Sunday, October 22, 2006


People keep asking me about the differences between China and the United States. Usually when people ask me about those differences, I say something similar to what I said on my other blog, i.e. essentially that there isn't a very big difference, and the differences are getting smaller. But for everything there is a season, and the time has come to get detailed about the differences I have observed.

  • People here speak Chinese, and people in the United States speak English. Okay, yes, I know that's kind of obvious, but we have to start somewhere. Of course, that statement is a terrible simplification. Chinese people typically speak two languages: their local dialect, and the standard dialect. For people in Zhejiang province, the difference between their local dialect and the official dialect is something like the difference between French and Spanish, or maybe even the difference between English and German. In addition, university students have typically been taking English classes since they started middle school, some of them since primary school. So even those who have difficulty speaking and writing English can still read English fairly well. So whereas in the USA, most of the multilingual people are immigrants or children of immigrants, multilingualism is fairly widespread in China, even though there are quite few foreign-born residents.
  • In the USA, toilet paper is in bathrooms; in China, toilet paper is on tables in restaurants. In the USA, fairly large paper napkins are widely available in eateries, cafeterias and fast food restaurants. In China, what is available to wipe your hands or face in such places is either a roll of toilet paper, or what westerners could easily mistake for kleenex tissues. In at least one dining hall here, you are given one such tissue/napkin when you buy your food. And yes, almost all public bathrooms are BYOTP (Bring your own toilet paper), and most are squatty potties.
  • In China, it's not very polite to touch food with your hands, and if you do touch food with your hands, you must not lick your hands. You must use your limited supply of tissues. However, it's quite all right to spit bones out onto the table, and to slurp soup from your spoon.
  • Chinese students typically choose their major only once, before they start college. The students of one major take all the same classes, live together with four or six per room, and typically eat and socialize together. American students typically change majors multiple times, and not uncommonly transfer from one college to another. They have many general education classes with students from other majors, and might or might not choose to live with and socialize with people they know from class. If three students have to share a bedroom, they think they have it bad.
  • They don't have Mexican or Italian food here. The closest Middle Eastern food is one hour away. On the other hand, you can get a dozen dumplings (any way you like) or a bowl of fresh noodle soup for 3 RMB (about 40¢), and you can eat like a king for 20 RMB ($2.50).
There may also be other differences, but those are the obvious ones.

Apparently, the post I wrote last week was my 100th post. Yay! I think that deserves some kind of celebratory/nostalgic review of these past two years (has it really only been two years?), but I see blogger has got some new features coming that will make such nostalgia easier. Perhaps once I check them out, we can have a proper party.

Critics among you may also note that the weekend is over without my posting the promised Chinese post. Well, I didn't say when each week I would write such a post, so there. I promise you I've already started. I've written five sentences. Be patient.


Anonymous said...

yes i patiant,to everything

Anonymous said...

how are you doing now?do you feel any better or your sore throat got worse? do take good care of yourself or your mama will be worried^_^

slowlane said...

Verily, verily, you have a great future in compare and contrast essays.

serapio said...

I decided to get sick this week so that my mama would have something to take her mind off the long plane flight she is taking tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

It is very considerate of you to get sick so I would worry about something besides my plane flight. But since I worry about you anyway, does this make me more efficient at worrying? Or make you more efficient by trying to bring something good out of a bad situation? Lynah says that that makes me a multi-tasking worrier. Okay, so drink lots of orange juice, get plenty of rest, and don't do any Janis Joplin impersonations. Much love always, Mom