Early morning, my neighbor clatters down the stairs. Just about when he hits the first landing, right by my front door, he makes a great honking sound, snorts, and spits a wad as he descends the last few steps to the foyer. I can hear 'floop!' as he ejects his mucous and the 'splat' as it hits the floor.
A few buildings away, another man engages in a sneezing fit. It seems to be a ritual for him. I can hear him every morning. He does nothing to muffle his affliction.
At noon, a loving and engaged Grandma returns home with her charge. How do I know she is loving and engaged? Because she constantly exhorts the small child, all the way up the stairs (and then down again, after the noon break). She does not do it quietly.
On the bus, a phone jangles. “WEI???”, and thus begins an exchange the entire bus can hear.
In the supermarket checkout line, an elderly woman pushes past to take a place at the front of the line in spite of the rest of us, who have patiently been waiting our turn.
A workman comes to repair a water leak in my bathroom. He smokes as he works and throws his cigarette on the floor when he's done puffing. He squashes it with his boot as he walks out.
Related to cigarettes, a common occurrence: smoking in restaurants where 'No Smoking' signs are prominently displayed.
In restaurants, it is not uncommon to see/hear people loudly smacking their food, open-mouthed.
Every evening at 6:30, save for when it rains, the neighborhood people, from the one I live in and the community next door, gather to dance. Their music reverberates and echoes through the buildings. Sometimes they dance past 9 PM. Most recently, one of the groups hired a dance instructor whose amplifier is particularly loud.
Mercifully, the drumming team only practices during the summer. This past September and October, it sounded like the two dance teams, the dance instructor and the drum team were competing to see who could be the loudest.
During evening hours, when the area by the pond is most full of people, I don't suppose anyone does this but, one fine day, holding class outside, my students and I arrived at the pond area to find a woman defecating by the gazebo, in plain sight. Being a stroke victim she couldn't squat down; she stood, with her pants around her ankles, slightly bent over and holding on to a railing. I was mortified but my students shrugged it off, and the woman continued until her bowels were voided, and then sat down next to some of my kids and asked them questions about their teacher.
The questions! “How old are you?”; “How much money do you earn?”; “Where's your husband?”; and the comments: “You're so fat!”; “You're so tall!” and once, a helpful soul dug into my wallet as I was counting out cash at a train ticket window while muttering approvingly about a foreigner who can navigate China independently.
Here I might mention the lack of personal space: the Chinese like to crowd!
According to the customs and manners I was raised with, all of these behaviors are rude. The people practicing them would be considered ill-mannered. Maybe someone would even chide a person who spits in the foyer of their building or is too loud. And woe to anyone who cuts in line!
But these behaviors are... if not accepted, at least condoned in China, in spite of an ongoing campaign for civility.
Since I've been here there have been public service adverts on buses, on television and on the subways: you should give your seat up to the elderly, the frail, expectant women, or parents of small children. You shouldn't eat or drink on the buses or trains, nor should you spit. I can't imagine how much the government has spent on these educational campaigns, or on dual refuse bins: one for trash and the other for recyclables, with a small inlet for cigarette butts.
Throwing cigarette butts on the ground is one of my pet peeves. Trash too. Especially since these wastebins are liberally scattered all over China's cities; why throw trash on the ground?
Most parents of young children that I know often chide their progeny after an uncouth act: Is that civilized? (那是文不文明？ - na shi wen bu wen ming?）In my opinion, that is laudable. We learn our best lessons as children. But the question remains: if children are being taught what is and isn't civilized behavior, and those behaviors mirror the ones I learned as a child, how is it that these bad behaviors persist?
And so, I wonder: with the perpetration of acts that would be deemed uncivilized, ill-mannered or downright rude by the apparent guidelines set forth by the government, acts that I understand to be uncouth because of those campaigns and because of my upbringing in a different environment, and these acts are apparently condoned, what would be considered rude, in China?
Please note: in no way am I demeaning China or her people. Never would I say that anyone here is being deliberately offensive. I understand that this is a different culture than the ones I grew up in, with different standards and different norms, and there is nothing at all wrong with that. I am genuinely trying to understand what would be considered rude to a Chinese person, so that I don't inadvertently offend anyone. Please help me!