Thursday, March 06, 2008

Oh, you so fat now!

Guambat has tended to the apple shape in the two decades since he was 40 and moved from Guam to Sydney. As Cactus Jack might say, he'd gotten a bit "corporate". Guambat managed to avoid the mid-life crisis but ran smack dab into the mid-riff one.

On returning to Guam his old Western friends might express something along the lines of "life's been good to you" or the like, with a digging little chuckle. His old Asian friends were just as likely, or more so, to say "Oh, you so fat now!", with a big belly laugh.

So who was being rude?

Neither, Guambat reckons. They're just both cultural filters used to express the obvious truth, and any rudeness must be in the ears of the beholder.

Guambat has previously reported on the "Beautiful Country" WSJ column written by Li Yuan, recommending its delightful insights borne of new perspective. She's given us another one today, and Guambat again recommends it to you.

Why 'You Look Great' Doesn't Translate in China
Shortly after I arrived in the U.S., I felt great about myself. Many of my professors at Columbia University's Journalism School wrote "well done!" or "nice job" on my assignments. That was music to the ears of a foreign student who felt like a fool most of the time in a new environment. And it was also the first time in my life had I gotten so much positive feedback for anything I did.

Before long, I found that the professors made those same sort of comments to many other students. If everybody got the same comments, what was the point?

Traditional Chinese wisdom holds that we will lose our motivation to succeed if we're satisfied with ourselves and not worried about our future all the time. We are taught to be modest and not to hold our head too high in front of others.

Chinese parents may be generous in saying nice things about other people's children, but most avoid praising their own children directly to guard against arrogance and self-conceit. At school, teachers may praise a good student in front of the whole class but rarely in person. In the office, young professionals aren't looking for thank-you notes. They often feel lucky for not getting yelled at by managers. As a result, Chinese tend to be driven and hard-working but some of them may not be as confident as their American counterparts.

Americans, on the other hand, always try to project optimism and confidence. Ask them, "how are you?" you'll probably hear "great," "good" or at least "fine." "OK" isn't even considered upbeat enough. And it's not just that. Many Americans are also willing to make an effort to make others feel good. "You look great today," is a default greeting for many people. Even when a manager summons staff into the office to discuss things not done properly, the conversation is likely to start with what the employee had done right. Self-assured Americans dare to ask any question and try anything. But some of them are reluctant to blame themselves when things go wrong.

As I looked deeper into America's tendency to heap on the praise, I discovered it's a fairly recent phenomenon and pretty much of a generational thing.

Amy Reed, a 42-year-old editor in Knoxville, Tenn., remembered that at her school, they got awards only when they actually placed in the top three and showed real skill or talent. But, at her children's school, everyone got a ribbon for participating in the science fair, regardless of whether the exhibit was any good. And at a gymnastics event, everyone got a trophy just for participating.

They're praised for everything. Some say this is a generation that wants to be praised for getting up every morning.

Guambat reckons its because Mummy and Daddy were so effusive with the praise for doing so, and so recalcitrant to apply a bit of discipline when they didn't, that caused the problem.

Don't blame the kids, blame the "don't say no" crowd. And try a little, just a teeny little, judiciously applied, honesty. "Teach your children well", as CS&N sang.

Guambat reckons Mr Happy Face has a lot to answer for. Remember when you first saw that insipid, blank face and wanted to punch its cheery lights out? So when was it that you started adding emoticons and :-) to your messages?

Guambat is almost certain he saw a brawl start when one bloke said to another, "YOU have a nice day, now", and then the other retorted, "No, YOU have a nice day, now", and then it all got out of hand.

Guambat will be going walk about (more like island-hopping about) pretty soon until the end of the month, so bids you g'day and happy trails for now.

And for Guambat's sake, have a nice day if you must, but don't shove it down everyone's throat.


Blogger Jack said...


A nice ocean cruise on a ship that feeds passengers
four times a day is just the right thing for the belly
that is exhibiting vigorous visceratosis. I'm sure you
will give us all an example of dining discipline. If you
do, we will all be disappointed. Weigh the anchor!
Damn the torpedoes!

Captain Jack

7 March 2008 at 3:18:00 am GMT+10  
Blogger India said...


4 April 2008 at 11:13:00 pm GMT+10  

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