A Piece of Culture, An Interesting Observation at Work

A friend of mine whom we met on the flight to Beijing during my last trip home told me how she became acquainted with a young IT professional in China. The ease with which Chinese people get on familiar term with one another emphasizes one of the cultural differences that I have observed at work.

When I was working at our central office back in 2005, a colleague of mine, a rather over-weight one, was on very good term with me. Once I observed that she gobbled down a huge piece of high-calorie cheese cake. I felt a strong urge of telling her, “Hey, stop it. This is not helpful for you to lose weight.” But I politely held myself back. It would sound rude and not nice, even if it was purely for her benefit.

When I saw a nice lady with a smoking habit having this nagging cough, I was concerned and would very much like to advice her to quit smoking. Much as I cared for her and was worried, I said nothing. Because it is considered an intrusion into other people’s privacy even if I have all the good intentions. Culturally, it is difficult or even impossible to shorten this interpersonal distance. It is always safe to be polite and keep a safe space.

With another young colleague, I was on good terms and felt being trusted, but still I would not say what I thought I should as her senior, simply because it was considered none of my business or an intrusion on her privacy. Under situations like this, I know I would be more direct if I were among Chinese.

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