OK, this is going to be a rather weak rant…
I am the only born-and-bred American in my group at work. Everyone else was born and raised in China, and emmigrated to the US no more than 15 years ago. There are loads of other folks from China in other groups, such that I think at least 40% of the people in my department are Mainland Chinese or Taiwanese.
The only difficulty I ever have in my group professionally is the language barrier. Only about half of my group are what I would call “fluent” in English, so sometimes group meetings and lab discussions can be pretty inefficient. If I could speak Mandarin, we’d be in great shape. Communication difficulties can be frustrating at times, but overall, I don’t really feel bothered.
Not many of my Chinese coworkers (some naturalized, some still on green cards) have much to do socially with people raised in the states, be they ABCs or whiteys like myself. There’s such an enormous Chinese community around here, it doesn’t seem there’s a whole lot of pressure to branch out. Plus, I can easily understand how being able to relax with friends who can speak your native language would be highly desireable, having spent time in countries where English speakers could be hard to find. A day of trying to communicate in a language you’re not fluent in can be exhausting. I personally think they’d do better to improve their English fluency, given how marketable that skill is, and how lack of fluency can impact upward mobility. But again, when your boss and half your coworkers speak fluent Mandarin, where’s the pressure?
I think this relative social isolation has helped the preservatio and perpetuation of some unique Chinese habits and mores long into their sojourn here. None of this bothers me in the slightest, except one thing: Table manners.
Or should I say, the complete lack thereof. I eat out in Chinatown fairly often, frequently as the only non-Chinese in the group. I have no problem with the “real” menu we get at these places, and I’ve gotten quite used to eating tendons and knuckles and other things the average European throws out in disgust.
But, man, a real Chinese sit-down dinner is a snuffling, snarfing, drooling, belching, picking, sucking, slurping, spitting free for all. The objective seems to be to shovel as much food into your mouth as possible, in the shortest amount of time (its quite a sight, the way some can make a bowl of rice vanich with just a pair of chopsticks and bursts of deep inhalation). There’s a lot of talking and laughing too. While eating, with mouths wide open, of course. A good guffaw can send half-chewed bits of rice and meat flying. I remember once talking to a guy who had stuffed an entire jumbo shrimp, shell and all, into his mouth, and was happily munching it while speaking to me. The head of the shrimp still stuck out of his mouth, and all those feelers and antennae were wiggling at me as he chewed and spoke; I swear I almost lost it. Perhaps my reaction threatened to turn into full-blown reverse peristalsis because my senses were also being overloaded by the guy next to me, who was making a noise with his soup roughly akin to the sound one could possibly make by rapidly drawing beef stew up their nose. Through a straw.
I guess I should feel flattered that I’m in on the true eating scene, but I guess the compliment is somewhat lost on me. Of course I appreciate getting exposed to foods I’d likely never see in my life without them, and I’m always happy to get invited out to eat by a friendly coworker. But then mealtime mosh-pit thing begins, and despite repeated exposure, I’m not getting any more used to it than before. In fact, I think I’m developing an increasingly intense feeling of uncontrollable revulsion. I look forward to eating by myself, or with friends who don’t make me so very privvy to the intimate details of what’s going on their faces when they consume their lunch. Am I turning into a culinary xeonphobe? I hope not. But I can’t deny it: I’ve developed what is at least considerable abivalence towards the experience of what appears to be customary Chinese table manners. It’s not exactly something I’d seek out anymore. Oh, hell, all right, it makes me wanna hurl! There, I said it. Bleech! Gack! I can’t take it anymore!