The Americans lead the Chinese 2-1. Part two of this blog (click here for Part 1) examines three other constructs – driving behaviour, customer service, and worldliness/interest in others (or general curiosity).
Thanks for your comments about Part 1. They were much appreciated!
“It’s not as bad as it is in Vietnam” said someone recently. No, driving in China isn’t as bad as it is in Vietnam. It’s not as hair-raisingly dangerous for a start. But self-improvement is the process of making things better – not self-congratulatory rhetoric that, at the very least, you’re not the worst. Best not to have a superiority complex over the unruly!
Where do we begin? Driving in Guangdong Province is easy when you’re aware of all the nutters who populate the roads. Rules are offered as a suggestion, not as a hard and fast rule. What’s wrong with reversing up a highway offramp (because you took the wrong exit) or driving in the wrong direction to save a minute getting to the nearest U-turn? Use that mobile phone while exceeding the speed limit! Many countries have traffic signs that ask drivers to merge like a zip. This is a good, civilised idea for bottleneck situations.
Rapid lane changing, queue jumping, bossiness and bullying were all covered in an earlier blog (Driving China Mad – June 2018). Nothing has changed. People still watch their favourite sitcoms when driving. This affects their ability to drive straight and at a semi-decent speed. Toddlers help daddy drive the car. Terrified, shit-scared, learners populate the expressway fast lane.
As for the Americans? They do merge like a zip (great job Los Angeles!), queue in an orderly fashion (witnessed at George Washington Bridge, NYC; or Everton, Washington). They stop at red and go on green. They don’t park as well as the Chinese but when you’ve got enormous car parks then you’d don’t need to be so skilful.
Winner: The United States (easily). USA 3 China 1.
Customer service is difficult to define precisely due to the variables at play. Company culture, employee attitudes, customer temperament, and external factors (such as whether people are having a good day or how inclement is the weather) can affect human interaction. How about the kids? Are they naughty today? Did your boss just scream at you in her office? Are you in an irritable and argumentative mood? Maybe you just got married, won the lottery, or won free tickets to your favourite concert.
These are but some of the factors that will influence a customer service experience.
We compared the places that involved customer interaction e.g. supermarkets, gas stations, small shops (bakeries, convenience stores, pharmacies/drug stores, clothing stores), restaurants, and airlines. The United States has well-known companies such as Walmart, Walgreens, Trader Joe’s, Target, GAP, CVS, BP, Exxon, Denny’s, Wendy’s, Subway, McDonald’s, 7-Eleven, Circle K, United and American Airlines. Phew! Goodness, I’ve forgotten Starbucks.
China also has many of the above and some of its own including Vanguard supermarkets and the C-Store chain, plus the Japanese-owned Family Mart convenience stores. There are an awful lot of Chinese airlines nowadays too. Restaurants are often ma and pa setups but there are hundreds (thousands in KFC’s instance) of Yankee fast food places throughout China.
The Americans and Chinese are not as different as you think. Staff will greet you with a smile and a hello or ni hao if they’re in the mood. You might be asked if you need assistance. An employee might bring you a clothing item in three different colours and in as many sizes.
Or they might just look at their mobile phone.
Or chat with each other and ignore you.
“Sir, keep your hand behind the glass!!” – “Assertive” server in pizzeria/salad bar, Seattle 2019.
“It’s not my fault we don’t have your car. Don’t blame me. I don’t order the cars!” – Avis employee (loudly) to a teary customer, Philadelphia, 2017.
“I’m gonna get a soda pop.” – customer service officer to a long queue of customers, California, 2014. It took him 20 minutes to return.
Starbucks staff are much friendlier in China. I won’t delve into the deep and meaningful reasons here. Are they better paid than their American counterparts? Chinese are also a lot more patient at restaurants and fastfood outlets. There’s little in the way of the eye-rolling, or the impatient sighs that we witnessed (not just to us I might add) in the American food service industry, but many Chinese workers DO look downright bored.
Lifeinlifts.com discussed levels of friendliness in relation to a city’s size (i.e. the smaller the city, the nicer the folk) in Part One. Were it not for the helpfulness of a number of railway staff during Chinese National Day Holiday (are you reading this AMTRAK?) then the U.S. would win this category. The empathy shown towards a flustered Westerner and his preschool-aged daughter during National Day, battling the squash of a few million fellow travellers, has given China bonus points.
Surprise Winner: China (current score: USA 3 China 2)
Worldliness / Interest in Others
“What d’ya mean you haven’t heard of Albuquerque?”
“Where are you from?” A question I heard more times in one day in Canada than two weeks in the States.
The prevalence of worldliness or curiosity was, in America, determined, by the size of the city. It appeared that once one got out of the city, any city, people were more likely to take note of your accent, ask a little bit about your origins, and generally relax!
The lovely citizens of Las Vegas:
“Oh, New Zealand! Yes, we flew over it on our way to Nigeria!”
“Nooo Zeeland? No, never heard of it. Is it in Europe?”
“What is that?”
At least they bothered to ask.
No one did in Boston, Philly, Seattle, L.A., San Diego, Portland, Honululu, or New York.
That’s okay, they’re busy.
Note the lack of research into middle-American cities? That’s because I haven’t been there yet! Texans might be the friendliest people in the world. You never know. The Windy City (Chicago) might be a haven of fantastically interesting and interested people.
Guangzhou has a larger population than the above U.S. cities (except New York) and the people (not only the local Police) take great interest in quizzing foreigners about their country of origin. They have an impressive knowledge of many countries around the world. It is as if they’ve all been studying the CIA World Factbook.
Chinese stranger: “Where are you from?”
Me: New Zealand
Chinese stranger: “Oh, New Zealand. A primarily agricultural country based in the South Pacific. It has large numbers of beef cattle and it has a strong dairy industry too…”
He went on to discuss forestry and tourism before I cut him short. I’d just put my baby daughter to sleep. His excited musings were beginning to disturb her.
Many Chinese men have enormous geographical knowledge. What can I say? They’re curious. Men and women love to travel and experience new things.
The majority of Americans that I met while (travelling) inside the U.S. didn’t seem that interested in the outside world. They had everything they needed and didn’t feel the need to look further afield than their own city, state or country. Not saying that’s bad or good. Just sayin’.
And the score is tied! We might need a tie-breaker. Perhaps we could discuss the issue of personal safety?
And that ends this month’s blog. Thank you very much for reading! Please leave a comment in the comments section below.