Did We Cultivate The Arrogance and Excessive Expectations of Americans?

Did We Cultivate The Arrogance and Excessive Expectations of Americans?
Photo Credit: Eneas De Troya @Flickr CC BY 2.0
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They all say, “A leopard doesn’t change its spots.” How come Americans that are usually easy to get along with take the convenience of Shanghai for granted?

I don’t mean the kind of people holding travel books and carrying a large backpack. I’m talking about the business people carrying their laptops everywhere looking for Wi-Fi.

They loudly complain about why (some) businesses do not accept credit cards; they only drink bottled sparkling water; it’s only after ordering a cocktail do they find out it is ‘’contaminated” with ice and refuse to continue drinking; at an high-end steakhouse they will demand a refund because the chef didn’t cook the meat properly; they feel they have no privacy because the desk separator in the office is too low; and when they get medication because they feel unwell, they think the meds are unhygienic because it went straight from a bottle into the ziploc bag, so they would rather deal with their headache and throw away the medicine.

Only after collaborating with a different company across sectors and going on a business trip together from the US to Shanghai, did I discover that what the Americans call, “internationalization,” is everything done according to American standards.

Unlike American backpackers who love to explore foreign cultures or expats who have been psychologically prepared beforehand, these short-term business travelers only want complete their “work abroad” mission without any effort. Anything that makes them feel like they are in a foreign country with cultural differences turn into something worth complaining about.

Who gave them such expectations?

We stayed in an upscale hotel, so the room service staff all spoke fluent English.

The hotel restaurant offered buffet-style Chinese and Western cuisine, plus an American bar and bistro. There was also an entire floor with a gym and swimming pool with perfect lighting. Close to the hotel is an American-style shopping mall with a supermarket that only sells imported goods. The waiters at the shopping mall restaurants don’t even (or are not willing to) speak Chinese.

Before and after work, the hotel shuttle bus drove us between the office and hotel. In other words, if you really don’t want to come in contact with the outside world in Shanghai, you don’t have to. There is also no use for any translating devices. Even the shopping malls have covered passageways; so no matter what the weather is like, you can live without feeling even one drop of rain.

Where else would I be able to find a hotel so considerate of foreigners? Perhaps there is a place similar to this one, but certainly not in the US.

Maybe because we went abroad with a different reason, but as foreign exchange students, we don’t expect the society and schools in America to give us special treatment. Even when working in the US, we worry about not fitting in with colleagues or falling behind because our English isn’t good enough.

We always feel a little ashamed because we stand out in the American society. We also feel embarrassed when foreigners ask for directions in Asian cities and we can’t reply in fluent English.

Even when I get into a cab with my colleagues in Shanghai, drivers ask whether I am the secretary or translator. Can’t I be of the same social class with blonde-headed and blue-eyed people as an Asian?

Perhaps we are the ones who have cultivated the arrogance and excessive expectations of Americans.

Struggling in a foreign environment, getting the opportunity to work with Americans is a dream to most of us. This is because we already have a certain level of abilities and are proficient in Chinese, which is obviously harder to learn, but we’re still always afraid that we can’t fit in because our English is not good enough.

As a Taiwanese, I used to stay up late after class in high school to study. We all took the same classes and wore uniforms and black leather shoes. We didn’t have the pressure of whether or not we would be invited to prom. How is it possible to be assimilated overnight while growing up within such a different cultural background?

Fortunately later I learned to accept my own uniqueness. Maybe my high school life wasn’t as colorful as others, but at least I got through my days of being a teenage girl fast and got my certificates earlier since I was good at taking exams.

Maybe I will never read as fast as Americans, but I can volunteer to do data analysis and leave contract integration to colleagues that read faster.

If I hear an unfamiliar phrase when talking to my coworkers, I always ask what it means and they are always willing to explain. It might be about a new mobile application or an unknown saying (if it’s jargon, I just go home and look it up myself), but rather than pretending to know everything and joining the group to talk about my favorite soccer team, the strategy of being modest and asking for help may lead to more pleasant conversations.

You need to realize your own differences and understand that not blending in doesn’t mean you’re inferior. You won’t be looked down upon when you know how to use your own uniqueness and advantages.

Translated by Sarah Grasdijk
Edited by Olivia Yang