My life seems to be on tracks recently. Still, nothing unusual there, I’d been commuting to Vienna University for years. Then again, this train journey, I sat down next to a Chinese, and promptly got my ID checked along with him… I love such situations which people tend to overlook, both when they never go abroad, and when they go abroad and get struck by how different it all is.
Your own country is at least as different. And other places need not feel all that foreign.
XiaoHe (my girlfriend) and I, after a first shock over all the non-Asian faces here, have been finding that it doesn’t matter much where you are, everyday life is everyday life. Living on campus in Xiangtan may have made things quite a bit easier, since there is no need (except to go to a mall or bigger supermarket) to fight through Chinese traffic. Even last summer in Shanghai, however, though I can get annoyed about people pushig themselves into the subway without regard for propriety and convenience, things weren’t annoying me as much as they do some.
I wish I could give great advice on how to learn to handle cultural differences with equanimity, but I can only repeat my girlfriend’s words: just adapt to the situation.
How much fun it is to consider different cases, though: Europeans would say that they are more ‘cultured’ than Americans, but the queues in American stores tend to put us to shame. We’d complain about the Chinese pushing, and then you get Europeans taking off their shoes and putting their bare feet on the seat opposite on the Austrian regional train.
There definintely are differences. Your rights are certainly better protected in Europe, and definitely much clearer. At the same time, as long as you don’t care too much about what people say about you (advantage: foreigners) or don’t have to have a run-in with the powers-that-be, China feels just as free, if not much more dynamic and lively.
Europe, on the other hand, feels relaxed and laid-back, and sometimes really somewhat like an old person having become comfortable with how things are and afraid only of change for the worse. Then again, that too is a straw man, just like the China that is an oppressive monolith with an oppressed populace…
In the end, life has its ups and downs, and people have their good sides and bad ones, no matter where you turn. Whether you can handle it or not, need crowds like you or only yourself, want peace of mind and quiet or excitement and a challenge, it’s up to you.