A.M.B.A. in MI asks: 1) Smoking? What's it like in restaurants, on campus, etc? and 2) Spitting? Is it that prevalent as I have heard?
I’ve been pleasantly surprised to note a reduction in both since I last was in China. In 1991 in Beijing, the clouds of smoke everywhere was completely toxic. I swear, every man, woman and child in China was smoking two cigarettes at a time! And I remember how shocked I was to see people not just spitting, but spitting indoors on the carpet, and then rubbing it in with their shoes! In 2001 there was less smoking and spitting, and in 2005 it seemed even less as well. I think 2007 has brought even more of a reduction. But it might be different in other parts of the country -- I can really only speak about Xiamen.
I asked my students about smoking, since I wondered if maybe college students simply couldn’t afford to smoke. They said no, people were learning more about the health dangers of smoking so were choosing not to smoke. And many of the places we go – stores, restaurants, busses – have no-smoking signs. Of course, oftentimes people will blatantly ignore such signs, puffing away directly under them. But I really think smoking is on the decline. You still see more smokers here than in the U.S., and Zoe and Maya will point them out to me and declaim in a loud voice, “He’s smoking! He’s going to get sick and die!” They did the same thing with bike riders with no helmets when we first got here, but they couldn’t keep that up – NONE of them have helmets! We’re lucky that most people don’t understand them when they point out perceived wrong-doing.
Spitting is also on the decline. There is actually a concerted campaign in place to get people to stop spitting in public in preparation for the Olympics. But you’ll still see spitting and nostril clearing onto the ground and nose-picking and people cleaning out their ears with their keys. There seems to be much more openness about bodily functions – no one apologizes for a burp or finds it necessary to cover a cough. Every restaurant has toothpicks on the table, because it is perfectly acceptable to pick your teeth after a meal, so long as you do it behind your hand so no one can see your teeth! And we see kids peeing and pooping all over the place. (I watched a little boy poop on the sidewalk at the bus stop today, and then his father put him over his knee to do a close and thorough cleaning. We all got to see EVERYTHING!)
Like I keep telling Zoe, what’s rude and what’s not depends on where you are. And none of these things is rude in China. They think it equally disgusting that we eat with our hands – you’ll only rarely see a Chinese person touching food with hands. And what’s the idea of sitting down on a toilet that someone else has been sitting on?! Completely disgusting!
One of the great things about being here in China now while the girls are so young is that they are just so accepting of all of these differences. I was a little concerned that they might decide they didn’t like China because of these different habits, different levels of hygiene, the infamous squat potty, etc. But they have been so open to everything. Being this young makes everything an adventure, and when you have so little life experience the unusual just looks like the usual. The interesting part will be how they adjust to going back home. That nose-picking thing just won’t cut it in Fort Worth!