With all the nose-picking, loogie-hocking, and public urinating that my Chinese friends and neighbors do, it’s easy to identify habits they have that I find disgusting. It’s been eye-opening for me to discover that we have some habits that disgust them, too.
(Please bear in mind that China is changing at a breakneck pace, and that there’s probably lots of younger folks or urban folks who think some of these are just fine. I’m including those that I’ve specifically been told are gross.)
1. Eating animals that have been dead for days
Meat is fresh in rural China. FRESH. That pork was oinking this morning, and chickens and fish are still alive at vendor’s stalls. Generally you’re only buying the meat you need for that day, which means that the animal is eaten within hours of being slaughtered. So, to think that there are hunks of animal flesh sitting in plastic-wrapped trays for days at a time before you buy them is pretty gross to someone from a Chinese village. Even my Chinese city friends warn me that meat in a wrapped tray is the stuff the supermarkets are trying to get rid of because it’s about to go bad. If it’s covered in plastic, you can’t easily prod it or smell it to judge its freshness. The good stuff is sawed off the carcass while you wait. Mmmmm…FRESH.
Americans go through elaborate rituals to ensure that their delicate parts never actually touch the seat of a public toilet. There’s the disposable seat cover, the toilet paper throne, the hover technique. Or, you just bite the bullet and pray the last user did not have some horrendous communicable disease. That makes using a public squatty seem simple and even CLEAN. The only part of you that touches other people’s stuff is the bottom of your shoes.
I’m convinced that snot never actually makes it to the front nostrils of most Chinese people. It’s snorted back and hocked out long before it gets that chance. So, perhaps to them, just the thought of mucus coming out those openings is nasty enough, but to have the audacity to blow it out with gusto into a flimsy paper barrier when you are in the presence of others is just too much. Keep that habit to yourself, thank you very much. Or do like everyone else does, and learn the proper exit for snot: out the mouth and onto the public sidewalk. Or just pick your nose like a respectable human.
Dairy products in general are a bit of a mystery for my village friends. It’s a weird, exotic thing that most have never seen, and few have a desire to try. (Just remember that information the next time you think, “They eat DOGS?” Yeah, well, you eat the mammary secretions of another animal that have been allowed to mold.) They also can’t readily tell the difference between butter and cheese. Putting one of these foreign substances on bread is weird enough. Topping it off with sweet jelly is gag-worthy.
You may not like the thought of split-crotch pants, but some of my Chinese friends find it pretty repulsive to imagine human waste being squashed all up in their kids’ privates, especially if that kid is able to run, jump, and climb. Imagine if someone told you that in their culture, kids wear diapers until they’re 6 or 7. Glance in the mirror quickly to catch your look of horror and disgust as you picture changing the nappy on a 1st grader. Yep, same reaction they have to us.
This one is definitely in flux. If you go to any college campus in a city, you’re guaranteed to see couples holding hands, hugging, sitting way too close on a bench, and possibly even kissing. However, there are plenty of other places and other age groups where this just does not happen. There’s simply not PDA between couples, even married couples. Not even good friends give each other hugs. Seeing foreigners do that sort of thing can make locals feel really awkward and uncomfortable, and seeing people kiss right in front of them is nasty. So, if you want to give your husband or wife a quick peck, get a room!
Traditional Chinese table manners dictate that one should never touch food with one’s fingers. That’s what chopsticks are for. So, it’s pretty shocking to see Americans go at their food like cavemen, grabbing it with their grubby mitts. When a Chinese friend first told me about this, I started to explain that no, we use forks, knives and spoons. But then I realized just how much food we eat with our hands: sandwiches, burgers, appetizers, party food, snacks, fruit, baked goods… Yeah, I guess we do eat with our hands. You win this round, pengyou.
An interesting note, though: Fast food in China is changing this one. It used to be that places like KFC and McDonald’s would give out plastic gloves for patrons to use while eating fried chicken and French fries so that one would not need to actually touch the food. Burgers were eaten by keeping the wrapper on and slowly peeling it back with each bite. However, I’m seeing more and more fast food patrons who simply opt for the American Caveman method of touching the food directly. (Though I still haven’t seen many abandon the method of keeping the wrapper on the burger while eating it.)
It’s bad enough that the Cavemen straight-up touch their food, but then what do they do when their fingers get a little bit of ketchup on them? They suck it off. Suck it off their nasty fingers like uncultured pigs. My local friend once did a pretty hilarious imitation of Americans doing this, sucking on each finger with relish and smacking her lips with appreciation. She was giggling the whole time because she had no idea that civilized people would ever even think of doing this until she encountered Muricans. When in China, use a napkin, folks. And never show your friends the Carl’s Jr. cheese paper commercial.