Caught Between Two Cultures – My Story, My Dilemma

So I’ve put myself in a dilemma here in Chile.

Last weekend, my Chinese friend Fang called me on the phone asking my help to look for people to work in her hotel. You see, she just fired her receptionist because she caught him stealing cash from the till.

She needed someone asap to man the front desk from 12 midnight to 9 am for $18. Who wants to work for that kind of money in those insane hours?

Apparently, a lot of Chileans.

Almost cements the culture stereotype Chinese are cheap.

So I said I’d help her and asked my host family’s housekeeper if she knew anyone. She said her friend in Valparaiso needed work desperately. So I waited to see if the housekeeper would contact her.

She didn’t. Instead she calmly went back to ironing our clothes.

Uh- what part of ‘urgent’ did she understand? Perhaps my Spanish wasn’t good but necesita and importante should ring bells, right?

I found Chileans are big fans of I’ll-do-it-later. Their heritage from Spain.

My host brother once told me he needed work so I gave him a number to call.

The next day I asked, “Did you hear back?”

“I’m going to do it.”

Two days later. “Did you call them?”

“Nope. Not yet.”

At that point, I simply gave up. No way was he going to call. I gave the housekeeper my phone so she can call her friend and practically wrestled the ironing board away from her. Finally, we secured an appointment for her friend to go to Fang’s hotel.

Today I was surprised the housekeeper raged at me. “Muy feo  [gun fire rapid Spanish I didn’t undertand) tu amiga!” I think it meant my friend was a bitch.

So later I got the story from Fang that the houseekeper’s friend did show up. Except what we didn’t know that the friend was really short.

Like extremely short. You can guess the non-PC term.

It’s bad. Should I have asked what her friend looked like? Uh I’m sorry- I don’t think my friend could hire people with height problems or with missing arms and legs? And the housekeeper shouldn’t have to tell me either. “Uh- one tiny thing…”

That would be completely wrong and I’d look like a total dick. I can’t ask that and I shouldn’t.  But I know the exact words Fang thought when she saw her.

Oh hell no.

And she shoed her away.

In other cultures, that would be totally and outrageously rude. And rightly so. Not to the Chinese.

See, I’ve lived there for 5 years. To be rude is being polite in China. If my Canadian friend had been spit upon in the bus. If someone threw a glass of water at my Navajo friend’s face. If someone beat up my Kiwi friend just because he had a Chinese girlfriend. If people stepped all over me in the train station just because I tripped and couldn’t get up fast enough… What’s to stop Fang from just telling her to go?

This is why you wouldn’t see people with disabilities in public in China. They are probably locked up in some mental ward by the government. You know what they did during the Olympics. Beggars in the streets of Beijing just magically disappeared overnight.

This was the English translation in one of the public bathrooms in the Chengdu airport in Szechuan province.

Now our housekeeper probably thinks I’m crazy for still wanting to be friends with Fang. But I couldn’t explain that it’s cultural. For all their rough rude spots, they also have their moments of kindness. Like I do remember getting lost in the train station in Guangzhou and this guy just helped me buy a ticket and even alerted the guard to ensure I get on the right train. Or my friend Mike surprising my mom with a big bouquet of flowers when she arrived in China. I told my friend Champion I didn’t have breakfast and he suddenly showed up with a bag of fruits at my doorstep. My student surprising me with a long scarf for Christmas. Fang would invite me to have Chinese food at her hotel after I kept groaning how I miss shao kao (street food), sio mai and fried noodles.

So not all that bad. You just have to take them with a grain of salt.

The cultures of Chinese and Chilean are cultures that couldn’t be more distinctly different from each other. When the Chinese go to bed at 11, the Chileans wake up ready to party. When Chileans finally go to bed at 6, the Chinese are up and awake ready to start the day with some ping pong and noodle soup. No wonder both thinks the other culture is absolutely boring.

Ah well, that now means I can’t return the favor and invite Fang to my home.

Might as well. Nothing to eat here anyway except hotdogs and bread.


2 thoughts on “Caught Between Two Cultures – My Story, My Dilemma

  1. Kate says:

    Yeah me too! The guidebook claims they have a great work ethic. If that’s what Lonely Planet says, I’m afraid of what the rest of South America is like.

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