How China is similar to Italy

Trip Start Oct 05, 2009
Trip End Mar 28, 2010

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Flag of China  ,
Monday, January 18, 2010

While Zurich may be the opposite of Beijing, life in China sometimes reminds me of Italy... at least with its people.  Even a friend from Italy, Marco, has agreed during his visit.  (This may have made a better segue from the Suzhou entry but chair skating was just too important.)

1.  Importance of family - Much like Italy, family is first.  It's not strange to see children live with their parents into early adulthood.  What may seem strange to other countries is normal.  Not only is it budget-minded but also real estate related.  Property is not cheap and it is considered a step after marriage since it shows that one is ready to start his own family.

2.  Food, more than just a meal - Sometimes it seems like food is one of the biggest influences of life.  People love talking about what they ate or to see what others had too.  Italians are known for a focus on food too.  The attention to detail: how to prepare foods, what ingredients should and should not be used, what's in season... all these things matter to both cultures.  And, going out to eat with friends and family is usually an occasion in itself.

3.  Essential relationships - Chinese people are very dependent on relationships.  This is most obviously seen in doing business.  I noticed this in Italy too.  Connections seem to be key (more than usual) in finding jobs or making deals.

4.  Unpredictable traffic - The way some Chinese people drive can only be described as crazy.  Some Europeans say the same about Italian driving.  The rule seems to be that if it is possible and generally safe, then it's ok.  Why not park here?  Why not turn if no one is around?  It's a very flexible approach to driving.  And yes, lots of honking too.

5.  Animated streets - With a mix of the elderly and people on bikes, the streets are always alive.  This is true in many cities in Italy.  Whether it's the smell of grilled food, fresh food from markets, someone burning trash, shampoo from street barbers, there's real character there.  They're like the veins of the city.

6.  Verbal jousting - It took me a while to notice this one.  There have been a few incidents with incredibly loud and disturbing arguments (complaints of service, bad products, etc.).  But wait, this happened when I was in Florence too!  People seem to prefer to make a scene and argue than to resort to violence.

7.  Willingness to help strangers - This one could be arguable but I think it's true for the most part.  I've been lost a few times in Italy and somehow met excellent strangers.  Although I haven't had too much trouble myself in China, I have had many foreign friends express how almost overly willing Chinese people are to help them find their way. =)

It's amazing to me how two cultures on opposite sides of the world can be so similar.  I can probably list off equally if not more differences but these are already some significant ones.  Maybe Marco Polo was drawn because he saw something unique about China as well.
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