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Saturday, November 17, 2012

What happens in Shanghai

View of Shanghai from breakfast window

A calm lunch spot

Not everything is modern

On my recent trip to Shanghai I felt we were all in a dance. Every conversation was circular. Formal. Oh oh so polite. Meals had a protocol, not always visible but revealed like the lace beneath the skirt, slowly and carefully, if you were paying attention. (I admit at times to being too distracted by my inability to keep the slippery food, including cow's stomach, on my chopsticks to pay full attention at all times.)

Rush hour on the metro, where people might display their worst manners, was quite pleasant. Yes one must move quickly to avoid being run over, but there was no pushing and shoving like we often see here in Paris. When the metro was comfortably full the remaining people waited for the next one. No one held the doors open in order to squeeze into an impossible space.
Night view before they turn off the office buildings at 8PM

In the midst of such politeness however I did see some rather unpleasant behaviour. While having a nightcap in the hotel lobby bar one evening, I could not help but notice (i.e. hear) the group of American men at the next table. They managed to insult each of the beautiful servers in turn, apparently believing it was within their rights to do so. They propositioned each without grace (or effect). Their approach included asking where they could obtain a massage "with a happy ending". And following their lack of success with such classy moves, they expressed their disappointment in Shanghai's level of entertainment.


So I wonder: is this the typical behaviour of these men at home in the US? Or is this behaviour reserved for Asia, and based on some opinion about Asian women? Is it possible that the manners of this trio adjust as they travel throughout the world, and if so, how do they choose the behaviour best suited to that place? 

What a shame if the actions of this small group reflect more generally on a larger population. Although unrealistic as an expectation, it would have pleased me greatly to see the other men in the bar speak up, even if just to distance themselves from such inappropriate talk. Perhaps the lack of success with these tactics will be enough to change future interactions for the trio, but I would have been more reassured if they were set right by their peers.

This post is not intended to be a comment on American men. I am sure that many of us manage to insult others during our travels, hopefully without bad intentions. I wonder too if we have lost our ability to enforce good manners, now that we are so separated from others in our daily lives.

What do you think?


  1. I’m glad you qualified this was not intended to be a commentary about American men - first, because I am one and I thought that was where your story was headed. Second, and more importantly, I have witnessed this behavior virtually everywhere. The language might be different, but the personality the same.

    I honestly believe this small group is reflective of a much larger population who is so self- centered they don’t worry about offending others throughout their daily lives. Throw in the freedom of travel; a companion or two that supports that behavior, too many drinks and these people reach the height of their ineffectiveness as fellow human beings.

    The second part of your story has me thinking. What would I have done in that situation? I most likely would be on my very best “please and thank you” behavior and demonstrate to the server that not all men (American) are obnoxious. But would I have spoken up? Certainly not directly to them! Men know instinctively that confronting this type of behavior is combative – not intellectual. These are the times all men fantasize about being James Bond, or at least a Black Belt martial arts instructor and leave the three of them lying on the floor and a gorgeous woman falls into your arms thanking you for protecting her honor. Knowing that would not be the result, I would ask the manager to intervene. Just speaking up might even have a similar result!

    1. I love comments like this. And very good point about whether it would be helpful or not for others to step in/step up. I suppose the first thing we each owe the world is to be at our best. Additional actions are optional.


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