Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The aggressive VS the modest laowai

A friend and I were talking about how different foreigners in China are when it comes to speaking about their Chinese language/culture/living skills. I have a friend who doesn’t speak a lick of the language, doesn’t like Chinese food, only hangs out with fellow expats (preferably Swedes as he’s Swedish himself), thinks that China is messy and annoying, but then who, as soon as he bumps into a prospective important person (a PIP as we tend to call them), uses China in order to umpf-up himself and his skills:

“Yeah well, as I have now lived in China for quite some time (2 months to be exact), I have a good, basic understanding of both the language (not if you go beyond “ni hao” and “zhe ge”) and the culture (says the guy who complains about that people are so “loud at restaurants!”). I would definitely say that I know the local market (says the guy who some weeks ago explained to me why he would rather target expats than locals with a high-end product. And yes, yes, my chin dropped to the floor) and that I could have a lot of useful advices to companies that are thinking about starting up a business here.”

This guy is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many people like him around, and I have myself to blame for being so modest. I don’t refer to myself as neither fluent in Chinese (oh no, I can speak it, and have meetings and discussions in Chinese, but I cannot discuss science in Chinese), nor as some kind of expert on understanding Chinese culture (even though I’ve realized that a lot of laowais that claim they have a good idea of the Chinese culture, do not have any Chinese friends, have never worked for a Chinese company, and base their idea on the fact that China is “different” to where they come from).

Still, I cannot help but to think that I’m the loser in the game. As I cannot promote myself, I would probably lose a discussion against Mr Know It All who, in fact, does not know anything. Or, well, actually. I probably wouldn’t if we had the discussion in Chinese/with some Chinese people... hehe.

What do you think gets you the furthest in China: being humble or being aggressive?


Unknown said...

Definitely, humble can get you furtherest.I think, however, humble is not against appropriate promotion, but against bragging.

Annie Hall said...

I know someone exactly like that too! He only ate at American fast food restaurants while he was there, and after 5 months in China and TAKING CHINESE CLASSES, he couldn't answer when a teacher asked him 你叫什么? Pathetic, really. And yet he thinks he knows all about China, and he likes to throw Chinese phrases around and pretend he speaks the language. I think someone who brags like that might be well-received at first, but they can't fool people forever, and eventually employers and "PIPs" will realize that he's making it all up!

Fortune Cookie said...

I think it should be a little bit of both. I think being humble is important around other Chinese people, mostly because we're foreigners in their country. How could we know so much about their country after only a few months/years? I think they also appreciate humility. (Ut Oh, do I sound like your know-it-all friend?)

But at the same time, I think when one is talking about their experience in China they need to be "aggressive" in communicating what they have learned and gained from being here, especially if it's for a job dealing with China.

In the case of your friend, I think hyping himself up will only hurt him in the long run, though. And it's so sad that he's so stuck in his laowai ways. Why move here if you're not going to try to live in and get to know the culture?

Anonymous said...

I think what will get you farthest is being honest and active without braggadocio or humility for the sake of being humble.

That braggard may fool someone for a little bit, but it won't take long for them to be exposed, discredited, and avoided. In the long run, their success will only be limited, fleeting, and unfulfilling.

The humble diamond in the rough hoping to get noticed, well, may never get noticed. Opportunity usually doesn't come knocking.

I don't think either approach is a formula for getting farther ahead, but if I have to choose between the two, I'd rather hunt for diamonds than endure hot air.

Madpepper said...

Aggressive won’t work in China. Humble and modest will definitely get you furthest. Chinese see modest as an important merit as a person. Back a few months, I met a guy with his kids in barber shop, he said hello to me in Chinese and asked me if I were a Chinese, then followed by some conversation in Chinese. So I said to him, you and your kids speak almost perfect Chinese. His answer was 当然 = of course. You see this guy was living in China for 5 years, but he obviously has no idea how a Chinese will react on his answer. I think his answer is a bit too much and I can guarantee you that most Chinese will think the same.

Like many people said here bragging won’t work for long, a universal truth. I am not sure if there is anyone will buy that crap. Promoting myself is exactly what I am doing in Europe, but I won’t do the same if I was in China, at least not same effort. There are so many other ways that can bring you a better fortune in China.

TG said...

Don't know about China, but in Taiwan they will reward the honest and humble ones, because that's how I see people there. And I think it's a general rule. If you're humble and diligent, you'll come far everywhere, a**holes like the guy you described, will fall sooner or later.