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aimei

"Helloooooo....."

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wushijiao
I don't see the joke

I wasn’t ignoring you Hero Doug, just trying to think of an answer. :mrgreen:

Going back to the question why is “hello” funny, part of the reason is just obvious: it is always funny to laugh at people who are different from you.

But on a deeper level, I really think that the humor stems from what I think of “situational humor”.

An example from when I first started teaching in Henan: my Canadian friend was teaching class, and he started to take off his coat while talking. The class of 60 kids burst into laughter, becoming unbelievably riled up. My friend mentioned this to me, and the next day I tried it in class. Similar reaction.

We spent a while trying to figure out why taking off a coat would be the slightest bit funny. Eventually we figured out that in Chinese life, generally speaking, there are certain actions, words, and ways of carrying yourself that are particular to a situation. Some have even said that life for Chinese people is comparable to an opera, in which an actor know his/her role for a particular part. In the next production, he/she might have a different role.

Taking a coat off in class is not acceptable behavior for a teacher. And so breaking the rules is funny. This is way acting like jackass in class will cause students to laugh, but they will also lose respect for you if you do it too much.

Of course, all societies have this phenomenon of certain behaviors being assigned to particular roles, but it is much more pronounced in hierarchical, traditional, or politically un-open societies. The “baby boom” generation in America, for example, tried to shed off formal gestures, making everybody equal. Many bosses, for example, want you to call them by their first name. When he was first elected, President Clinton didn’t want everyone to stand when he entered a room. At least in America, society has deformalized the hierarchy of roles in social interaction.

Also, many people in China, especially from rural areas or places in the middle of nowhere, are not taught English as a functional language of communication. English is still taught in the same way that Latin is taught in the West. Combined with that, many people have the misperception that no foreigners can speak Chinese. In other words, there is no way to communicate with foreigners.

So why is it funny when a couple of construction workers on the side of the road yell “hello” at you?

1) Unfortunately, migrant workers know that there low social status prohibits them from actually interacting with foreigners in a meaningful way, and so they are doing something outside of their defined ‘role” in society. As I tried to describe above, doing something outside of one’s prescribed role is hilarious in China. This is one reason why guys in Audis don’t usually yell at you, but migrant workers expecting no response do.

One interesting thing that struck me in reading 中国农民调查 (A Survey of China’s Peasants) was profound sense of humiliation and lack of dignity that Chinese peasants feel when they enter modern cities like Shanghai or Beijing. Because of their accents, clothes, skin color, their sub-standard education levels, and their financial poverty, they receive constant discrimination form both Chinese urbanites and foreigners. I really can’t imagine what it is like to live day in day out with a constant assault on one’s dignity as a human being. Anyway, sometimes I think that the yelling of “hello”, especially when a group of young rural migrants yells it, is an attempt at revenge, an attempt at capturing back some dignity, and it is also an admission of one’s shitty status, which is funny in its self-deprecation.

(I don’t think this is just a Chinese phenomenon, however. Some people argue that terrorism stems from the need to re-capture one’s dignity in the face of injustice. Also, many Middle Eastern countries are going through a similar period of chaotic urbanization, which tends to destroy old bonds of identity and force people to look for things that can re-affirm their personal dignity, like the righteousness and moral superiority that religion can bring).

2) Yelling “hello” is funny because the person yelling it probably has never expected to communicate with a foreigner, in English or Chinese, and thus it is outside of his/her role. It might be a bit similar to why it is considered funny for white Americans to adopt black accents and say a few lines of Ebonics, like when Conan O’Brien, a nerdy white guy, speaks in a deep, suave rappers accent. It is funny because there is a strong contrast with the words and the reality. The same logic applies to why “hello” is such a popular joke when a migrant worker yells it to a foreigner in order to get the approval of his friends

3) Similarly, since English isn’t really regarded as a means of communication, yelling “hello” (the only English word most uneducated Chinese recognize) is also an recognition of the inability to communicate, which is funny.

4) Some people genuinely yell “hello” because they see you and want to give you a friendly greeting. Probably most hellos are in this category.

My opinions are probably BS and off the mark, so feel free to criticize.

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imron
The foreigners sit in Starbucks sipping on a 40 kuai coffee complaining about how horribly they are treated by the rude "commoners" while the Chinese that are guilty of the racism or rudeness go home to their shacks or toiletless apartments packed with 8 people. You don't see what is wrong with this picture?

Yes, I do see what's wrong with that picture, and I agree that the person should perhaps be a little less narrow-minded and ignorant if they are thinking about the "rude commoners" and their "poor standards". I also think that's one extreme, and is not representative of all (or even most) foreigners who complain about some aspect of life in China. Not everyone in China bitching and moaning about something is ignorant of how lucky they were to be born in a developed country. It could be that you've just caught them on a bad China day.

"Waaahhhhh, the people here call me "laowai"". "Waaaahhhh, everyone shouts, "Hello," at me." "Waaaahhhhh, I can't find good cheese." "Waaaahhhhh, Chinese people always want to practice their English on me." "Waaaahhhhh, I'm tired of telling people where I am from."

During my time in China (all together about 4 years, including a mix of both studying and teaching) I've complained about all of these things and several more -- though usually without the Waaaah in front :mrgreen: (don't know if that makes it any better :mrgreen:). Most of the time it wasn't while frequenting a Starbucks, but on one or two occasions it might have happened there too. It wasn't because I wasn't aware or appreciative of my situation compared to those around me, it's just that sometimes things just reach a point where it's nice to have a good natured gripe about things to someone else who feels your pain.

I figure it's better to do that than wait until it builds up to a point where you're on a bus and you reach breaking point and so punch some woman in the face and then crawl out the window onto the roof and wait there until you can be brought down by the traffic police (remember reading about that one in the papers the next day, complete with big front page photo of said foreigner giving the bird to the reporter taking the photo).

Anyway, I can see the point you're trying to make about people complaining when really, compared to 95% of the world's population, they don't have that much to complain about. But sometimes people need to gripe a bit to get things off their chest, and sometimes the best people to gripe to, are those who know what you've been going through because they've been through it too.

Man you can't do business without drinking in China!!!haha j/k

Haha, yeah, luckily I haven't been doing all that much business yet :mrgreen: still, even given that, it's been a difficult road. I hear things are better in the south - but unfortunately I prefer the north. Still, on the bright side, at least now, I've built up a reasonable amount of drink-avoiding vocab/phrases.

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mandarinstudent
Oh I think it's absurd, and a natural extension of yours - if the poor and uneducated are entitled to annoy those better off than them, I fail to see why I don't have the right to pass the favor up along the socio-economic chain until ultimately Jack Ma yells 'laowai' at Bill Gates or something. Manners and consideration for others may correlate to an extent with money and education, but lack of either does not entitle you to be irritating.

I don't think it really applies. Regarding social graces, there is usually a "cutoff line". If you are past the cutoff line in terms of education and such, it doesn't matter how far past the line you are. It doesn't matter if a person has a B.A and is making $45,000 a year or has a PhD and is making $500,000 per year. Both people are educated enough in social graces to know that screaming at people is rude. You can't say that a peasant yelling "Hello!," or "Laowai," at a foreigner is the same as Jack Ma yelling "Hello!" at Bill Gates because even though Bill Gates has more money, they are both past the "cutoff line" in terms of education. In the case of peasant vs. foreigner, the foreigner is past the "cutoff line" while the peasant is below it. Totally not the same.

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gato

It seems that the laughters following a "hello" are all when the speaker is in a group. If that's the case, I think it's more likely that they are laughing at the person saying the "hello" than at you. It may not be that easy to tell the two apart.

Westerners and English have a high status in China, so someone saying "hello" in China is unlikely to have the same intentions as a white guy speaking with a mock black accent in the U.S. A closer parallel might be someone trying to say "bonjour" to French tourists in Montana (unrealistic?). The friends of the person saying the "bonjour" might just laugh at him for sounding so weird and acting uppity. But the French tourists might feel that the laughters are directed at them.

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imron
I fail to see why I don't have the right to pass the favor up along the socio-economic chain until ultimately Jack Ma yells 'laowai' at Bill Gates or something

Well, of course this doesn't count because Bill Gates doesn't have a degree (honorary degrees don't count). He dropped out of harvard to start Microsoft. :mrgreen:

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roddy
I don't think it really applies. Regarding social graces, there is usually a "cutoff line". If you are past the cutoff line in terms of education and such, it doesn't matter how far past the line you are. It doesn't matter if a person has a B.A and is making $45,000 a year or has a PhD and is making $500,000 per year. Both people are educated enough in social graces to know that screaming at people is rude.

Personally I'd put the cut-off line at puberty + 2 years. It's a case of being old enough, not educated enough, to know better. Incidentally, are people below the cut-off line allowed to spit and litter?

It seems that the laughters following a "hello" are all when the speaker in a group. If that's the case, I think it's more likely that they are laughing at the person saying the "hello" than at you. It may not be that easy to tell the two apart.

Second that. I've seen people convinced they are being personally yelled or laughed at, when it simply hasn't been the case. I think the extra attention makes some people more self-conscious, which makes them more likely to believe X, Y or Z is aimed at them, which makes them more self-conscious, etc . . .

Well, of course this doesn't count because Bill Gates doesn't have a degree (honorary degrees don't count). He dropped out of harvard to start Microsoft.

That's why he yelled 'Hey, big-nose' at me outside the 四川小吃 yesterday. Never realized he was below the cut-off line.

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heifeng

hey hey hey now, shouting hello at foreigner is one thing but spitting is something we can all take part in together! I personally need to clear my throat several times daily! lets not start bashing the spitting...the littering, well ok....

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DrinkDrankDrunk

Five pages and no Seinfeld reference?! This clip is too appropriate/fitting to pass up. I hope youtube isn't banned in China:

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mandarinstudent
Personally I'd put the cut-off line at puberty + 2 years. It's a case of being old enough, not educated enough, to know better. Incidentally, are people below the cut-off line allowed to spit and litter?

I wouldn't say "allowed", but I would say that it is more expected, thus more accepted.

Regarding the age thing, I don't agree. Let's say that you walk into a trailer park full of high school dropouts and such. While there might be a few open-minded, polite, non-racist people, a lot (all well above puberty) will be spouting the "N" word like there is no tomorrow. I know this due to the fact I grew up in North Carolina. I saw my fair share of rednecks. Having said this, of course the rednecks are not excused from social contempt when they say the "N" word, but if an educated, well off black man is called the "N" word by a redneck he probably won't be deeply affected by it beacuse the redneck's social status and education does not compare to his own. The redneck is not excused for his behavior, but the attitude is more like, "Well, what did you expect?"

I really don't believe that in the countryside of China people are teaching their children, "Now, when you see a foreigner, don't shout "laowai" at him." I firmly believe that things like (western standard) social graces and tolerance towards other people is directly linked to education. Perhaps Bill Gates doesn't have a degree, but he was educated enough to get into Harvard, thus putting him over the "cutoff line".

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wushijiao
A closer parallel might be someone trying to say "bonjour" to French tourists in Montana (unrealistic?). The friends of the person saying the "bonjour" might just laugh at him for sounding so weird and acting uppity. But the French tourists might feel that the laughters are directed at them.

That's exactly what I meant to say (but didn't).

Great Seinfeld refrence, too.

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aimei

Mandarinstudent, I know that I have it great living here in China. My boyfriend and I have a great place with an even greater private bathroom (probably even better than a nice living quarters if you ask me!) Not even a block from our place, there are literally mini shanty towns that the migrant workers who are currently tearing up the streets around our place day and night live....I see tons of ppl digging through trash and begging here, and pretty much everybody lives FAR worse than we do. So yes, I know I'm VERY lucky. When I first came to China three months ago I was shocked by the way the Chinese lived....I was raised in a very comfortable middle class household (translation, I was pretty damn spoiled!) and I was totally unprepared to see this kind of poverty. I hated China at first but I got used to it, and even grew to like it a lot, and even better I gained an invaluable understanding of just how lucky we really are in the Western world. That being said, I still feel quite saddened when I am singled out because I am white. Knowing how lucky I am doesn't help when I can't walk down the street without being greated with a chorus of "Helloooos!”while a crowd laughs in my face and points. I STILL feel humilated, even though I know how great I have it in compared to these people, in terms of both standard of living, and in comparision to the people who engage in this kind of behavior, education. But even this doesn't change the fact that it hurts, and that they are doing this because I a laowai, and outsider, different....I want to participate in this culture, and to be sure 95% of the people here are wonderful. It's just those few that make me feel horrible about myself from time to time....and yes, I do like my forty kuai Starbucks fraps.....helps little rich spoiled me get through the "bad China days." :wink:

Oh an Imron, thanks for the wayback machine! Forgot how much I LOVE talktalkChina! Btw can anyone tell me how to quote? I must be retarded because I can't figure it out!

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imron
Btw can anyone tell me how to quote? I must be retarded because I can't figure it out!

When replying to a message, the 7th icon from the right (in between the picture and the # sign) there's a button that looks like a talk bubble. Click that and two big quote tags will appear

[ /QUOTE] Anything you put between these tags will be quoted.

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md1101

i've been ignoring this thread a bit because there's always a little too much generalising during china bitching sessions (though not intentionally im sure).

but, aimei, i very much agree with your last comment. i think they sum things up quite nicely indeed.

Personally I'd put the cut-off line at puberty + 2 years. It's a case of being old enough, not educated enough, to know better. Incidentally, are people below the cut-off line allowed to spit and litter?

c'mon, roddy, get off your high horse. :mrgreen:

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Lu

So, considering wushijiao's comment, would it help if next time a migrant worker shouts HELLOOOO, the foreigner walks over and has a chat in Mandarin with this worker and his friends? Worker feels treated like a human being, sees foreigner as less weird, and next time the Hello! might actually be intended as a greeting.

Aimei, if it's always the same people shouting hellooo at you, maybe you could try this? If not, there's really not much you can do about it except either ignore it or (shout something back and) laugh about it, and enjoy yourself the rest of the time.

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gougou
would it help if next time a migrant worker shouts HELLOOOO, the foreigner walks over and has a chat in Mandarin with this worker and his friends?
I've tried that a few times, with little success. Mostly, the helloer was so embarassed by the helloee's attention that no conversation was possible.

Having said that, I have spoken to many non-helloing members of the scum of society (that is, everybody who does not drive an Audi) and most people have been delighted to speak to a foreigner, and sincerely interested. I remember a bus ride of three hours were the young woman next to me would turn her head every 20 seconds, smile at me and tell me how incredible it was that she was talking to a foreigner...

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imron
the scum of society (that is, everybody who does not drive an Audi)

Haha, are you sure you don't have that round the wrong way? :twisted:

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aimei

Lu, usually it's just random people doing this to me, at least as far as I can tell. One time this guy (who I now think was some kind of black cab driver) started literally jumping up and down and screaming "HELLO!!" at us, trying to get our attention. Well it was just plain rude so I yelled and waved back "NI HAO!!" which was quite a feet for me since I'm pretty shy....:) His friends then all started laughing hysterically at him and he shut up, go me! And yeah I do ignore it 99.9% if the time, it's not like I can change 1.3 billion people's behavior anyway. Just sometimes it gets a little "old", *sigh....*

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Lu
I yelled and waved back "NI HAO!!"
This sounds like a very good approach. Go you indeed :-)

Seriously, I understand how you feel, it can get very annoying sometimes, especially if you get it every day and not just occasionally. But don't let it get to you too much, don't let it spoil your time in China. Good luck!

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