Today I happened across a new series of posters on the neighborhood propaganda bulletin boards about etiquette to be observed during the Olympics. Olympics propaganda is not new to Beijing, nor are paternalistic slogans on how to be a “civilized” citizen, but this new series in particular caught my eye because of one poster with a list of rules for how to act around foreigners. Always curious to understand more about Chinese behavior towards us Western folk, I stopped to take a closer look. Most delightful was a list of eight questions Chinese are not to ask us, which if observed, would leave these curious and enthusiastic hosts with essentially nothing with which to make conversation. Following are some translated excerpts along with photos from some of the posters:
Smile When Communicating with Foreigners
A Smile is Beijing’s Best Business Card — A Smile is the Whole World’s Propriety
“Eight Don’t-Asks” When Chatting with Foreign Guests
Don’t ask about income or expenses, don’t ask about age, don’t ask about love life or marriage, don’t ask about health, don’t ask about someone’s home or address, don’t ask about personal experience, don’t ask about religious beliefs or political views, don’t ask what someone does.
General Rules for Etiquette with Foreigners
One’s manners and bearing, and image should be graceful;
Be neither humble nor haughty, but at ease and self possessed;
Seek commonalities while reserving differences, have reason and integrity;
Adapt to others’ customs, respect ethical code;
Abide by agreements, adhere to promises;
Be enthusiastic in moderation, differentiate between insiders and outsiders;
Be appropriately modest, be affirmed in yourself;
Do not ask private questions, respect others’ customs;
Ladies first, be gentlemanly;
Seat honored guests on the right, and get along harmoniously.
(The man in the lower-left bubble says: “This is Mr. Peter.”)
I’d say the highlight of this translation is the line “differentiate between insiders and outsiders,” neiwai youbie. One online dictionary chose to translate this four-character phrase as “keep inside information from outsiders or foreigners,” which I suppose is also a valid interpretation for the more paranoid reader.
Also amusing were some of the guidelines for interacting with handicapped athletes:
Etiquette for Interacting with Handicapped Athletes
- You should use polite and standard forms of address for handicapped athletes.
- Try to keep as light as you can with handicapped overtones.
- Pay attention to how you congratulate handicapped athletes.
Pay attention to avoiding taboo subjects, quit using bad platitudes, and do not use insulting or discriminatory contemptuous or derogatory terms to address the disabled. Say things such as, “You are amazing,” or “You are really great.” When chatting with the visually impaired, do not say things like “It’s up ahead,” or “It’s over there.” When chatting with athletes who are paraplectic in their upper body, do not say things like “It’s behind you.”
I’m not sure I understand the last tip; presumedly it’s cruel to tell someone something is behind them if their upper body is crippled.
Lastly, there was one rule on a poster about proper behavior for commuters and pedestrians that seemed a bit odd:
When men and women are walking together, men should generally walk on the outside, and the person carrying things should normally walk on the right. Men should help women carry things, but must not help women carry their handbags. When three people are walking side-by-side, elderly should walk in the middle. Where there are many cars around, men should walk on the side of the sidewalk closer to the street. When four people are walking together, it is best to walk two-by-two.
It sounds to me as if the people are being asked to mobilize into tactically advantageous walking formations, so as to maximize protection for women and elderly against rough and rowdy foreign hordes which will soon be threatening the safety of Beijing’s streets and sidewalks with unchecked groping and thieving. To sum up, it seems the message behind these posters is “Smile, but don’t let the foreigners get close.” Beijing welcomes you, indeed!