If you don't want to assimilate, should you (I) ever even go (back) to China?

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Serious culture question, probably a lifer or lifestyle question:

If you're not going to take serious part in the culture, should you even go?

See, I know something now about the culture and my reaction to it. I know for example that I will always avoid dinners and drinking and relaxing together. I know there are good projects I can do there in China - and they more or less have to be in China because they're classroom teaching projects and where else do you find Chinese classrooms? - but I also know I would have to do them alone just because I wouldn't find ways to let the locals open doors for me.

See, it's like this. I look at Chinese behaviour and I see resource restriction. Power and authority in China more or less mean you don't have to share your resources with other people. Other people have to come to you and find ways to let you help them. Dinners. Drinks. Relaxing. Making friends. This is a social power, and it tells me nothing at all about their intellectual or academic power, and yet it is the gate that corrals all significant collaboration. You don't get cooperation without friendship and you don't get friendship without subordinating yourself to authority.

Now, fine, whatever. Egalitarian societies can't privilege any one person's opinion or power so they make impersonal law; hierarchical society can't undermine social standing so they leave much scope for personal fiat. Whatever.

Thing is, they know that about me now. The people I used to live and work with, they all know I more or less opt out of their social system and I think they probably resent me for it. From their perspective I am hording my resources against them. I'm not sharing the way I should.


Which is a long way of saying, if you're not going to attempt to play by local rules, should you even go at all?

Jumping ahead a little, straight up saying "No, you shouldn't" kinda rules out any long-term travel even to other English speaking countries. Like, how American does an Australian really want to become? They could fake it a lot longer than an Australian could fake a Chinese cultural personality, but even so...

So the pragmatic answer is it depends on how much individual cultural antagonism the foreign destination (China) can tolerate? You can be a permanent expat for as long as "expat" is a tolerable category in that country and after that you'll have a very short grace period for putting on a show of compliance but you're probably out anyway?


I might be answering my own questions here. None of the "expat" roles really seem sustainable anymore.

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In an new environment, the "When in Rome" principle does make working with others easier, but that doesn't have to mean engaging on all levels of local customs.

So, I think you need to find a balance between how far you are willing to assimilate and how much inconvenience lesser levels of assimilation will cause you.  If you can find this balance, then you can get along in China (or America or wherever you may be),  If you can't find an acceptable balance, you will probably be far less happy than you would be in a place where you can find it.
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Likely true.

Any thoughts on what levels of assimilation are relevant for Chinese culture? Milestones, I guess, that Chinese themselves would recognise, and what characterizes them.

The other aspect too is if you're trying to do deals. On the one hand, attending to the nuances of Chinese culture should take a lot of the bumps out of the negotiation process. On the other hand, aren't you supposed to be bringing something of your own to the table? And if you are, why walk too far away from the terms you know and prefer for deal making? And on the third hand, if neither side is attending much to what "middle" means for the other side, how do you meet in the middle?

There's a ton of cultural nuance that I truly doubt anyone really knows how to attend to. For one thing, to even know that cultural nuance exists beyond large scale formal things that people can point at and caricature, you have to see your own culture - that deep aspect of you that tells you how to manage yourself and your interactions - as not fundamentally motivating for all people.

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Chinese people and jobs aren't a uniform thing, just like jobs in any country.  Even within the same organization, different departments can have wildly different cultures.  Check out what the typical US Physics professor wears vs the typical Geology professor if you want to see an example. What might be seen as a foreign employee doing a good job fitting into one place might be viewed as excessive or not enough somewhere else.

Also consider - how would a Chinese FT in your country address the same questions?  That person will also encounter cultural oddities and unexpected terms and conditions for dealing both with job responsibilities and just fitting in.  In either direction, some people can find a way to fit in and some people find the situation isn't worth it.  The exact same thing happens when looking for a new job in your home country.  Sometimes, you and the culture of the employer will fit well.  If not, sometimes the fit is so bad that the choice is to suffer great unhappiness or else leave.

Hopefully, the place you work for values you for more than your pretty face and more or less standard spoken English, but the same could be said about teaching jobs in Australia or the US.  Some really do want diverse opinions and some want absolute conformity.  Happily, most places that go to the effort to hire foreigners realize that absolute conformity isn't a likely prospect.

I think the key is to have a general level of respect for the local culture.  You don't have to jump in a dragon boat the way I do, but if your colleagues are out there paddling with all their might on race day, showing up is the polite thing do do even if you aren't a dragon boat fanatic the way I am.  When I hear 5 or 6 houses near me setting off fireworks at 4 am, I'm not happy to be awakened, but I also know it's some sort of local holiday thing, so I don't run around demanding they stop.  If people did that in a subdivision in the US, a very common reaction would be to call the local police and make a noise complaint.  In China, I just mutter something about "Happy fireworks day" and go back to sleep.

An important thing to remember is that some local customs (even those confined to a corporation or educational institution) will look silly to you, but if we brought foreigners into communities and jobs in your hometown, some local customs would look just as silly to them.  One thing I absolutely love about being here is when someone asks "Why" I (or Americans or Westerners) do something.  Things that "are this way because things have always been this way" back on the homeworld often turn out to either be silly or unimportant when examined carefully.

Be open minded, be respectful, and try to approach things with a sense of humor is my best advice, whether you are doing something as big as getting a job in a different country or as small as moving to a new department at a job in your hometown.  If it turns out to be intolerable, then leave as soon as possible.  If it's just bad, keep an eye out for new opportunities.  If it's good, stay and enjoy the ride.
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Major difficulty with communication in and about China is the extent to which we all use the same words and mean different things. There's a macro trend extant that kinda overshadows local variation, and, I think, accounts for a tremendous amount of miscommunication. You hear a word in English that makes sense in your own culture - "teacher", say - and you think you've got an understanding of what the other person just said and you know how to talk about the issues associated with teaching. But that's the obvious level. We all know cultural roles vary so we can kind of expect "teacher" to be different in different cultures. But what about "science" or "friendship" or "timetable" or a thousand other things that are treated differently because they exist in a different conceptual organization of the world?

I think it's a grave mistake to assume that in the end we will all understand each other. Values, or the things that people hold dear, mean that it's entirely possible to know, understand, and not accept. But a condition like that will not have arrived through some benign inspection of the world and the people around you. That lack of acceptance will be formally exist prior to the understanding, meaning the understanding will have arrive through some significant, lengthy, and unpleasant miscommunication. And this will be especially likely if the base level cultures are different enough that genuine culture shock is possible.

How for instance do you continue to respect a person who continues to make choices you find not respectable? You can, but it requires you to acknowledge that this person is alien.


Anyway, mutuality seems like a hard relationship aspect to find. You either become the alien or have to always be reminding yourself that the alien has respectable choices that you wouldn't otherwise respect.


Jeez. Such a position probably means don't travel.

When in Rome, act like a Roman.
And when acting like a Roman, try not to feel like an Egyptian.
Because when you feel like an Egyptian while acting like a Roman, you betray both Rome and Egypt.


That's to say, act like a Roman is for tourists, people who need no genuine relationship with Rome.


#fact

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Tourists are typically forgiven for ignoring Roman customs.  After all, they can't be expected to know much about local culture and customs.  People who want to get involved in society are expected to at least follow some local norms.  I seem to recall a woman who decided to go a little too far being Egyptian (even though Egypt was under Rome at the time).  Her final embrace involved an asp.

If you have zero interest in at least trying to fit in with those who may have different customs and a different culture, your best choice is to remain in your hometown forever and to find one job you can tolerate and never try another.  For everyone else, it's a matter of how different things are in the new department, new job, new city, new region, or new country vs their ability to adapt.
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When in Rome, tell them you're honoured they think one day you could be Roman too. Ask them to pay double though because you're not Roman and the transition will be difficult. They'll certainly agree. After all, they hired you because you weren't Roman.




I think, these days, especially these days of the wolf warrior, maybe a more combative relationship with the locals is warranted. It'll definitely produce a lot more lose-lose negotiations, but maybe also a lot fewer win-lose negotiations.

I think it really is time for Chinese culture to be recognised as Chinese - which is a courtesy you cannot really perform if you're going to ape their culture in hopes of fooling them into better deals. We should probably remember that Chinese culture is significantly more competitive than anyone seems willing to announce, and they'll certainly let you be the ape for a lot longer than is really healthy for mutual respect.

Re: If you don't want to assimilate, should you (I) ever even go (back) to China?
« Reply #10 on: September 03, 2021, 03:28:53 PM »
When in Rome, be the wolf warrior.



It's only imperialism if you actually kill people.

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Re: If you don't want to assimilate, should you (I) ever even go (back) to China?
« Reply #11 on: September 03, 2021, 05:34:22 PM »
Let's put this in evolutionary terms.  A species is suddenly thrust into a new environment (ice age, low lying area flooded, whatever).  There are only 4 possible outcomes:

Adapt.
Migrate.
Mutate.
Die.

Adapt or Migrate elsewhere are generally considered the easiest choices.

If you can adapt to the new environment, great.  If no, migration to a different environment is probably your best choice.
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Re: If you don't want to assimilate, should you (I) ever even go (back) to China?
« Reply #12 on: September 03, 2021, 11:57:01 PM »
I think spectating a culture is permissable. It's probably even necessary for anyone who intends genuinely to take part. I think we can probably judge cultures too in terms of how much spectating time they allow. Ironically, cultures that somehow allow just the right amount of spectating are probably the most compatible. Too much or too little and you're pushing people around.

But...

There are cultural aspects that are peculiar to China relative to "W3s+3m" that make the "When in Rome" equation something special. The nature and practice of authority is one. I suspect the moral imperative to hierarchy - perhaps understandable as the absence of impersonal institutions such as rule of law and thus the necessity of formalisable but formally personal institutions such as "here is how you listen to an elder" - is a lot deeper than credited. China isn't just authoritarian politically, it organizes itself right down to the grassroots around the concept of authority. And so on.

Foreigners don't often get caught one-on-one in the trap of denying authority. The Chinese around them are sensitive to signals that you're not going to cooperate. So they don't offer you the opportunity to be anyone important to them, and you don't get the chance to offend them much beyond the mere existence of yourself as an unconnected person in their midst.

But give them time, live and work around them long enough, and they're going to eventually expect real relationships, or perhaps begin punishing the absence of real relationship.

That I think is where I'm at. It's an honour of sorts. People cared enough to be pissed off. But I wonder if they cared enough to know what they expected in any terms other than the default. That's probably less of an honor. Or more. I don't know.

Re: If you don't want to assimilate, should you (I) ever even go (back) to China?
« Reply #13 on: September 04, 2021, 11:18:41 PM »
I wonder if it'll turn out Chinese believe in universal human obligations.

Not rights. That's for individuals. But obligations, that's what you have toward the locus of identity. (I was going to say "to the collective", but that's not right.)

Probably if we want to understand the impact or meaning of these universal human obligations, we should look to Chinese reaction against universal human rights.



Disclaimer: individuals can do anything, be anything, it's culture that's polarized, not people, because without a pole there is no direction to face aka assertion of value, so it's not exactly the same as racism when you say Chinese/Western CULTURE has some extreme elements.

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Re: If you don't want to assimilate, should you (I) ever even go (back) to China?
« Reply #14 on: September 06, 2021, 08:09:35 PM »
In general, western cultures focus more on protecting the rights of the individual and Asian cultures focus more on obligations to family/society.  All cultures come to a balance of the two, but cultures that go to far towards either extreme eventually find the point where things get unstable.

Anti-vaxxers/Anti-maskers in many countries fall back on "my rights" to justify themselves without any thought of any possible obligation to society.  People like this are using their rights to place others at unnecessary risk.

Rights come with obligations.  In nearly all countries, you don't get the right to drive unless you pass a test about the rules for basic obligations for sharing the road with others.

Sometimes, the way countries react to so-called "universal" rights does not match the stereotypes.  The US voted against food being a human right.  China voted for it.


You aren't under any obligation to take a job in China.  If you feel you can't adapt to a new job in China, stay in Australia or pick a country more to your liking.  If you can adapt, balance the decision based on comparisons of jobs and work culture in China vs Australia (or other locations you may be considering) instead of worrying about abstract West vs East ideals.
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