Note: I realize that title has the sweeping generalization of something I’d probably think was racist if it were said about, ummm…Nigerians or Mexicans or even people from the Philippines. However, the Chinese government is newly rich and a serious threat to world stability (more on how their government is literally the shadiest in the first world later on in the week), so I can’t feel that bad about anything said about them. And I’m also not saying that they are all really tough negotiators that won’t yield an inch (or a dollar)—-only 98 percent, I kid—-but a few things did really stick out at me about their conflict resolution style during my recent trip…
1. They Don’t “Debate.” The handful of arguments I got into with people in Shanghai (half of them over money, the other half over some petty rule that no one in Western society would really think seriously about enforcing) all had one common theme: they don’t negotiate. They don’t bargain, they don’t “come around to your point of view,” and they don’t compromise one inch. The rules are what they are, and they don’t deviate from them. I’ll give you an example, this is a typical “argument” I had with someone over a bill since they always failed to tell the accurate price of anything and always added a 15 percent service charge to everything.
Me: “You didn’t say how much this would cost. You said it would be much cheaper than this.”
Them: “That is the price.”
Me: “But I didn’t know that was the price and you were very misleading when I asked you.”
Them: [Shoulder shrug.]
Me: “Maybe we can compromise. I can pay half of the dispute and then leave.”
Me: “Two thirds and then I leave.”
Me: “Not all. Two thirds or I leave and pay nothing.”
Thirty exhausting minutes (and many shoulder shrugs by them later), people always pay the exact price they want. These are “the rules,” no matter that usually both parties have to agree to a rule. Bringing us to…
2. Whatever the Rule Is, It Will Be Followed to the Letter. You know how in America, there are plenty of stupid rules—-trivial technicalities—-that no one really follows, well in China they do. They follow rules so strenuously that some chefs won’t substitute one side for another at a restaurant if isn’t expressly stated they will on the menu. It can be a pretty exhausting way to live, but they’re used to it. It’s natural for them in a way it will never be for rule breaking, constantly-complaining Americans so the best thing you can do is just try to do what you want without asking. That may sound like terrible advice (and I’m not saying to break serious laws or anything you could really go to jail for) but if you ask for permission, they’ll say no, so just do it and say “sorry” later.
3. No One Fully Knows What’s Going On, And No One Asks. Part of the “no arguments” philosophy is that a staggering number of Chinese just seemed to go along with whatever reality was presented to them. When I first got to the Hong Kong airport, they rounded us onto a jam-packed bus to take us to the airplane, left us in there for nearly an hour without anyone explaining anything (and without anyone asking “What the fuck is going on?”), shepherded us into the plane, told us there was a delay without going into it, shepherded us back off the plane, jammed us back onto the same bus, took us to the gate for hours, then told us the flight was cancelled (all without anyone really complaining or saying anything I interpreted as “What the hell is going on here?”), then told us the flight was back on after everyone had almost given up and left the airport. This was just one example—-the nightmarishly bureaucratic subway system another—-where I couldn’t imagine Americans not raising more of a fuss or at least questioning the reality presented to them more strongly….most likely with some finger jabbing and four letter words.
4. They’re More Subtly Rude And In a Different Way. In the West, we would probably consider someone “rude” if they called us a bitch or an asshole, shot us a bird, or verbally trashed us in some way. There, it’s much more likely someone is rude to you by refusing to make even basic small talk…no “please,” “thank you,” “hello,” “goodbye,” just complete scorn with their eyes and doing their job with visceral contempt. Why do this to you? Who knows? I also discovered that they didn’t seem to have much rhyme or reason for who they’re rude to and it seemed pretty randomized, but maybe that’s because I was constantly committing international faux pas without knowing it, I really couldn’t say.