Thursday, May 31, 2012

Americans: Fixing Problems That Don't Exist

I was just reading a blog post from a woman who has lived in China for many, many years.  She has a lot of great culture insights, and I wanted to share part of her post here:

Sometimes Americans overseas are like 3 year olds who drive everyone in the room bonkers by asking a never-ending series of "why" questions.  In most cases, what we are really asking is "why is it like this?"  And what that really means is "It's not like this at home, so it shouldn't be like this here." I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't be asking 'why' questions; on the contrary, I’m a firm believer in them.  They demonstrate a desire and willingness to learn.  But I think it's important to make a distinction between two different motivations for incessantly asking “why”.

One motivation is the desire for understanding. Why is the traffic so chaotic (at least by my standards)?  Asking the “why is it like this question” may reveal the fact that until fifteen years ago, private cars were banned in China, and there were almost no taxis.  That means that many of the drivers of those ubiquitous taxis and Mercedes Benz’s are rookie drivers,  none of whom grew up riding in cars.  So the traffic patterns of cars are merely extensions of the traffic patterns of bicycling, which are much more fluid and situational.  I still may be terrified when careening through traffic on the third ring road, but it sort of makes sense.

The other motivation for asking the “why is it like this?” question is a desire to fix whatever it is that is being questioned.  The question gives definition to a problem.  And once a problem is defined, then it can be fixed.  This chaos is fixable, thinks the American. Put in one-way streets.  Put in left-turn lanes.  Institute strict fines for breaking the rules. Put up stop signs. The list goes on and on and on.

Check out her blog for the rest of this post (and to find out why this chaos isn't actually a problem).


Nate and Molly said...

Fascinating read!

Candy said...

Thought provoking and enlightening. Thanks! I need to remember to read her blog more often.