Found in translation episode 9
Although I have been in China for 2,5 years and feel like I've changed a lot, there is still one thing that gets me into trouble. I am brutally honest and straightforward. And this trait is NOT in high demand in China. If you want to get along with locals, the #1 rule is never cause anyone to ‘lose face’ by telling them the truth and pointing out their mistakes. Even if you do it by accident, it will be an infraction not likely to be forgiven.
And don’t think that maybe in a working environment your Chinese colleagues will be willing to meet half way in order to make a change for better. When I was trying to teach the kids in our high school some basic manners like saying ‘please’ and ‘excuse me’, I later found out there was a long report written, depicting me as ‘China’s Public Enemy #1’.
The best example came from last Friday’s staff meeting. One of my European colleagues addressed a hygiene issue. He suggested a boot camp to teach our students to use the public toilet decently. After all, they will go to USA next year, so it is not only for our sake but for their's as well,. But the majority of the Chinese staff reacted utterly disgusted facial expressions . Apparently we crossed the line. Although we did not ‘challenge’ those kids directly, the Chinese staff felt offended on their behalf.
Back in 2013, Taiwanese singer Yoga Lin Youjia pointed out this issue in his song ‘Lie’ . Its popular line that became one of the top 10 Chinese buzz words in 2013 was rén jiān bù chāi.
It is again an abbreviation of a longer sentence that goes: rén shēn ( life) jiān nán ( hard) bú yào ( not) chāi chuān ( expose, unmask, tell the truth). So the full expression is : Life is so hard, don’t hurt me with truth.
From my observations , though – even some Westernized Chinese people get confused from time to time. My Chinese teacher - now a class teacher in the same school where I work - couldn’t get over this one fact. She is not allowed to give real feedback to Chinese parents about their kids. Even though she is a local, and believes they would only benefit from the truth, she can’t ‘hurt’ the parents. Just because rén jiān bù chāi. And I know her pain because in my previous job I got in trouble AGAIN for the same reason. After writing the monthly report on our kindergarten students in whichI pointed out that some of the kids had ‘special needs’I was informedthat I seriously insulted the parents.
Yes, life is hard .To us Westerners, it seems obvious that owning up to our mistakes is the best way to learn. And hopefully this makes life easier. But the concept of losing face in China is something we have to accept. There is no compromise.’ A person needs a face just as a tree needs its bark’ – that’s what we should have in our minds.
Just now, as I am writing this episode, my friend from US texted me. She said that the parcel she sent me LAST YEAR arrived in China, but for a mysterious reason I never received it and it got directed back to Denver. And it came back AFTER A YEAR. She asked me if I could maybe go to the post office in my previous neighborhood and ask for some explanations, because ‘it is obviously their fault!’.I told her TIC – This is China! And I'm not even surprised. Nor will I dare to confront them for obvious reasons. We are still mystified about the parcel’s fate during the past year, but maybe it's better not to know the truth. Wǒ de rénshēn jiānnán bú yào chāi chuān
My name is Gosia and I come from Poland. I set up my blog - Shanghai City Girl - out of my passion for writing,Chinese language and Shanghai itself.My goal is to explain Chinese slang and peculiar local culture, give tips about health and saving money in this overwhelming city!
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