11 September 2009
My morning routine at the office goes something like this ... I get in around 7:00, boot up my computer and make a bee-line for my morning coffee. One of the only other people there at that time is our office administrator, Joe Chen. Every day when I say hi to him on my way by, he asks ... "going for coffee?" ... and then he laughs. Always. And I will say "no ... maybe a beer this morning" ... or ... "do you want me to bring you one?". He never does.
When I go for lunch, Joe wants to know if I will have a hamburger.
Funny when you think about cultural stereotypes going back the other way. While Americans envision Chinese as 4ft tall Karate Kids, the Chinese also have a distinct stereotype of Americans. When we're not drinking coffee and eating hamburgers, we are busy being gun-toting party people. Oh yeah ... and we have sex in the streets and have AIDS.
Surprisingly, many of the stereotypes modern Chinese (and specifically Shanghainese) have of Americans comes from TV. One of the first American TV shows to be dubbed in Chinese and aired here in the late 80s was Growing Pains. It was an immediate smash hit. It was called 成长的烦恼 or "Chéngzhǎng de Fánnǎo" (the literal translation being "The Frustrations of Growing Up"). Mr. & Mrs Seaver provided a glimpse of how parents befriended their children in the U.S. while Mike was the personification of America's confident cool.
The process of peeling away stereotypes and truly understanding people take time. My understanding of the Chinese people and culture has come a long ways in two years. One of these days I will take Joe out for lunch and help him understand that not all American's carry a gun.
We'll go for a hamburger.