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The Stories behind Some American Rituals

Popularity 14Viewed 9450 times 2014-5-4 20:13 |System category:Life| rituals, america, sneeze, tan

Although America is a young country compared to, well everyone, it is unique in that many different cultures came together and brought their rituals with them. Some of these rituals are probably very strange to Chinese people so I thought that I’d explain the origins of them so that you can better understand them.

 

1.       Suntanning

 

It must be strange for Chinese people to see Americans talking positively about tan skin. If the word tan is new to you, write it down right now and remember it. I’ve met too many Chinese people make the mistake of calling themselves black which has a completely different meaning. Anyway, many years ago during the explosion of American development we held the same opinions as Chinese. We believed that lighter skin was more beautiful than darker skin, but once indoor jobs (jobs that didn’t require people to work outside) were the norm, a switch occurred. Having tan skin is now seen as the higher status since it meant that the person was able to afford vacations at the beach.  How else could the CEO differentiate himself from an ordinary IT employee?

 

2.       The Bride’s Family Paying for the Wedding

 

This is my favorite things to tell my male Chinese friends since they become instantly jealous. In China, it is accepted that the man’s family will need to pay a big price for all of the requirements his bride (and her family) demands. This old practice began in England and was brought to America and was more like a return-gift for the bridegroom since it was the groom’s duty to buy his bride. Men used to “buy” their brides, and so the wedding was a way to thank the groom for his “purchase”. Although we don’t do this anymore, we still hold onto the practice that the bride’s family pay for the wedding. Some people believe that we hold onto this since the bride, and not the groom, is the most excited about having a wedding so the bride’s family should pay.

 

3.       Whistling at Women

 

Since I’ve met a lot of Chinese people who cannot whistle, I suppose some may say with this evidence that Americans are more like animals than Chinese (even though many foreigners would disagree). I say this because whistling in an instinctual habit that many animals share when trying to mate. Some animals that whistle during mating times include frogs, toads, alligators, lizards, apes and monkeys, and, of course, birds. In short, it’s just natural for us to whistle and smack our lips to women we find attractive.

 

4.       Saying “God bless you” after Someone Sneezes

 

There are many diverse opinions on sneezing in many different cultures. The most colorful is, perhaps,  the New Zealand belief that the creator god Tiki sneezed life into the first human. Although several examples exist where sneezing is associated with life, in many European countries and America feel that sneezing is closer linked to death. Sneezing is said to expel the soul, or life, from the body. This being a terrible and scary moment, we say “God bless you” in order to provide blessings for the one in danger.

 

Have you seen rituals that you’d like explained? Post your question in the comments below and I’ll try to see if I can answer them for you. Thanks for reading. 

Matthew David Manning

mattwritenow.ghost.io

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Comment Comment (17 comments)

Reply Report laoren1234 2014-5-5 13:27
Love the part about bride's family paying for the wedding. I think that's a wonderful tradition everyone should adopt.
P.S. I have three boys.  
Reply Report Fred.Hui 2014-5-5 13:52
Great wonderfully! Hope you can continues to share many more stories about your's contry.
Reply Report mattwritenow 2014-5-5 16:11
laoren1234: Love the part about bride's family paying for the wedding. I think that's a wonderful tradition everyone should adopt.
P.S. I have three boys.  [em:3: ...
yeah! American boys are very lucky.
Reply Report KIyer 2014-5-5 16:16
i read the story about the sneeze being an indicator of a deadly flu and once you hear someone sneeze, they might not be long for this world. So, saying 'bless you' was a way to commend their soul to God... and it became a habit
Reply Report 财神 2014-5-5 17:04
definitely US is the Young Country and meaning of US is also 'us' or our.
Reply Report Unclefred 2014-5-5 21:36
I am a Canadian living in Canada and I think a tan is popular because Caucasian people who are naturally tanned are those who spend time in the outdoors.  They get more exercise and are healthier.  This makes them seem like better mates for marriage and increases their status.  Today it really means they have a much higher risk of skin cancer, but no one thinks about that.
Reply Report xuehailang 2014-5-6 12:43
so interesting,it is the glmaour of a different culture.
Reply Report jiewei798 2014-5-6 22:53
I think there are a lot of Western wedding traditions that Chinese men would be grateful for. For example, not needing to already own a home before marriage. I know that puts a lot of stress on my masters and phd students.
Reply Report SEARU 2014-5-8 17:38
According to medical science, putting yourself in the Sun for enough time, it could keep your bones strong.
Look ! A group of old people are sitting and chatting together , they enjoy the sunlight and their faces look darker than other people in the town,and they do so even in windy days !  
With more sunlight ,  your body could have more Vitamin D that can help your bones grow stronger !
Reply Report kakafish 2014-5-9 15:36
Why Americans move so often? Moving to a new place have a lot of things to settle,it is really inconvenient for us.
Reply Report PatrickInBeijin 2014-5-9 19:05
These days, many Americans are older when they get married, and the marrying couple pays for the wedding themselves.  I did, twice.  
While this is generally a nice article, do you really think that whistling at females or smacking lips is appropriate?  A lot of Americans think that this is sexist and inappropriate.  A lot of American women hate it.  The last guy I knew who did it was driven out of us job by the anger of the women in the office.  And no one felt any sympathy for him.  Of course, this was in San Francisco, it may be that this habit is still practiced in some parts of America, but please Matt, don't say that this is an American habit, it may just be something you and your friends do.  No offense intended.
Reply Report objchina 2014-5-11 06:42
Many couples now pay it together, but Groom pays in my country.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-5-11 12:12
Church: another fundamental culture difference between China and America, or even the west in general.
As Kakafish so astutely observed, American people move a lot. Generally it is to go where work is plentiful. Other reasons are health and education. Because families are not as nuclear as in China, religion provides social and communal connections, and a shared belief system. Of course the fundamental reason for church is obeisance to one's god, but overwhelmingly church provides a 'family' connection that many lack because they moved away from their family.
Reply Report PatrickInBeijin 2014-5-12 22:21
teamkrejados: Church: another fundamental culture difference between China and America, or even the west in general.
As Kakafish so astutely observed, American peo ...
The only thing is that younger people in particular are leaving religion in America, as well as in the West generally.  What you say is true for the past, but not for the present so much.
Reply Report mattwritenow 2014-5-13 18:26
PatrickInBeijin: These days, many Americans are older when they get married, and the marrying couple pays for the wedding themselves.  I did, twice.  
While this is ge ...
Thanks for reading my article. Actually, I don't think whistling at women is a good thing, I only wanted to explain the origin for the behavior. Maybe it's not clear enough, so sorry for the confusion.
Reply Report PatrickInBeijin 2014-5-14 06:35
mattwritenow: Thanks for reading my article. Actually, I don't think whistling at women is a good thing, I only wanted to explain the origin for the behavior. Maybe ...
Thanks for clearing that up!  I am not sure if and where it is still prevalent in the US.  But, we have so many different cultural corners that nothing would surprise me!  And thanks again for trying to explain our country!
Reply Report Swifty55 2017-8-20 20:48
Interesting well done.

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