Friday, July 3, 2009

Mixing it up

I try to mix a lot, even though I don't always understand the people I am mixing with... especially not when they speak local dialect...

One thing is funny when there are westerners and Chinese people working at the same company. Although they would often benefit from spending more time together, they rarely do. At least that seems to be the case where I’m working now. The big boss in an exception, he’s everywhere all the time, but then there are 2 young guys (one from Shanghai and one from Hebei) who are sitting in silence in their own little corner and who rarely speak to anyone but each other.

Or OK, well that was the case until I came along. Keen to practice my Chinese and make new friends I headed over the second day and scared the Hebei guy with my (slightly nervous) rambling about anything and everything. The following day I set my sight on the Shanghai guy and I was surprised of how everyone else (in the office) responded:

“You know the Chinese guys?!”

“Wow, I’ve been here for 6 months and I’ve never talked to them!”

“I didn’t even know they speak English?!”

“Oh, you can speak Chinese…. Well then no wonder” (complete bulls**, these 2 guys have lived in Finland for 2-3 years and speak perfect English).

I’m not simply blaming the western guys for not including the Chinese crew. I know for a fact that unless I had taken the first step, these 2 guys wouldn’t have started talking to me.

However, since they eventually realized that I wasn’t some dangerous creature (?) and stuff they decided to join us for lunch, which created even more raised eyebrows among the staff:

“You had lunch together with the Chinese guys!?!”

“The Chinese guys joined you in the PARK?”

“They ate a sandwich and not rice!?”

Yeah, wo-ho, how exotic and everything… (not).

Same thing happened yesterday when a guy was making a feature about a Chinese pop band. He was having troubles retrieving information from the net and asked me if I knew the group. I didn’t.

“But I’m sure the Chinese guys do! Let’s go and ask!”

“Oh, no no, not necessary!”

“Eh…. Yes, VERY necessary! And very simple! Just watch.”

Five minutes later I knew everything we needed to know and the Chinese guys (helpful as ever) had even offered to do an Internet search for us. And all we had to do was just to ask. Funny how it can be so hard sometimes.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Happy to see you are playing a role of cultural bridge.

Why are the western guys and Chinese guys so reluctant to communicate with each other?

Jonna Wibelius said...

I think they for some reason think they are too different. Not sure why.

kanmuri said...

Wow, it's like they`re afraid of the Chinese guy. In Canada this kind of thing is rare (at least in the big city) since there are people from all over the world. I love the diversity. You can learn so many things!!!

Hang said...

How can they manage to work together without talking to each other? That's weird!

Jonna Wibelius said...

hang -they don't actually work close together on projects, however, if they did, I am pretty sure both parts would do a much better job.

Jo-Anna said...

I work at a private English school and we have many Native Korean teachers as well as American and Canadian teachers. Though we mix at work, its rare for any of the foreign teachers to meet up with the Korean teachers outside of school. I think it must just be a lack of common interests... or lack of interest in general... I'm not really sure why it happens like that...

Livia said...

I think people tend to group together with their own kinsmen for a sense of security and familiarity. Too bad then that it easily also creates a "we against them" mentality...

mantse said...

People always see the difference between two, but not the common point.

Artificial Wisdom said...

I've heard that most parts of Europe are fairly monocultural. I'm sure what you've described happens sometimes in the US as well, but far less often.

MJFeng said...

Guess everybody got some Xenophobia in them, some more, some less, those with less are easy to overcme when they really communicate echother, those with more are much harder to overcome, while some proberbly are just shy.

The Casual Observer said...

My company has a lot of Indians doing contract work for us. When this first began, about a decade ago, there as this sort of reluctance for the Americans and Indians to interact.

Over the years, there has been a lot more interaction. The middle sized midwestern town that is the HQ to my company now has cricket leagues. The teams are mostly Indian, but quite a few Americans also play.

There are several folks from India on my work team. Some of them have been with the team for ten years, and have become critical members of the team, and also good friends. One of them is a great artist (although she doesn't think so) - I had her create two landscape paintings. I kept one and gave the other to my parents for a gift.

Back when I was in college, I worked in the cafeteria (because I was poor). A lot of international students also worked in the cafeteria (because the international rate for tuition was very high). We talked (not debated) about various cultures and religions - we started the breakfast shift aroud 6:30 AM and most students didn't arrive until about 8 :) "Co-worker Chat 101" was as informative as any of my actual classes.

Diane said...

I love this post, Jonna! This kind of thing seems to happen even without cultural differences. I used to think that fear kept people from reaching out of their comfort zone but now I think laziness plays a big part, too.

David said...

I've noticed this trend at my (American) university...most of the Chinese students are too shy to interact with the American students and stay in their own groups. The Indian students however are much more integrated and socialize a lot more with the American students.

Hanson said...

interesting!!!

HelloWorld said...

Diana - Agree. I think this sort of problem happen everywhere, not matter which color of skin we have, just lack of common interest, and no one dare to be the first to talk. Moreover, especially, in working place, people are much more careful on what they say and who's your friend and who's not, cuz it can affect their future path in the company.