Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cultural Faux Pas

As English teachers, part of our job is educate students about the various differences between Chinese and Western culture. I always stress how important it is to know what is considered rude or taboo in American or Western culture to avoid offending us. Examples of these include asking someone their weight, age, salary, and love life (all of which I have been asked and sometimes in the same 2 minute conversation).

We also teach a plethora of etiquette no-nos like picking your nose in public. One time,  right in the middle of one of these lessons on manners, a student proceeds to hawk the loudest loogie I have ever heard. This sound, which sounded like came from the deepest, juiciest recesses of his lungs, manages to drown out my voice and reverberate throughout the entire room. After he spits out this practically solid mass on my classroom floor, my face could not hide my absolute horror. Thankfully the class (including the boy) laughed at this, and then I expressly forbad any spitting in class.

Need to post this sign in my class

During these culture times, I take the opportunity to learn more about Chinese culture from my students. Some interesting facts: never put your chopsticks straight up in the rice because this depicts a grave, don't wear bright green hats in China--it's a sign that your wife is cheating on you, and the number four is very taboo because it sounds like death-- cell phone numbers rarely have 4s in them because that is especially unlucky.

I try my best to absorb all of these superstitions and cultural taboos so that I can more be a better guest in this country. However, unfortunately, I fail quite often.

Wearing short sleeves before May is a major no-no. Even if it's over 90 deg!

My most recent failure (that I am aware of) was made known to me whilst reading a book on teaching in China. In it, the man talked about how shocked students were when he began using red chalk to write on the blackboard. Normally, red is a very lucky color, but apparently it is taboo to use red to write. It is especially horrible to use red ink when writing a person's name because it means you want them to die or they will die soon. I believe it is because grave inscriptions were often done in red.

If you haven't already guessed where this is going, I did precisely this during my last midterm. Since our exams are all done orally, we require students to sign their name on a piece of paper before taking an exam to have proof that they actually took it. I used a black pen to write my notes and gave my red pen for my students to sign their name.

While writing, several of them expressed surprise at the red color. Stupid me just thought they were expecting black because my near identical pen and notes were nearby. One student even exclaimed, "This is red! Why is this red?" I think I said because red brings good luck (or so I thought!).
These poor students, already so nervous about exam taking, now they must deal with the possibility of the impending death, too! Tomorrow, I plan to apologize to my students and reiterate the importance of telling me when I make faux pas like these.

More Muradyan adventures stories coming soon! We have done quite a bit of traveling recently which (kind of) explains the lack of updates. So that just means more interesting (than this) posts in the future.

One of our many mountain trips

Much love to you all!

No comments:

Post a Comment