11 thoughts on “Review of Dreaming in Chinese

  1. David: Ouch! Busted. I didn’t want to quote more from the book because it seemed like it would be too hard to render the Mandarin transliterations with all of their tone accents.

  2. Re:Westerners use lots of pleases and thank yous

    Definitely a cultural thing.

    A real life example: I was at a dinner with my friend and his tiger Chinese girlfriend. His girlfriend turned to him and said, “Pass the salt.” My friend flared up and replied,”Are you giving me an order? I’m not your servant!”

    Turns out this is not an isolated occurrence and has happened many times. The Chinese just don’t get it that it’s rude and disrepectful.

  3. Edith: I’m glad it was useful. The book is quite short and readable, so mostly the “review” was “this is a fun book; you might want to read it if you’re interested in or going to China”. If it were a tedious 500-page book I would have felt more responsibility to summarize.

  4. Chinese do “speak in newspaper headlines”, as the saying goes, and can seem very abrupt, even rude, to Westerners. There’s the joke Chinese-Western phrasebook, which translates “I’m so sorry, but I do believe our meeting is not today, but next week” as “Why you here?”

  5. All very interesting. For myself, the “tone accents” are intriguing. And I have read a lot? “about” doing business in China, but only here see the concept of structural distance shortening in the language. In a summer class in Chinese language & calligraphy, the professor, a native speaker, emphasized the vigor of the language over immediacy & in fact distanced herself with charismatic aloofness.

    For gifting, my dear E graduated summa cum laude in Linguistics from University of Washington, with two minors in human rights law. In the four years since, she has lived around the world, working with & studying intentional communities for sustainable living practices, designing & enacting a tribal network. She is ever more certified & adept in all kinds of skills that involve taking life in your hands. I want her to experience Chinese for it’s spoken musicality, since her gift for languages includes internalizing & singing the music of those language cultures. She would embrace the distance shortening.

  6. Re: Americans waiting in security lines (to get through airports, to get into office buildings, to be checked prior to sporting events, etc.) and pictures of Chinese people working

    There are a lot of security lines in Beijing nowadays, too, maybe moreso than in the U.S. For instance, in Beijing there’s a scanner at every subway entrance, and your bag has to be scanned each time you enter the subway. I haven’t seen that yet on the NYC subway. But in Beijing, even with the extra security procedures, they seem to be fairly efficient at processing large volumes of people. It would be hell if they weren’t. And the security people in Beijing act like bureaucrats on the job; as long as you follow the rules they won’t get hot under the collar. In contrast, many security people in US airports seem to treat everybody with suspicion.

  7. Having been born in Taiwan and raised in the US by immigrant parents, all my life I have moved in between Chinese and US cultures. In my personal experience, the Chinese in the US immigrant community, in Taiwan, and in China say “thank you” (Mandarin pinyin “xiexie”) at least as much as Americans and Europeans. My (tiger) mother would berate me for disgracing my family if I failed to thank someone.

    However, I have found it true that the Chinese use the equivalent of “please” only in very formal situations. Also, I only rarely hear a Chinese say the equivalent of “excuse me.” “Excuse me” is closer to an apology for some actual wrongdoing, rather than a politeness.

    One thing that does strike me as really weird is that in China (but not in Taiwan) queue jumping is apparently a normally accepted practice. Standing in various lines in Beijing and Shanghai, locals have simply walked up and cut in front of me without acknowledging in any way my existence. I have seen people from the back of a line diffusing their way past others towards the front. Only occasionally did any verbal confrontations ensue. Most of the time a person being jumped would either accept it passively or try to jump ahead and regain their position. When I mentioned this to my cousin in Beijing, he told me that in China a person must be strong enough to hold his place (or advance) in line, otherwise he doesn’t deserve his place in a queue.

  8. Thanks for all your comments about my book. One quick comment back (we’re heading to Beijing for 6 weeks just 7 hours from now, so I’m a little frantic): Markl talked about thank you v. please, and also mentioned his Taiwanese background. I have gotten a number of comments over the past few months from Mandarin speakers saying versions of “We always said please and thank you in my house!” As it turns out, every one of them was from Taiwan, not from mainland China. Something interesting there– different protocols around the “language of politeness”. More later from China. Deb

  9. I read the book (Kindle version). It’s a short book. Some funny and interesting insights into Chinese culture and living in China. Having lived in Japan for a couple of years, I recognize some of the expat challenges they faced. There is a lot of detail around language/etymology/wordplay/characters, some patience is required if you’re not into this.

    After reading this, I seriously doubt I’d send my son to “Chinese immersion” school, which is all the rage in the San Francisco Bay Area these days. Chinese sounds both very difficult to learn and to retain.

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