Is that really necessary?

You expect to encounter big cultural differences to which you will have to adjust, like differences in worldview orientation. But some days it seems like someone went out of their way to make differences in even the most innocuous cultural areas, as if they just want to niggle you 24/7 with they idea that “Haha! We’re different here, in fact, pretty much the opposite of your culture. And we do it on purpose, too! Just to mess with you! Haha, silly foreigner!”

For example: without warning, writing things right-to-left, as if it doesn’t really make a difference.


Even if you can’t read Chinese, you can see that the name of this hotel is written in opposite directions (R-L on the van, L-R on the satellite dish). This hotel’s main sign is also right-to-left.

Some more examples:

  • Counter-clockwise. Games are played counter-clockwise. How many times are we playing games and some foreigner goes, “What? Oh right, it’s my turn!”
  • Clapping. Chinese people clap to music on 1 and 3, not 2 and 4 (with the snare beat) like North Americans.
  • Addresses. In China, addresses are written putting context before subject, like this: Canada, BC, Vancouver, [Street name], [Building #], [Unit #].
  • Directions. Directions go east-south-west-north. It’s like saying Jessica grew up in the Eastnorth, rather than the Northeast.
  • Numbers. …ohhhhh numbers. Big headache for language students. We think in groups of thousands, putting a comma after every three zeros (1,000: thousand, million, billion). But in Chinese, numbers come in groups of ten thousand (1,0000: ten-thousand [], hundred-million [亿], trillion [] ). Good luck translating big numbers in your head on the fly!

And I’m sure there’s more; these are just what I could think of off the top of my head. Which of these are just random meaningless differences, and which are actually surface symptoms of deeper underlying cultural differences… who knows.

4 thoughts on “Is that really necessary?”

  1. Rachel and I went dancing the other night. Appearently I naturally step to 1..3 instead of 2..4. Maybe I would be a good dancer in China?

  2. Better than me — at least you naturally step, nevermind when. We’ve done a little swing dancing while we’ve been here, but that’s it.

    The Chinese can dance… or, they dance a lot. Pick any good size park and there will be people there with a portable stereo doing all sorts of formal Western dance styles… we’ve even seen salsa and rumba. Dancing after dinner in the parks is really popular, especially with the over-40 crowd. I once saw a video some foreigner took in Beijing of a group of older ladies doing hip-hop.

  3. I still have problems with big numbers… my dad was using big numbers the other day, and I just nodded my head and pretended I knew what he was talking about.

  4. yeah, in class this week they were talking about the economic problems ($7000,0000,0000) and America selling Taiwan all those weapons ($65,0000,0000… i think?). Still had to think about it forever before I could guess.

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