Alright, these are not the forewords I wanted to use to start a blog, but this isn’t necessarily a blog, more a recollection of thoughts and stories that really happened to me and that I can use as personal lessons.
I was once dating like a madman, long before I met my wife to be clear. I had been in China for a while and I was starting to chew a bit of Mandarin Language, or 普通话 （the common language) as Chinese people call it, although my pronunciation had nothing “common” and was hard to be understood by most of the locals. Anyways, being a big fan of fine dining, I was also using dating as an excuse to try out new restaurants (at double the cost of course, but I do not really like to eat alone in fancy places), so that, if the conversation would not be that interesting at least I could taste some good food.
One evening I had an appointment with my date to sample the restaurant of the Indigo Hotel, a glorified steak house called Char, on one of the top floors of the building, with a magnificent view on the river.
This girl, my date, had done her research on the place beforehand, and had come with her own agenda on the dishes to order. When we arrived, the waitress took our coats and served some home-made bread that was fantastic, so I said to myself: “if this is the beginning I cannot wait to try the steak”.
Char is one of those slightly pretentious places where they make you chose the style of the knife you want to use to cut your meat, I add this just to make sure we understand what kind of place I am talking about
I had a good look at the menu, and selected some pretty juicy steak, but my date was faster than me to order, loudly arranging for us to have “Banana cheesecake” as main course…Now you can imagine my face, while after clarifying the misunderstanding with the waitress (at least partially), I found myself eating steak and cheesecake at the same time.
Our opinions about dinner were very different not to say opposite, I had enjoyed the decor and the tasty food, but my friend was still starving when I paid a pretty unreasonable bill. To address this need to eat right after dinner we stopped at a stall just down the building of my apartment where we were directed, and she bought the most disgusting soup (for me at least), served in a plastic bag with a straw to sip it on the way.
My flat was a one bedroom apartment with an open kitchen extremely centrally located in one of the busiest streets of Shanghai (Nanjing Xi Road for who is familiar), a total of 65 square meters of nicely decorated space, I Just loved it.
We entered the apartment and my friend looked a little bewildered. I imagined she liked the place and wanted me to give her a (instant) tour of the place but instead with confidence she put her soup on the table in the living room stood with her feet on one of the chairs, squatting down in the position we assume when we need to use a squatting toilet, and stared enjoying vigorously her soup. I am sure people who have lived in China or have visited the country know perfectly what I am talking about.
At this point it was clear that this date was not going anywhere, so I was ready to gently accompany my young friend home, when she hit me with the words: “You are an Idiot. I know why you are single. You live in this small flat, how can you wish for a girl to want to be with you when you have such a little space? You should live in a far neighborhood, in a huge flat for the same money you are paying here for your rent. Then you will have a queue of nice girls at your door willing to marry you!”
This was genuinely the first time I was victim of the so-called “cultural shock”, I really could not reply to the logic of her observations, and still can’t.
However, I kept home with me a great lesson that evening: people have different points of view about everything. Regardless of their culture, their stories, their paths and even more when these are far from our daily experiences.
Tolerance and understanding have to be applied, and can become a source of enrichment.
Specially for us, who live and work in countries far and different from our own, the need to understand these differences and use them to adapt ourselves is essential.
Funny enough, I never got to see the inside of her apartment.