Going Native (in China)

When one travels, they tend to pick up some traits of the local people. Americans who live long enough in Italy pick up the Italian mannerisms of dress and food. In two years here I didn’t notice foreigners picking up Chinese mannerisms. And then suddenly I did.

Here’s what I didn’t notice. Some time ago I would travel to Shanghai on my weekends to attend a pub quiz. It was a good time all around, but on one occasion there was an overweight white guy who decided he could just smoke a cigar inside the bar. It was greatly irritating to one of the people I was with on the quiz, and said person decided to confront the cigar smoker.

“This is China” the cigar smoker said, “there are no rules here”

I thought it was an isolated incident. I thought it was just one rude Laowai making the rest of us look bad. I was wrong.

The unfortunate effect of being here for a long time is that you forget that other people exist. This is something of a Chinese trait, but the Chinese have an apology for it: it is a remnant of the cultural revolution when getting involved in someone else’s bullshit might cost you your life. Just as my grandparents’ stories of fascist Italy rendered it impossible for me to stand for the pledge of allegiance, I get how memories of the horrors of the cultural revolution could lead to the monstrously selfish behavior we see now ideas. I do think it has gone to far, as the selfishness here has reached levels of near solipsism.

But I didn’t write this post to bitch about the Chinese. I wrote it to bitch about the Laowai. They seem to develop a complete lack of awareness that there are other people in existence besides themselves. This really got hammered home over the past seven weeks or so when I would go to a bar after work and catch a (likely illegal) screening of Game of Thrones. I barely like the show, and the social aspect of watching it at a bar added a certain something. It made the experience a little more enjoyable. We would get there about a half hour early and get a table with a good view. The show would start, and of course some assholes would come in a little late. They would never go to the back of the bar, or sit out of the way, but would join there friends who were sat directly in front of us. There wasn’t actually any room there, and as it were I was craning my neck to see the screen between the heads of two random people. Then this bald-headed Italian dumb ass would drag an iron chair across the floor to fill in the nook that allowed me any vision. Then the asshole ordered a pizza (which he did by calling the waiter over, a waiter who would block my line of sight further) and then laid the pizza on my table, so that every time he wanted a slice he would have to lean over to my table, momentarily blocking my line of sight further. Never a word, never a ‘sorry’ and never a ‘thank you’.

And this jack ass did this more or less seven weeks in a row.

I wish I could say that was an isolated incident. But it wasn’t.

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