want to scream WTF and go bonkers like Yosemite Sam does at the end of every episode of the Bugs Bunny Show. These conversations are usually held with people who are supposed to provide you a service (hotel, bank, store, police, etc)... and they make it very clear they have no intention of doing so. At some point in the conversation, I can guarantee you will hear meiyou (don't have), bu zhidao (don't know), bu hui (cannot), or even blatently bu yao (I don't want).

Their reasons for this vary, although I believe it is often tied back to communism of 20 years ago. The book Mr. China gives a fantastic picture of what it is like to live and work here. I highly recommend you pick it up in the bookstore. It will make you laugh out loud. Anyway, the book explains how under the communist system, people got paid whether or not their business was sucessful whatsoever. In the late '80s (and still sometimes today) you could walk into an empty hotel, ask for a room, and they would tell you they are full because they don't feel like doing the work to sign you in. Why should they care if people actually stay at their hotel if they will not gain or loose anything either way?

Now, I am not saying the dingy lingering aroma of communism is always to blame. You are often given the same attitude by younger people, who are clearly too young to have been affected by the "why-should-I?" attitude that communism creates. Often it is a result of the Chinese educational system. If you grow up in a society that looks down on questioning anything, it is understandable that you will only do things exactly the way you are told to.

I know quite a few western teachers here of both English and business. When Chinese students are asked to depart from the typical rote learning they are accustomed to, actually form an opionion themselves and take a position, they are often unable to. During their entire academic lives, they have been spoon-fed information and asked to regurgitate it. There is no individual thinking, it is a group-thought mentality. So, when you ask the bank teller to do something that they CAN DO, but is a little out of her normal routine, she says that it cannot be done even though it is clear she must just think a little and realize it can be.

Anyway, I will be posting a series of posts called WTF Conversations. I will post the first one after this, but it is almost identical to the one Nick at Whyguoren posted.