Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Growling Might Land Me in Chinese Prison

Posted by She Said

My friend, Lindie, gave us a pocket-sized Frommer’s guide before we left for Beijing, which offers the following bit of advice about Chinese culture:

Never Get Angry in Public    The Chinese place a premium on group harmony, so foreigners should try to be polite and cope with frustrations privately.

In other words, I shouldn’t have growled at the guy at the grocery store today. OK, it wasn’t one of my full-fledged growls, but it was enough of one that he looked at me and realized his infraction – cutting in front of me in line at the market today. And I’m not talking just ANY line. I’m talking a line that was so enormous, it was the mama of all things colossal line. Seriously, I was at least fifteen people back and there were at least five people behind me when I paused and looked at one of the cookie packs in the aisle. Yes, I was far enough back in the line to be half way down an aisle, and EVERY register had a line like this. Apparently, pause and look at something means you are STILL SHOPPING AND NOT IN LINE. When I saw him cut in front of me, my instincts kicked in. And I growled. Bad American, BAD! I showed frustration in public!

Then he looked at me, realized what he did, and kindly and quickly got behind me. With his THREE items. Looking at my cart, I realized it would have been the nice thing to do to let him stay in front of me, but my pantomiming for him to go ahead of me didn’t work, and he insisted on staying behind us. And then we waited, and waited, and waited for our turn at the counter. I tried to slyly take a picture to show how many people were there today, but I don’t think this even comes close to shows the intensity of just how busy it was:


As I stood in line there was another bit of advice in the Frommer’s guide that I remembered:

Never Accept Food, Drinks or Gifts without Refusing First    If someone offers you something in their home, no matter how eager you are to receive it, proper Chinese etiquette dictates that you not appear to greedy or eager. Politely refuse several times before grudgingly accepting.

So, in this scenario, I realized I didn’t offer enough times for him to go ahead of me in the colossal line. So, when there were only two more people ahead of me, I insisted with my mad charade skills that he go ahead of me again. This time he obliged. I figure he couldn’t be too angry for my infraction of not asking enough times until the Chinese etiquette light bulb clicked on, because I offered him front row seats to a major attraction – my kids.

I also snuck in a few pictures of the different fruits I have noticed here. Please don’t ask me what they are because the signs are all in Chinese (go figure):


Since we have been here, the kids have not been eating as healthy as I would like them to be. At home, I am always trying out recipes from Deceptively Delicious to sneak in healthy fruits and veggies into their meals. Here, trying to get them to eat healthy is a major challenge. A lot of the foods I have cooking here are too spicy for them or doesn’t “look” like what they normally eat and therefore refuse to even try it. As a consequence of this, they have been eating more than their fair share of $2 boxes of Kraft mac & cheese and McDonald’s. Trust me, this is not something I am proud of, but scoff at me if you must.

And let me tell you, this change in their diet is making me break Chinese harmony rules. The more crap they eat, the worse their behavior becomes. The worse their behavior becomes, the more frustrated in public I get. My eye rolling and finger snapping and jaw clenching and yelling and foot stomping is just not appropriate over here. So, I think I see more Chinese White Not Wine in my future.

Let’s just hope this phrase taught to me by Frommer’s under the Police Station section isn’t in my future:

Duìbùqǐ, wǒ yǒu méiyǒu zuò cuò le?

Translated: I’m sorry, have I done something wrong?

Hopefully rocking the harmony boat isn’t a criminal offense here. If so, anyone know a good lawyer?


  1. That last one is dragon fruit. The inside tastes like a pear, but it has little black seeds. Your kids might like it.

    And please don't make us have to send Bill Clinton to bring you home.

  2. I'm really hoping this adventure doesn't end with a story about the American bloggers trapped in Chinese prison for growling.

  3. I believe the yellow spiky fruit is durian. It has an interesting story, and is banned in parts of southeast Asia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durian