Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Lunch And The Ugly American

Every day, I send back a report of what I see and hear and think when I'm on my mission trips in Vietnam. The following, from August 11, 2010 is from my final trip (so far!) to China and an interesting perspective on culture from a friend of mine who does much mission work herself.

Yesterday, I went to BORDERS and bought a copy of The Ugly American. The reason why is in the following e-mail I sent to family members three weeks ago on July 24. I should finish re-reading it by this evening.

Good evening! This morning, Lavender and I took the thirty minute bumpy bus ride into town to buy some things. She took me to lunch at a hotel and it was excellent; beef strips and cooked onions, lily petals with cashews, rice, and tomato and egg soup. The waitress said it was an honor to serve us because I am from the US! For dessert, we bought ice cream bars for about 14 cents and they were terrific!

Yesterday, I made a reference to being offered cigarettes regularly in China where it seems most men smoke. I received an e-mail from a great friend, Sandy, and I will excerpt it here:
I just wanted to make a comment about being offered a cigarette. Thom and I had a young Chinese man stay with us for 3 months one summer 2 years ago. He barely spoke English. He was a smoker and we tried to get him to quit. We learned how significant it is and how smoking is a big cultural, social thing to them. What he explained to us was that he pretty much had to smoke if a cigarette was offered to him especially by his boss or coworkers. In China, it is a social bonding thing. If someone wants to smoke with you, it is a sign that they want to be friends. To refuse is kind of like not extending your hand if someone wanted to shake hands. They have several different social signs that indicate that they want to connect or compliment someone. Anyway, for someone to offer you a cigarette means that they want to be in conversation with you, get to know you, and bond with you. It is a compliment. I don't advocate smoking, but you might accept it and just hold it or something. Sounds like they like you a lot!

Sandy and I went back and forth several more times talking about one of my favorite books,
The Ugly American. Written by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer in 1958, this book is the fictional story of a fictional Asian country and the terrible mistakes US officials made in trying to win the hearts of the people. One of the main characters, an Asian diplomat, made the point that Americans in their homeland are the nicest-kindest-most generous people he had ever met BUT when they travel overseas, they can turn obnoxious and arrogant. In The Ugly American, we also see several Americans who are amazingly effective because they assimilate themselves into the culture and live as the citizens do. They blend in and find out what the people need and how the citizens believe it is best implemented. I read this book as a requirement in a high school English class and it made a lasting impression on me, especially as I have been blessed to do mission work in Honduras, Haiti, and China. It's a book about politics and guerrilla warfare but it has stuck with me in a religious sense. As Americans, we need to be careful how we present ourselves in foreign countries, especially poorer ones. As Sandy's e-mail pointed out, there is so much for me to learn about this culture. I am just glad the Lord is giving me a chance! Thanks for your e-mails and prayers!

God bless,

Luke 18:1
E-mail me at steve@hawleybooks.com


Lindsey said...

Steve, this post caught my eye because God has been teaching me a lot about America vs. the world....about the flipside of being proud to be an American. Don't get me wrong, I am so blessed to live in this country, but some things we have completely backwards. I think you would really enjoy reading this article.


Family fun said...

On the smoking issue -- Our middle son is married to a wonderful girl from China. He visited there once before they were married and again for their 2nd anniversary where they renewed their vowes. LuYing explained to her family that Jim has health issues and that smoke is a major problem for him. While they all accepted that and didn't push for him to smoke with them, they still continued to smoke around him. It was such an issue that they ended up staying at a motel rather than at her parents house. Her mom won't allow her dad to smoke in their car (they owned a taxi business before selling it to start a health business - vitamins and supplements -- a very big deal there.