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Stories of Chopsticks Going Global

Popularity 7Viewed 3468 times 2017-2-7 17:08 |Personal category:Comedy|System category:Life

I went abroad several times before, mostly on business trips to western European countries, and my destinations usually were small towns where my company’s manufacturing facilities were located. In a town named Schweinfurt in south Germany, which has a population of around 50,000 people, including 6,000 American troops stationed there, there is a Chinese Resturant called Mayflower, and whenever my stomach’s craving for Chinese cuisine reached the boiling point during my stay at the town, I would go there and munch on dishes like spring rolls, roasted ducks, and stewed spicy tofu to quench my thirst for the food that I grew up eating.

 

Mayflower, as I learned later, is the only Chinese restaurant in town, so I was really surprised that almost every co-worker whom I knew from Schweinfurt appeared to be as good as I was at using chopsticks. There was even a guy named Juergen, who was a leftist when using chopsticks, while writing with his right hand. I once joked with the restaurant owner who was orginally from Zhejiang by asserting that he must have run a mass training course in chopsticks to boost his business in Schweinfurt,  and the beaming fifty-something folk simply reply: ”they learned by themselves, and they learned fast.”

 

Luton is also a small down near London where we have a colleague Mr. Graham, who comes to China on a regular basis. We once went on a 10-day tour of China visiting customers together, during which time we had numerous business dinners with customers and business partners. Frankly speaking, I had never seen a guy who was crazier about fried rice (炒饭) than Mr. Graham was, as for every single dinner, he would entreat me to help him order it. The funny thing was he had never swapped chopsticks for fork and knife for any dish, and everybody at the table would be stunned at seeing him scooping up grains of rice into his mouth adeptly with chopsticks.

 

And I can still vividly remember an occasion when I had lunch with a couple of colleagues from Nordic countries in Shanghai years before. I might have been too brusque in making a crack about a Swedish specialty, surstromming, and my Swedish colleague instantly retorted that Chinese food gave him a hard time keeping fit. Initially I thought he might refer to the calorie counts in our food, however, he actually was arguing that, unlike western style meals, which were served in a certain sequence of courses roughly consisting of Hors d'oeuvre, salad, soup, main course, and desert etc., he was never quite sure where he was during a Chinese meal, as our dishes were seldom served in any particular order. So he always ended up over-eating in most of the dinners he had had in China. I could not help but clap my hands at this plausible discourse, while watching in awe my Swedish buddy proudly pick up a peanut expertly with a pair of chopsticks, and drop it into his mouth as a reward for himself settling scores.

 

And while I was admiring the Swedish guy’s wits, his companion, a Finnish pal, appeared to be struggling a little bit with his chopsticks when he was attempting to lift a strand of rice noodles off the plate. I was initially amused by his repeated failures before I realized the slippery noodles could also be a challenge to me, as i could see that he was apparently maneuvering the chopsticks in a flawless way. After cheering on him for his tenacity in grabbing the elusive grub, I asked: ”What do you think is the most dfficult thing to pick up with chopsticks?” At hearing this question, the Finnish dude, whose country was never known for great sense of humor, blurted out:”Soup.” I was floored.

......

While I am crafting this blog, the word chopsticks has just kept conjuring up images of my favorite dishes,  which rightfully called for a dinner with some of my chums. So I may spend the next 15 minutes making phone calls, which I would end with the phrase: ”See you at the Lan Club, chop chop!”



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

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Reply Report voice_cd 2017-2-8 09:28
thanks for sharing your story here, we would like to highlight it on the homepage.
Reply Report BlondeAmber 2017-2-9 13:46
I always find it somewhat patronising when i am complimented on my ability to use chop-sticks when eating.
Is there an underlying assumption that non-Chinese are unable to adapt to different circumstances and local habits?
Many have had the opportunity to eat Chinese food at home and it is considered part of the experience and enjoyment to learn how to use chop-sticks.
Yet many Chinese appear to be inflexible when travelling abroad and travel with instant noodles because they don't want to try local food, and insist on using chop-sticks rather than a knife and fork.

I don't recall anyone saying 'wow, you can use a knife and fork', unlike what i hear, as it would be considered bad manners to do so.
Reply Report 财神 2017-2-9 14:55
Chopstick creates so romantic experience while having meal with Chinese people. that's great..! i would like to listen some records related it...if you have don't forget to share here too..
Reply Report Liononthehunt 2017-2-9 16:12
BlondeAmber: I always find it somewhat patronising when i am complimented on my ability to use chop-sticks when eating.
Is there an underlying assumption that non- ...
It comes as no surprise to me that people interpret certain social interactions in different ways. while some people feel flattered, you may feel patronized by the same message of praise.
And frankly speaking, I am not sure if your assumption about our assumption is warranted or not, as I won't jump to conclusions without sufficient proof.

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  • Truth Be Told 2018-12-23 19:14

    J.E.Overington: Thanks for sharing your Chinese step-by-step thoughts through conflict management in front of media. I'm western, trained in logic, and I have media f ...
    Thanks for the comment.

    The story is about a fictitious incident, and it is not even set in China.  

    Actually I meant to write a story that could illustrate people's tendency to veil their true feelings on camera (or by extension, in public places) in social interactions, based on their calculation of gains and losses.

    Anyway, since I have put it out for everybody to read, I expect readers to interpret the messages in various ways, as it's par for the course according to research in social cognition psychology.

    By the way, I have to clarify that my experiences with drugstores in China are actually the polar opposite of what is depicted in the story, the dispensers are mostly nice ladies, friendly, obliging, sometimes even overzealous in helping you.  

  • Truth Be Told 2018-12-23 08:04

    Thanks for sharing your Chinese step-by-step thoughts through conflict management in front of media. I'm western, trained in logic, and I have media facing experience silencing scandals. I'll share my thoughts step-by-step,

    First, I would praise all I could, as you did, but I would omit praise of the staff. We like to create wiggle-room so we don't feel cornered into anything in the future.

    Second, if the cut on your finger is severe enough to need stitches, not just a swipe of H2O2, then the staff's unprofessionalism could be a health hazard, and that can be brought quietly and anonymously to her supervisor without asking for her to be fired. Again, we like room for maneuverability, so I would report only potential health hazards without comment on her ability to get along with people.

    Third, she gave you terrible customer service, and among foreign-dominated conversations in China, customer service is widely commented on as a "missing phenomenon". I tend to disagree with the ways foreigners talk when alone together in China: if they don't like it they can go. But I listen because sometimes I meet a caring person who is struggling to solve a challenge. Due to that situation, I've been wondering how to teach customer service skills to Chinese who do not seek the skills, do not know foreigners wish the Chinese would develop their skills... so that sort of thing, shown here, I air a little in public to listen to Chinese responses gradually. I'm a slow developer and customer service lessons from westerners for Chinese is going to be a big win someday, but years after the topic cools down.

    In the west, because you received no customer service, you could easily say so without the issues you iterated in your blog. We expect customer service training to be part of the norm, and a way to say it without causing all the upsets you apprehended, is to say the worker could benefit from some customer service training you guess the city is in the process of providing. That lets all involved save face while clearing the air.

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