(Before i get on with the post, check out Ruth’s blog post about skyping with Jessica!)
We’ve read a lot of books written to Westerners explaining/warning us about the way Chinese typically negotiate and get things done… about understanding how “yes” can mean, “no,” “maybe,” “I don’t know,” “that depends on,” “we’ll keep repeating this conversation until you change your mind,” “I like you but I don’t want to do it the way you’re suggesting but don’t expect me to ever come out and actually say that,” etc., depending on non-verbals and context.
I think we’re getting our first little dose of this in some of our planning conversations at the school. I imagine we must be driving them crazy: “What is the deal with these wai4 guo2 ren2! How do they expect to get anything done?”
It’s strange. Although it’s kind of annoying to be on the receiving end of this high-context, indirect form of communication, it really appeals to my passive-aggressive side. Learning to play that game – or a least be on the giving end of that kind of treatment – seems like it’d be kind of fun, like some kind of passive-aggressive sport. I’m not saying these are necessarily good motives for cross-cultural adaptation, just that part of me still finds passive-aggressiveness attractive (the part that likes to play Risk).
And I don’t want to give the wrong impression: that stereotypically Chinese indirect communication is always what we negatively judge as passive-aggressive in the West. It’s only bad (‘passive-aggressive’) when it’s abused. We’re only getting a minor dose of the nice kind at the school. These conversations are all English, our boss here has spent a lot more time around Westerners than the average Taiwan resident, they’re really nice and accommodating to us, and we’re new to the culture so our radar is still pretty weak when it comes to picking up on all the cultural factors at play. But the last couple weeks I’ve been paying attention to the different ways “yes” is said, and now I’m at the point where I’m starting to ignore the actual word and look for other non-verbals or where the conversation goes immediately following the supposed affirmative.