Every time I travel or move to a new place, I try my best to understand that I am not in America and should not expect the culture and social etiquette to be the same. I try my best but, admittedly, do fail sometimes. It’s hard to get certain ideas out of your head about how people should act or things should be when you’ve been living with a certain viewpoint for most of your life. When, I moved to Korea I think I adapted pretty well, but I’ve noticed that I’m struggling a bit more while adapting to Chinese culture.
Before I go on, please know that I know there are always exceptions and of course not all people are the same. Not all Americans are the same and not all Chinese people are the same. I’m speaking in a more general sense based off what I’ve experienced. So no, I absolutely do not think China is bad or Chinese people are bad nor do I think America is some perfect country with perfect people. I just struggle with a part of Chinese culture that is so foreign to me.
First, I’d like to mention that I’ve seen a lot of articles and informational graphs about the primary differences between Western and Asian culture. The main point I usually get from it is that Western culture focuses more on the individual whereas Asian culture focuses more on the group or the whole. I know it is not the intention or necessarily the idea I should be taking away from these articles, but they always make me feel like i must somehow be selfish because I am part of an individual based culture. But that’s not the truth at all. And it also doesn’t mean being from a group based culture suddenly makes a person less selfish. I’m not trying to say one or the other is bad, good, more selfless or more selfish, but that there is a lot more to it than that.
In China, what I’ve realized and have to remind myself is that the group does not mean everybody, it generally means a person and his/her family and close friends. The group is usually an inclusive one that quite frequently leaves strangers out. And, this is where I struggle. Though I do focus on myself in terms of striving to do what makes me happy in life, I always try to be considerate and think of other people. I come from a place where striking up a friendly conversation with a complete stranger is normal and quite common, where you know someone will very likely pull over to offer help if your car is stranded on the side of the road, where multiple people will rush to your aid if it looks like you are suddenly hurt or need medical help. This is what I’m used to.
I struggle with and have trouble accepting the mentality of “I’m not getting involved” or “I don’t know the person so it’s not my problem.” I find it disheartening that so many people will look at a person struggling and then just look the other way. Whether it’s on the highway, the sidewalk, in the subway or in a shopping mall, people just don’t want to get involved. Since living here (and almost on a weekly basis), I read news articles and see video clips of people passing by someone who is in trouble or being hurt without stopping to lend a helping hand. They glance or sometimes stare and then just keep going. It honestly makes me feel a bit sad.
But then, there is even another side to it which is just as or even more frustrating. There are a fair amount of cases where the person who does end up being helped turns against the person helping them and blames them for being the one to have hurt or done something to them. So there may actually be people who do want to help those in need, but they are scared to because of the possible consequences. It’s tough for me to deal with.
This is my biggest struggle living in China. In some ways I can understand it (being scared to help), but I still can’t quite easily accept that this is a part of social behavior. I have a hard time accepting that there are so many willing to turn against those helping them. I have a hard time accepting that I should just keep walking if I see someone who may be in trouble. I’ve been told by a couple of different Chinese people that this is just the reality and I need to be smart and walk away. But I don’t want to have to do that. I don’t want to have to just walk away because what if that person really does need help?