I watched as my Chinese family ate and spit bones onto the table. The fish, the beef, and pork, they spit out little bones into a pile onto the table. I paused, shocked and unable to respond. They continued, unaware that for a brief moment, I thought they were all crazy. That was a year ago, and now, likely because I married their daughter, I understand that this is their culture, that this is normal in China. There is nothing wrong with any culture, but even so, I now find myself warning Chinese who are going to the west. I tell them, “never, ever spit bones onto the table. If you are a child, your host mother might slap you across the face. If you are an adult, you might be asked to leave and you will never be invited back.”
Unfortunately this isn’t the only point of differences between our cultures, last winter, the cold weather of Guangzhou sent me fleeing back to my home where I could turn up the heat. At home, I relaxed in my heat soaked apartment. I wore a t-shirt and shorts as my Chinese neighbors wrapped up tight in jackets and blanket. I spent way too much money on heat, but being comfortable was well worth it.
Wrapped up in enough jackets and shirts to cloth a village, my friends visited. The foreigners pealed off their layers revealing t-shirts and pants, and Chinese kept their jackets clung around them tight. A moment later I felt a chill creep into my house. I looked toward the windows. They hung open, my Chinese friends standing beside it, trying to cool down. “What are you doing” I asked as I zipped across the room and slammed the windows tight.
“We’re too hot” they explained.
“In my culture if you’re wearing a lot of jackets and you’re hot, you take a jacket off.” I explained. “In almost every other place in the world people heat up their homes in the winter, only here do you insist on freezing for the whole winter.
“It’s ok, we’re fine they said, as their faces turned red from the heat.” My Chinese friends didn’t take their jackets off that day, instead like yoyos they left to cool off and returned to spend time with us, over and over again.
A second tip of the day, if you are inside in the west, don’t open the window unless you ask if its ok, most homes have central heating and cooling, and opening a window is the same as throwing money out of the window.