Opinion on Asian Customs

I was browsing in the bookstore yesterday and picked up a delightful book by Yang Liu - a graphic artist who lives in Berlin. It was called Man Meets Woman and cleverly, hilariously underscores gender differences.

She has written other popular books. Today, I acquired a copy of East Meets West. The premise of both books is it uses simplistic graphics to illustrate the difference between two varied perspectives. She states she moved from China to Berlin when she was young, and recalls the differences between how people in different places think about things.

My question is how accurate are her discussion of “Eastern” habits?. The book implies these include:

  • more reluctance to speak the truth
  • networking much more important
  • inability to queue
  • smiling though feeling sad
  • much less cliquishness at parties or with newcomers
  • more respect of seniors
  • similar ideals of beauty
  • going “around”, not “through” problems
  • talking about money by emphasizing relationships
  • counting by bending, not extending, fingers
  • sleeping with the windows closed
  • showering at night
  • enjoying rainy days more

A simplistic book is about very general patterns and one can’t read too much into them. Still, a few of them surprised me. Are any of these observations contrary to your experience?

Bear in mind that Asia is not homogeneous. Practices vary widely just in Southeast Asia alone. There some hings I can confirm though, after 25 years in Thailand and traveling around Asia.

Correct, queuing is out the window, but they’ve been getting better at it in Thailand.

Smiling though feeling sad is common. In fact, outright laughter in the face of tragedy is the norm. This has led many visitors to assume there is a certain degree of heartlessness, but really it’s just mainly a nervous reaction. Takes some getting used to though.

There is a reluctance to speak the truth if it’s not a truth the speaker thinks you don’t want to hear. There’s also a reluctance to say, “I don’t know.” I’ve seen people there give directions to places they freely admitted later they had no idea where it was.

In Thailand, you’re pretty much a pig if you don’t shower several times a day, never mind just at night.

There is a professed respect for seniors, but more and more I’ve seen it as just lip service.

Going “around” problems is indeed a standard practice. Confronting something head on stands the risk of offending someone, at least in Thailand.

Never encountered anything about bending fingers to count or sleeping with closed windows.

Networking is of the utmost importance in Thailand. It falls into the extensive system of giving and owing favors, taken very, very seriously.

I don’t know about enjoying rainy days more. Maybe if you’re a farmer. In the cities, it can screw up traffic pronto.

"* more reluctance to speak the truth

  • networking much more important
  • inability to queue
  • smiling though feeling sad
  • much less cliquishness at parties or with newcomers
  • more respect of seniors
  • similar ideals of beauty
  • going “around”, not “through” problems
  • talking about money by emphasizing relationships
  • counting by bending, not extending, fingers
  • sleeping with the windows closed
  • showering at night
  • enjoying rainy days more"

As Siam_Sam said, far too general, some are stereotypes. I seriously think there’s far behind the overly generalized statement you listed.

That said, I’m third generation Okinawan/Japanese born and raised in Hawaii. 60 this year. The following of course is IMO.

  • more reluctance to speak the truth
  • smiling though feeling sad
  • going “around”, not “through” problems

These are lumped together because I was taught through observance of my family and other Asians largely driven by a sense of pride and overly humble fake humility. Just as you’re not expected to answer “How are you?” with a list of complaints, Asians generally don’t talk about the bad things in their life.

It’s the expectation to humbly praise others, but with an expectation they’ll do the same. In Japanese we say nandemonai, It’s nothing (special). In turn, the other person is supposed to overly praise the offer/gift/option. Typically more Chinese is the double-edged humble brag when it comes to their children. I still remember meeting our family friend after years apart and she remarked how she wished her son was able to put on weight like I had. Hey, just say I’m fat!

  • much less cliquishness at parties or with newcomers

Exact opposite. Asians in general are extremely cliquish and generally not very extroverted.

  • more respect of seniors

Most/all Asian cultures have a great sense of filial piety. Parents and elders are to be respected and honored. It’s generally more open now, but for example in Korean, honorifics are still required in public and it’s a no no to address someone older than you by just their given name.

  • similar ideals of beauty

Why too broad! There is scientific evidence that one of the key factors of beauty is symmetry in the face and certain face proportions being universally considered more attractive than others.

BTW, despite what some claim, I’m of the firm belief that colored hair and contacts is not Asians trying to look more Western/white, but a style to differentiate themselves from the generally dark haired, brown eyed norm.
A while back, an idiot in a thread about beauty said that Asians get plastic surgery to look more Western. I showed him some pictures of some Korean music idols and asked him what about their surgery make them look more Western. A couple of them never had surgery!

  • counting by bending, not extending, fingers

This is just good manners as it’s generally considered rude to point. As I’ve grown older, I’ve made it a habit to not use a lone finger to count or point something/someone out.

  • enjoying rainy days more

As Siam_Sam said, this is likely a farmer’s perspective as rain is generally good for the crops. However, for other non suburban professions, such as fishing or open market sellers, rain may not be considered a good thing.

Thinking about it. The OP’s post is borderline racist and ignorant. Though I cut him/her slack because I’m confident that wasn’t the intent.

It depends heavily on where you are.

In China, people will blatantly cut in line, or not stand in line at all. In Japan, people are great at queueing.

I wonder how much an influence of some of the extremely hard times after 1949 has to do with that.

There may be a sense of “Get it now before it’s gone.” mentality that’s been passed on over the generations.

On the other hand, perhaps it could be argued that being forced to wait for limited food and supplies would make waiting in line more ingrained.

As someone living in China, I can say that the list is pretty accurate. It’s an unusual list in that some of the things are observations of little situational differences – of which I could list a thousand more – and some are observations of overall differences in culture or philosophy. But most are correct, at least here.

I think there are a couple of overall differences that I have noticed however that can give a Westerner a quick idea of how a typical person living in China differs for the typical American:

  1. Generally people here don’t like to stand out. Sure, you would like to be the most handsome, or most successful or whatever. Standing out in that way is of course fine.
    But, if everyone is wearing blue today, you would prefer to be wearing blue and fitting in. As a Westerner, unless there is some specific reason for wearing blue (e.g. theme party), I’d rather express my individuality.
    And it’s helped with corona of course; no-one wants to be the one person in their block not wearing a mask.

  2. In public spaces, Chinese people have a kind of tunnel vision where they are just focused on their own goals and their own, very close, physical proximity.
    e.g. in terms of the cutting in line thing, you have to appreciate it’s not the same as someone cutting in line in the West. If someone pushes in line in the US, it’s because they’ve decided to be a jerk today and know they are pissing off the other people. In China, many times people didn’t even see that there was a queue.
    Note also that having got to the front of a queue, you still need to “impose yourself” on the cashier; they are not looking for who to serve next.
    Once you appreciate everyone’s “attention bubble” is much smaller than the West, a lot of things make much more sense.

  3. Cellphones and social media are much more popular than the West, even if that seems impossible.
    I saw a thing on US news where they were implying that kids spending so much time on social media is a reason for the US potentially lagging behind Asian nations’ education.
    Well, I have to say: Chinese teens / young adults look at their phones virtually the whole day. They look at their phones as they walk down the street. And I’d estimate the typical young Chinese girl takes about 50 selfies a day – and that’s a conservative estimate.
    I can’t overstate how much phones must have changed Chinese society.

Are doctors less afraid to ask about your diet? Bill Maher has been ranting about that lately. (Rant as in, American doctors should be doing this too.)

This. Not just about waiting off to the side for elevators and trains to empty, but actively elbowing one’s way to the front of a well-defined queue for a cash register. It’s one of the reasons that tourists from mainland China have a bad reputation in Japan.

Japan has concepts of “tatemae” and “honne”:

I recall reading once about a related concept in Chinese culture. It was described humorously with an example of a social group trying to decide which restaurant to visit; no individual in the group wants to suggest a place they like, lest they be seen as self-serving - so the only satisfactory solution is for the group to visit a restaurant that nobody likes. I want to say that this social concept was “qi” or “chi,” but I know those names refer to other things, so I just don’t know.

When I worked in Japan this was called “breaking the wa” (harmony). That’s the one cardinal sin. As long as you keep the wa, you can get away with some pretty astronomical fuckups.

How do they prevent brawls from constantly breaking out?

Asked my future son-in-law, who is half Khmer / half Vietnamese; although has never had a relationship with the Vietnamese side of his family. He grew up in the States, but his mother and her family were all refugees in the late 70’s / early 80’s. So, a 26 year old Khmer guy’s response:

  • more reluctance to speak the truth - sometimes. Don’t want to hurt a person.
  • networking much more important - oh yeah, we all know a guy
  • inability to queue - i don’t care
  • smiling though feeling sad - doesn’t everyone?
  • much less cliquishness at parties or with newcomers - nah, we hate everyone, lol. My daughter said the first time she met his family, everyone was really nice, as long as she drank with them. She was annoyed at all the side pointing and talking about her, though.
  • more respect of seniors - definitely. Elders rule the family, and we have to listen to them
  • similar ideals of beauty - uhhh, what?
  • going “around”, not “through” problems - i ignore if i can. but, yeah, we don’t go for the easy way
  • talking about money by emphasizing relationships - don’t quite understand this one. it is kind of annoying that my money is everyone’s money.
  • counting by bending, not extending, fingers - no?
  • sleeping with the windows closed - never thought about it.
  • showering at night - i shower whenever i need to?
  • enjoying rainy days more - no, unless it means i can do nothing

More reluctance to speak truth is a face thing. Asians are conscious of rank and status and don’t feel comfortable losing or causing someone to lose face in a group, and what happens within the context of a group is considerably more important than it is in individualistic societies like the US.

But Asians aren’t the only ones who try to tough out bad feelings; Americans say they’re “fine” when they’re really not, say “How are you doing” when they’re really not interested in a genuine answer. And we tiptoe around the truth all the time.

Definitely more respect for seniors in a collective sense, though Westerners might be surprised at how young people on a train may not always give up their seats for elders.

Japan is without question the most extreme when it comes to social harmony. All Asian cultures value harmony and getting along to some degree, but my experience is that Japanese will fall on that sword a lot more willingly than the Chinese or even Koreans, who can be brutally blunt if they so desire.

A classic example is trying to speak their native tongue. A Japanese person will probably tell you “jouzu” (good or skillful) even when he/she knows you suck. A Chinese person is much more comfortable saying “Pfff, you suck - keep studying.”

As far as east versus west goes, Germans have a reputation for being brutally honest in the same manner you ascribe to the Chinese.

I think that asahi meant that a bit more relatively though.

Perhaps Chinese are more blunt than Japanese, but, generally-speaking, they will still compliment foreigners on their (abysmal) Chinese.

This is partly though because of the novelty of it, not just a cultural politeness thing. Many people here have only ever seen Chinese-speaking foreigners on TV, if at all.

And also because it’s part of national pride that Chinese is difficult.

Not at all. I’m well aware there are different countries, and the artist is Chinese. I wouldn’t expect any homogeneity, between any continent, country, region or group. These are meant to be simplistic. And everyone is an individual with their own preferences, which I do not judge.

But the book was well received, with thousands of reviews and a 4.7/5 rating. Dozens of people contributed to the book, most who seem to be Asian. So it is reasonable to expect a degree of truth. It would be foolish to expect anything to always apply.

As for ignorance, this I frankly admit. I’m aware of the tropes and stereotypes and that they often don’t apply. But I know nothing of counting by bending fingers or who prefers to sleep with the windows open. It simply is not racist to discuss alternate ways - better or worse - of doing things. My post was meant to fight ignorance. Indeed, the views are those expressed by the artist.

As mentioned, Asia is a BIG continent. As someone who is South Asian (my parents immigrated to the US), a lot of these thing don’t really ring true. The respect for elders sure. But South Asians definitely point while counting. I don’t see that much reluctance to speak truth or smiling through feeling sad. Of course South Asian culture has been heavily influenced by the British, so who knows who influenced who.

Not only social harmony, but an extreme sense of pride. Nippon Ichi!, Japan (is) Number One!

After the Fukushima event, there was high drop off in Japanese tourists to Hawaii. I told my friend that the Japanese have a hive mentality, where it would be rude to be enjoying yourself while others are suffering. This was confirmed a few days later, when a university Professor stated the same thing on our local news.

AFAIK, not other country nearly completely isolated themselves like Japan. And as for pride, invasion of China and Korea, and attack on Pearl Harbor.

A BIG continent, but also Island Nations.

And how far does this (the more I think about about it, stereotypical list) extend. Eurasia? South Asia?

An stereotypical list could be made for another ethnicity/nationality and there will those who confirm or refute the claims of that list.