Letter: Parents see America in a different light


My parents, both in their late seventies, are visiting me in Seymour from Beijing, China for five months since May. At the third month, I asked my parents what their impression about American people is.

I suggested my parents to skip the big words discussion, such as capitalism vs. socialism, monopoly vs. democratic, religion vs. atheism. Those are the topics that belong to my dad, who is a retired school principal. I would rather hear about minor things, yet having great impact to people’s daily life.

My mom gave her answer first. She likes the way that neighbors she met at the sidewalks, or strangers at Walmart, smiled and greeted her. At the waiting line of cashier, the people behind her kept decent body distance instead of often bumping into her unconsciously. In Beijing our hometown with 20 million population, things are different. “American people are so friendly,” She said.

Now it’s my dad’s turn. He noticed all the restaurants I brought them to do not have the “private room” that all Chinese restaurants would provide. If you have been to a restaurant in China, you will be overwhelmed by the loud noises created by the eaters talking to each other, screaming and crying of little kids who normally will not be hushed by their parents. To have some quietness, you will need to ask for a private room, and most of the time, you will get one.

He also noticed when I brought them to IU in Bloomington, he found there is no walls surrounding the campus. The same with companies and people’s houses. This is in the opposite to China. There are walls everywhere. We are famous for the Great Wall, aren’t we?

Having been living in the U.S. for 17 years and constantly traveling between U.S. and China, I felt I had something to comment.

I told my parents, they are not comparing the U.S. to China, but comparing Seymour to Beijing. If they are in New York, they may not find people smiling and greeting strangers that easily. I got three honks within first five minutes driving in New York downtown, and oh, I forgot to count one middle finger.

They will find the expensive houses are surrounded by walls and even security guards. The American people are famous for their sensitiveness of privacy, although it’s without wall.

The noise at restaurants in the U.S. are much more controllable, but if you go to “Garage”, the bar at Columbus at a Thursday night when they offered live band, you may have to talk to your companies by yelling as well.

I saw Westerners in Beijing’s morning subway tried very hard to squeeze into the super condensed subway car like my local folks did; like the commuters in New York Metro did.

Culture, unlike politics and economy, it is the subtle and unspoken behavior even without consciousness. It is the survivor of thousands of years of human life, formed in a particular societal environment. Cultural differences are like the branches of the tree. The root is the human nature.

The more we travel, the more we see the culture differences. We should learn to track down to the roots of the tree, instead of simply jump to the conclusion and judge what is right and wrong. If you look into the differences of culture deep enough, you will find they are fundamentally the same.

I told my parents I will bring them to New York if they miss Beijing too much.

Song Li is a resident of Seymour and a member of the Seymour Toastmasters Club. Send comments to [email protected].

No posts to display