2008: The Year of Manners

For anyone that has been to China, and certianly for those of us that live here, one of the hardest things to deal with is that many [not all] Chinese people seem to have a complete lack of any sort of manners.

Near every day walking to or from the bus stop I pass no less than several hundred gobs of mucous spewn about the sidewalk and road. Spitting is something I hardly notice anymore, but when I first arrived in China it was strange to see everyone from big burly men to frail little old ladies horking like I thought only a trucker could (I apologize to the phlegmless transport workers I’ve likely offended).

If I’m not dodging the recently dispatched contents of someone’s throat/nasal passage, I’m trying hard to avoid the plastic bags and rubbish blowing about. Litter is, by Western standards, quite rampant in China. People have very little regard for the practice of placing trash in the appropriate recepticals. This said, in China, Dalian is considered one of the cleanest cities, and from my experiences in a handful of other Chinese cities it does earn that title. But you don’t have to travel too far from the well-swept downtown core to see what “real” China is like.

Finally, once I reach the bus stop, I encounter the third part of Chinese society that conflicts with my Western ideas about manners – no lines. I can’t count how many times I’ve been elbowed by surprisingly agile old men in their attempts to be the one ahead of me on the bus. This anti-queueing phenom spreds well passed the curbside scrum to overload public transport. Lines are absent at train stations, food stands, McDonalds, and basically anywhere organization would assist in putting the “civil” back into “the world’s oldest CIVILization”. I’ve heard things have improved from years past, but it’s still a long way off from being “polite” society.

Like the good public-caretakers that they are, in recent years the government has put fines in place to try to deteur spitting and littering, but I’ve yet to see or hear of any tickets being handed out. I recently read an article on MSN News that reported how Beijing is preparing for the 2008 Summer Olympics. It’s a great article because it really illustrates the tackling of the problem with both Chinese and Western values.

“I’m trying to wake up a sense of decency, I know it’s there.” – Lu-chin Mischke, the Pride Institute

The quote above is from a Chinese woman who lived in the US for 10 years, only to return to her homeland with a complete look of disgust on her face at how Chinese people are treating the place. She, and I agree with her, couldn’t believe that people would have such a lack of respect for their country.

Whereby the Government run program is “teaching people the right way to spit”, Mrs. Mischke’s Pride Institute attempts a much more ambitious feat – teaching people the right way to live. It’s easy to become desensitized to the rather rude habits here, and it’s easy to write them off as just a “cultural difference”. But in the end, any culture that promotes defiling the environment, lack of respect for other’s personal space, and complete disregard for a basic sense of civility – well, what’s so cultural about that?

So while most Chinese people are eagerly awaiting the sun-lit days of 2008 for all the wealth and prosperity it will bring – I can’t help but feel that the biggest thing that China might gain from having all eyes in the world turn to them for a couple short weeks is a sense of civic responsibility.

PS: They also chew with their mouths open. I know that’s petty, but well, it is a PS and it really pisses me off listening to a restaurant full of people chomping every bite.

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