Conventional wisdom says that politics and religion don’t make polite small talk topics — they’re too contentious and people routinely fail to disagree respectfully. But there’s a third equally volatile, if perhaps overlooked, small talk landmine: parenting. And if you thought the disparity of good parenting opinions was wide among foreigners, imagine the scathing looks of scandal and judgment exchanged between foreign mothers and Chinese ayis across the preschool classroom. You can read a sample here: Everything is Dangerous: Taking care of children in China.
Foreign mothers and ayis generally make no attempt to talk to one another. During the slightly calmer snack break, ayis congregate around the table of children eating to keep a constant vigil as the mothers retreat to the back walls for a hard-earned chat with their girlfriends. The resentment is clear from both the ayi and the Chinese teachers, who delight in any chance to scoop up the plate of a fumbling child or help push in a chair, all the while staring daggers at the negligent chatting mothers. It was abundantly clear what was on their mind: they were doing it right, and we Westerners had a lot to learn. And maybe, in a way, they were right.
Parenting differences between Chinese and foreigners routinely generate loads of mutual amusement and scandal. Here’s a few of our own amusing experiences: