Subway and bus connection in Beijing is rather convenient, so I use the public transport there more than often. Yesterday I took a train with a friend of mine and her family. On some trains in Beijing, you can see how a driver operates a train through a special window in a door. Children love to spend time on a train watching a driver. So is the son of my female friend. He was looking through the window when another boy joined him.
My friend and her husband have been living in Beijing for about 8 years, but they have never studied Chinese properly. As foreigners who do not understand the language and as caring-too-much parents they were thinking: A bigger Chinese boy came to the window. Will he block the view for our boy? Shall we be worried?
In a bit, a mother of the Chinese boy came to the window. ‘Wonderful!’ Will two of them block the view?!
Thankfully, my husband translated the conversation between the Chinese mother and her son. The mother came to the boy to make sure he would not disturb the son of my friend.
-‘Make sure the other boy can see a driver’
-‘I think he can see fine’
Now we looked at the situation differently. What a nice person the woman is! The feeling of discomfort was gone. Why were we so hostile?!
Face expressions and gestures might be understood wrong when it comes to a multicultural society. We had a lesson about gestures in Germany and other countries in the language school for a reason.
As a tourist some of my friends misinterpreted the intentions and actions of people from different countries. My mother was shocked on a subway in China when she was pushed intro a car. She complained about one woman trying to get on a train in front of her. Only after my husband noticed that the woman actually saved a seat for my mother, we changed our perspective on how people act in a crowded subway.
I was offended when checking out from a hostel in Delhi, because the owner of the hostel made me wait for him, even though he knew I was in a hurry to catch a flight. Instead of accepting a key from me quickly, he chatted with another guest. What about ‘Ladies first!’ I thought. How rude! Later, I was told by an Indian acquaintance that the situation had nothing to do with my gender. Whoever has the money will be served first. I already paid for the hostel and was going to leave. Another guest was about to pay. He was more important.
Speaking another language will also improve your understanding of another culture. Better understanding of another environment will help you to avoid uncomfortable situations.
Let’s remember to be patient and do not judge others quickly. Cultural and language barriers do exist. As guests in other countries we shall be respectful. As citizens who accept guests we shall be friendly. Mutually we can avoid conflicts. At least on a subway train.