27 May 2010

Cultural shock at my hometown


Frankly, I really enjoy reading our gweilo libertine Wes’ posts on his expat rage in the Hi-Tech Village. Maybe it’s nothing new to our expat readers, but it’s always amusing to see how things I take for granted can cause so much shock and confusion to our beloved expats.

At the same time, I keep being shocked by the non-Hongkie culture at where I work, our CBD Central. I used to feel comfortable to live and work in the New Territories and Kowloon. However, in Central, every day lies a new adventure. First, I have to overcome the language barrier. Whenever I walk in the streets of Central, the only language I hear is either English or Putonghua, or worse, the expats speak better Putonghua and the Mainlanders speak better English than me. Perhaps Na’vi is more frequently spoken than my mother tongue Cantonese here.

Second, not only we locals are expected to make eye contact with strangers, as Wes suggested, we also have to prepare ourselves to talk to them, which is contrary to my mum’s teachings since I was a baby girl. No matter when you’re rushing to your office, drowsily waiting for the pick-you-up cappuccino, or simply checking out the gossip magazines at the newsstand, some English-speaking strangers would come over and say hello as if they were your old friend. To look more “Western” and less like a Villager, I’m always up for the small talk until it’s close to 2pm and I got to go. Then the obscure fact kicks in: they will give me a grumpy face as if I were the orange monk who took away their money. And I have no clue. Should I forego my humble career to make a stranger happier by spending more than a lunch break with him? Maybe my mum was right. I shouldn’t have talked to them in the first place. No talk. No expectation to manage.

Then, it’s their occupation. People I knew in Kowloon and the New Territories come from all kinds of industries, but in Central, everyone told me they work for an iBank. Judging from the fact that these bankers are always available at LKF at the time the global money markets are supposed to be busiest, and they’re always up for boat trips even if it’s winter, I wonder how many grandmas’ pension funds are contributing to their lifestyle. And I love their Porsches, BMWs and Ferraris!

As a local who work in Central but not for the bank, I can’t help feeling alienated, especially when people interrogate me for a thousand times where I am from and still disbelieve my plain answer “Hong Kong”. Once I tried to be creative and returned something nice (but without lying ) that people say I look like Japanese or Korean. Then someone will say matter-of-factly, ‘I think that’s a compliment.’ Since when being a local is a shame?

16 comments:

  1. Honestly, saying that you look like Japanese is indeed a great compliment. That means you are polite and have good taste! You should be thankful.:)

    W

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  2. So does that inevitably means Hongkies are more rude and have poorer taste?

    Anyway I'll take it ;D

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  3. Not inevitably. But in comparison, most HK people are more rude and have bad taste. LOL.

    W

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  4. Let uncle Henry teaches you a lesson, Willie. IRL, you better not say X-eses are always A, B, and C. It makes you look a stereotyping racist d-bag.

    Even I'm an asshole, I don't feel quite right saying and thinking that way.

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  5. I can see how Central is the least Chinese part of the city, but I had no idea it felt so foreign to the locals. Interesting.

    I think I've been a bit misunderstood though. I don't expect people to make eye contact. I'm in a foreign culture, I'm trying to adapt. I don't expect that culture to adapt to me. It's a shame that some expats do seem to expect locals to adapt to them. The saying is "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," not "When in Rome, force the Romans to do as you do." I hope not too many of this morons are American, but I suspect that many of them are.

    Oh, and it wasn't rage. I'm not angry about the lack of eye contact, or the Chinese way of walking. Just confused, and a little frustrated that I seem to be having so much trouble adapting to that particular aspect.

    As for the small talk...I love that people don't feel the need to talk about pointless things with people they don't know here. I always found that crap super annoying back in the States. I'm perfectly happy not talking about the weather with someone I don't know.

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  6. Yeah, some locals in lower working class which I knew in the NT even told me they don't like going to Central because it's too intimidating.

    Well, just to exaggerate your 'rage' to make it more ironic (and our pub more 'asshole-like' :P). you are probably one of the few empathetic and adaptive Americans I know. Or maybe I know too few of them.

    I'm still confused about how to respond to 'How are you?' from English speakers. I honestly can't tell if they're just being polite or they're truly interested to know if I'm having a bad day. And I often got it wrong and sound rude and tactless.

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  7. I can't speak for the Brits or the Aussies, but when North Americans say "How are you?," it's not because we actually care how you are. It's just an expression. The appropriate response is usually, "good, how are you?" (And no, it doesn't matter if you're feeling good or bad. It's a greeting, not a question.) "What's up?" works the same way. You don't answer the question, you simply respond with your own "What's up?" All these expressions are really just ways of saying "hi," not to be taken literally.

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  8. its interesting to see that locals find central to be quite a bit of culture shock...i've never really thought about it that way

    to be fair, if i was in kowloon or the new territories - i would feel very out of place....the expat hong kong is really the only type of hong kong ive known ...it frustrates me sometimes that hong kong is not more integrated....i wish it was...i think it would make for a much better hong kong - cause i do get really tired of all the bankers and lawyers that seem to predominate the expat community in hong kong

    as for the whole how are you thing - i agree with Wes, most people dont really care about how you are - HOWEVER, thats something that really pisses me off - i do believe expats/foreigners have become to complacent with our use of 'how are u' and should spend more time caring about the other person actually feels - but Wes is right in saying that its mostly just a form of greeting and most people, don't really want an actual response...


    nice post bambs. lots of interesting ideas.

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  9. I see. Guess that I took it too literally. And I always feel insincere to reply a 'good. how are you?' when im having a bad day and don't have the mood to talk. now i know it's practically meaningless. so relieved now!

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  10. Bambi, that just proves that you are a genuine local girl--in the best sense of the word.
    I have seen some folks unload a ton of details to the question of "How are you?" or "What's up?" The gweilo was like, that's enough can you stop now, please.

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  11. MonKey,

    Do you mean "how are you?" should be used as literally "how are you?" rather than as an equivalent of "hi"?

    W

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  12. yeah i do - i think if you ask someone how they are, you should be prepared and willing to listen to their answer, instead of expecting the usual answer of 'fine' ...really, who is EVER 'fine'....?

    ppl also say they are saying 'how are u' to be polite - but then, why be polite, just say good morning, hi or hello and move on....! screw the small talk. if you're going to talk, talk big and talk real?! haha who knows really.

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  13. hi anon,
    of course i'm genuine. i guess none of us are okay with too much details from strangers but gweilos sometimes give us a feeling that they're always friendly and open to talk, when actually they're just more attentive to social etiquette.

    haha, Monkey. actually i don't mind doing some small talk with people i have to make contact with but don't feel the connection. and sometimes, small talk is just a warm-up to bigger talk. :D

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  14. MonKey,

    You can't deny the fact some people are really doing just fine, just like me!!! Haha But I agree with you. We have been taught to ignore others' feelings and pay less attention to them. Being polite is important. But then again, saying "Good morning" can be as equally polite!

    W

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  15. Q. Did you eat rice?
    A. Why no, actually, I had a chicken salad and a Coke.

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  16. haha. that's the Catonese equivalent of 'How are you?' now i know what's wrong with my too self-concious response.

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