Vive la France

I began to smell a rat as I read this post, and was glad to see the commenters did, too. Go take a look.

The great irony is that the pot was totally calling the kettle black – applying stereotypes to slime an entire people. If it’s inexcusable when the French do it to the Chinese, it’s just as bad when the Chinese return the favor.

This was where I lost any sympathy I may have first felt with the writer (who may have simply been making the whole thing up):

[H]e and his companions treated this airplane like a Parisian road-side cafe, chatting and drinking, pressing the stewardess call light, opening the window shades of the passenger cabin and allowing the sun to shine in. I controlled my temper, and used my expression and body language to communicate my displeasure, plugging my ears with earplugs in front of them. I need to rest! I politely said to my neighbor: “Can you please close the window shade?”

I truly did not imagine he would answer me like this: “Sorry, young lady, this window seat is mine, the plane ticket was paid with my money, you have no right to request this of me!”

I was stunned for a long time, not knowing what to say! This is the self-proclaimed friendliness, generosity, pursuit of romance and freedom of the French people? So what they were pursuing was their own freedom!

Please note how only a week earlier, as I traveled by train from XiAn to Beijing, I had to deal with a similar issue, but approached it with a somewhat different frame of mind:

My car-mates, however, were determined to ruin it. The two business partners smoked in the car (not allowed), kept the lights on and talked without a single break for 13 hours, making a mockery of the purpose of the overnight sleeper car, which is to sleep. I emerged in Beijing dazed and jet-lagged.
I strongly endorse the sleeper train from Xian to Beijing. I also would love tips on how to deal with selfish people who seem not to care about anyone else. Never had this problem before on a Chinese train.

My compartment mates kept smoking and talking for more than 12 hours, even after the conductor came in and told them to stop.

I was pissed, but it would be absurd to lash out at Chinese people in general because of two schmucks in my sleeper car. I’ve sat next to selfish people of all nationalities; China doesn’t hold a monopoly on them.

Read the China Smack post just to see how naively the story is accepted by some at face value, and how it pushes all the hot buttons – looting of the Summer Palace, French snobbery toward the Chinese, general French loathsomeness (from bad breath to racism), the Paris torch relay attack by a pro-Tibet activist, etc.

Another red flag popped up here:

Not only this, and perhaps as a result of of smoking, their mouths are very smelly.

Luckily, no one in China smokes, and halitosis is unheard of. Those are fresh roses you’re smelling in that taxi. The point being, throwing around racial/ethnic/national stereotypes usually says more about the accuser than the accused.

The Discussion: 36 Comments

This article reads like a type of “Penthouse Letters” story for fenqing. Hilarious!

March 10, 2009 @ 2:08 pm | Comment

I was about to delete this post because it seemed kind of rushed. Not my most inspired, but they can’t all be gems.

March 10, 2009 @ 4:27 pm | Comment

I agree that the story is clearly fabricated, but I’d like to say as a former university teacher in China stories like these are common, widespread and instantly believed by legions of gullible young Chinese who are convinced the rest of the world is filled with pointy hatted buffoons and their cross burning ilk.

March 10, 2009 @ 4:42 pm | Comment

Si, tell me about it. I wish everyone understood just how convinced my friends and colleagues here are that everything on anti-CNN is true and that the West is in constant conspiracy to harass, humiliate and harm China. I’ve given up on trying to discuss this with even my best friends here, and my Chinese teacher as well. Mission Impossible.

March 10, 2009 @ 4:48 pm | Comment

I’m so conflicted. On the one hand, Chinese people seem so defensive about any remotely negative comment about their country to the point of some kind of nationwide insecurity complex (no matter the education level). I mean, I am American, so I get the we’re uncouth rednecks with only 200 years of history. Yep, guilty as charged.

On the other, having lived in Beijing and HK for several years, I’d have to say that the majority of French I have met (not all) are really sort of unpleasant. Most don’t seem to bother learning any level of Chinese. A few have said rather unpleasant things about the Chinese as a whole. There are jerks in every bunch, but it seems to be more common with the French. This is coming from an expat who deals with Spanish, Italians, English, Americans, etc., etc. everyday.

March 10, 2009 @ 4:58 pm | Comment

Yeah, maybe the French do own the lion’s share of asshattery, but some of them are splendid people.

March 10, 2009 @ 5:15 pm | Comment

I understand Robert’s feelings. As an Englishman, let alone one who suffered through nearly a decade of learning their cursed language, it is difficult for me to defend my beret wearing neighbours. Nevertheless the post is clearly bollocks. Having also dealt with endless essays/emails from my former students bleating about how the world owes them a favour (especially during the anti-japanese riots/demos and the fun during last march/april) I find it very hard to have any sympathy whatsoever.

March 10, 2009 @ 5:21 pm | Comment

At the time, had there been a gun in my hands, I think I would have immediately shot them all!

Chinese girls really are frightening. And I’m married to one … I have to go dowm to the basement now, make sure that hunting rifle is locked away properly before the next argument I will sooner or later have with my wife.

March 10, 2009 @ 7:41 pm | Comment

Even if it comes through an analysis of “literary porn for fenqing”…
I think the commenters at Chinasmack finally get around to pointing out the significance of this story: mainly that in end these conflicts are occurring between two cultures equally ignorant of their similarities, i.e. both are two nationalities very proud (if not offensively so) of their history, both can be overly (if not naturally) defensive when confronted with perceived shortcomings by outsiders, and finally both their governments (and in some cases citizens) have a certain arrogant, annoying, and still at times respectable bravado when it comes to petty geopolitical squabbles (i.e. Sarkozy and the DL, the bronzes, and on the Chinese side, the bronzes, complaints of foreign countries meeting with the DL…pretty much all these spats between France and China have been petty)

March 10, 2009 @ 9:12 pm | Comment

Stellar comment, Andy. Thanks.

March 10, 2009 @ 9:48 pm | Comment

Real live story with Chinese characteristics.

March 11, 2009 @ 12:43 am | Comment

Mor – you must be the real deal. Only someone who is married to a Chinese girl would say that 🙂 Me, I hide the ammunition and keep my gun stashed where she can’t find it.

March 11, 2009 @ 1:18 am | Comment

I have found the France-bashing in China over the past year particularly amusing, considering that as an American in China in the run-up to Iraq in 2003, I got to read and hear about how the French and Germans were God’s greatest gift to the world (after the Chinese of course) day after day after day. Conversations with new acquaintances inevitably float towards the obsession of nationality, and at that time I always heard how much people liked France. “Very good!”
While most frustrated young people in China are willing to jump on the latest blind nationalist bandwagon, I was not a big supporter of freedom fries. Personally, liking France myself, I would concur that France was indeed quite a nice place. My lack of desire to seek revenge against the French for committing the “crime” of disagreeing with my government would always confuse people.
Now, however, one can imagine that the same half-wits are foaming at the mouth each time they see a croissant. It just goes to show how fickle public opinion is in China, and how much it is in fact guided by government manipulation.

March 11, 2009 @ 2:31 am | Comment

Here is a good article on the subject. It is not hard to transpose the result of these studies into reality. In addition, it is shedding some light on Chinese jingoism.

East meets west: How the brain unites us all

“Psychologists have conducted a wealth of experiments that seem to support popular notions that easterners have a holistic world view, rooted in philosophical and religious traditions such as Taoism and Confucianism, while westerners tend to think more analytically, as befits their philosophical heritage of reductionism, utilitarianism and so on.”

“There also seem to be distinctly eastern and western views of causality. Americans are more likely to explain murders and sports events by invoking the traits and abilities of individuals, while Chinese tend to refer to historical factors.”

Sounds familiar? Historical factor… An obsession with history… (OK, Maybe I’m reading a bit too much into this sentence, I admit)

“Cultural differences may even extend to the way people wield logic. Chinese people are happier with contradictions and try to find a middle ground between two opposing positions, while Americans are more inclined to reject one proposition for the other.”
This article illustrates well the type of difference of opinions we have seen over recent years since China started to interact more with the world (i.e. especially in the medias, through the Internet or the CCP’s mantras as well as from the general population).

Unfortunately, they chose to conspicuously avoid to talk about the influence that a dystopian and mind controlling authoritarian regimes could have on a society through education and constant cultural, political and religious guidance (e.g. China, NK).

Nonetheless, it is worth reading.

March 11, 2009 @ 4:06 am | Comment

“Mor – you must be the real deal. Only someone who is married to a Chinese girl would say that 🙂 Me, I hide the ammunition and keep my gun stashed where she can’t find it.”

Hahaha, I guess I’m not alone. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a shotgun in case the financial crisis leads to a spike in crime, but given that I’m a block away from a police station and my 29-year-old wife occasionally turns into a 3-year-old, I think I’m better off without it.

March 11, 2009 @ 4:19 am | Comment

@Pan and MAC

I was joking. I don’t have a Hunting rifle. But in case I had one, I would certainly keep both the gun and the ammunition in a safe place.
I am really married to a Chinese lady, but she’s not into shooting French people. When we went to France once, she actually liked the country and the people.

March 11, 2009 @ 4:57 am | Comment

It certainly starts off well, using the term “Westerner” to describe the other passenger. As you say, richard, this person is at best a hypocrite.

The problem I think people often have with the French is that you can have wildly different experiences of them depending on whether they’re Parisians or not. Even non-Parisian French rarely have a good word about them. Which is a shame, because neither France nor Paris are bad places to go.

kevin, yes I know what you mean. V ironic.

March 11, 2009 @ 5:41 am | Comment

“Cultural differences may even extend to the way people wield logic. Chinese people are happier with contradictions and try to find a middle ground between two opposing positions, while Americans are more inclined to reject one proposition for the other.”

That is very true. That was also the first thing I noticed when I came to US. In China, if you write a paper, you need to discuss both sides and then conclude why you like particular side. In US, the paper should have all reasoning lined up for one side. My teacher has specifically told me not to discuss the opposite side so as not to weaken my paper.

I think US style writing is also reflected in US journalism and media. Readers usually got a clear picture of “good vs. evil”. When China is involved, inevitably China is placed on the evil side. US style writing gives people a sense of extreme unfairness. That is why you got Fengqing on internet and anti-cnn phenomenon.

March 11, 2009 @ 8:43 am | Comment

@Richard –

“I wish everyone understood just how convinced my friends and colleagues here are that everything on anti-CNN is true and that the West is in constant conspiracy to harass, humiliate and harm China. I’ve given up on trying to discuss this with even my best friends here, and my Chinese teacher as well. Mission Impossible.”

I have many friends who have political opinions categorically opposed to my own, but I have to say that I find the political naivety of the average Chinese person rather off-putting, my friends in China were all cynics – and hence usually a lot older than me. Students/teachers live sheltered lives in the main, and are just as willing to buy into such fairy tales as the average bible-bashing Jehovah’s Witness is willing to believe that the non-JW portion of humanity are destined to burn in hell – but there are always exceptions.

March 11, 2009 @ 8:54 am | Comment

Steve, absolutely. Having just read all the articles I could on China Daily and Xinhua about the Dalai Lama and his latest speech, I have to hand it to the Chinese media for patiently, even timidly, giving equal play to both sides of the story, and not drawing any black or white conclusions. They should be a role model for us all.

March 11, 2009 @ 12:30 pm | Comment

And when Xin Hua recycles quotes from Obama’s inauguration speech, it gets even weirder. Another gawky and pathetic attempt to tap into westerners psyche?

Dalai Lama’s utter distortion of Tibet history

“Unfortunately, the Dalai Lama has not only been on the wrong side of history, but also has got the history upside down. Miseries of “hell on earth” and “untold suffering” occurred nowhere but in the slavery Tibet symbolized by the Dalai Lama.”

Let’s not forget this devious twist of words when renaming the 1959’s events: DEMOCRATIC REFORM!

March 11, 2009 @ 1:12 pm | Comment

Indeed, Steve, sometimes I feel like my “American friends” (wode laowai pengyou!) think way too much in black and white. So, when I’m looking for some balance and subtlety in political discussions, I seek out the nearest PRC citizen, with 5000 years of tradition of seeing subtle nuances stored in their DNA. I eagerly ask about their subtle and nuanced perspective on many issues, from the Iraq War to French people to the United States to Tibet to Taiwan to human rights to democracy… and even China itself (that’s when you really start seeing the amazing subtleties! Certainly no black and white perspectives in those discussions.)
I have personally made a proposal for my school to fire all professors and hire teachers from the nearest Confucian Institute. Can we get a little nuance up in here?

March 11, 2009 @ 9:32 pm | Comment

Oh dear, I feel some people are devolving this discussion into parody! I personally found the Chinese people to be subtle and consensus seeking in all things, when a taxi driver I was driven by was stopped in the middle of a crossroads by the police – did he decide to argue with them holding up traffic from four different directions? Well, ummm, yes, yes he did actually – but that doesn’t prove anything!

March 11, 2009 @ 10:18 pm | Comment

PS Check out Aircrew Sue’s total pwning of the story:

“Someone mentioned that this person knew the flight attendant’s nationality from a “pin” or badge.


Major US airlines with crews flying blocks or routes outside the US have strict policies that political or national designations, badges, garments and other such accessories are strictly prohibited. This was further enforced post 9/11 when crew were asked to remove patriotic stickers from their overnight bags.

This is to avoid crew members being singled out in cases of terrorism, hijack or diversion to a location where individual crew members might be singled out for “special treatment”.

During cabin announcements are allowed to go as far as state the languages that the crew can speak BETWEEN THEM but not give individual names and their capabilities.

Also, it is most unlikely that a crew member would engage in any political discussion or criticism of any individual or group of people on a leg. They would be in serious trouble and the mythical young lady would more than likely be politely asked to return to her seat.

Finally, there’s absolutely no way


March 11, 2009 @ 10:22 pm | Comment

Huh? Of course air crew wear flag pins, I saw it with my own eyes on a just completed trip to Hong Kong. Chinese speaking FAs wore the PRC flag. I saw a male FA with an Italian flag, etc. And those wings they wear certainly have pins on the back end.

March 11, 2009 @ 10:29 pm | Comment

indeed, indeed

of course anyone who denies the inherent subtleties and differences of the oriental mind should examine this paper with its feeble attempt of a rebuttal of richard nisbett’s theories mentioned by the article cited by bao above:

“Question to Language Log: Is it correct that if you show an American an image of a fish tank, the American will usually describe the biggest fish in the tank and what it is doing, while if you ask a Chinese person to describe a fish tank, the Chinese will usually describe the context in which the fish swim?

Answer: In principle, yes. But first of all, it wasn’t a representative sample of Americans, it was undergraduates in a psychology course at the University of Michigan; and second, it wasn’t Chinese, it was undergraduates in a psychology course at Kyoto University in Japan; and third, it wasn’t a fish tank, it was 10 20-second animated vignettes of underwater scenes; and fourth, the Americans didn’t mention the “focal fish” more often than the Japanese, they mentioned them less often.”

we can clearly see that any attempt by westerners to argue that human beings are essentially the same is not in fact an attempt at establishing equality and rebutting racism but merely a cover for their wicked plan to drag orientals down to their caveman like level and enforce their debauched culture onto the rest of the world.

sad, sad people

March 11, 2009 @ 11:09 pm | Comment

@Pan – Never seen flight attendants wearing non-company flag pins on any airline (Cathay, EVA, BA, Virgin, China Air, Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, Shanghai Airlines, Dragon Air, Emirates, Philipine Airlines, Finnair, Air Berlin, Ryan Air, Air France) The ones the companies give them use a stud and are authorised by the company – no pin is involved.

March 11, 2009 @ 11:41 pm | Comment

KTVs + Sex Trade + Jabba the Hut leaders and officials + “Barber” Shops at every street corners + Sauna and Bathhouses all over the place = Highly moral and prude oriental society?

I’ve never seen more decadence in my entire life than since I’ve been living in China… And I’m not even including the bars in the equation (people taking drugs on their table, and waiters handling them the straws – Chinese clubs).

How about Japaneses (especially on the sexuality side and the pornography)?

You were either joking when you wrote this or you’ve been living under a rock for the last 10 years (and much more for Japan). Orientals holding the high moral ground?!?

March 11, 2009 @ 11:54 pm | Comment

And let’s not forget the socially and endemic 情妇 phenomenon…

China and Asia, the land of virtue!

March 12, 2009 @ 12:03 am | Comment

@Pan and FOARP

It is common practice on flights between the USA and France that flight attendants who look Asian wear flag pins of their countries of origin, in order to make sure that ignorant French don’t insult anybody by mixing up Chinese with Japanese people.

March 12, 2009 @ 8:38 am | Comment


I was trying to cook up a similarly sarcastic response to “steve” yesterday, glad I didn’t post it because yours made me laugh out loud. Thanks.

March 12, 2009 @ 3:53 pm | Comment

interesting discussion. As a Chinese who read and analyze news from both Chinese media and ‘western’ media, I think the discussion above is a typical sign of different opinions from different culture. I discussed Tibet/Taiwan/Democracy with many EU/US people and most time I found it’s difficult, while it’s much easier to communicate with Singaporean and Japanese, though they are foreigners as well. Of course most Chinese people have limited source to read western media, but I can tell clearly that ‘western’ countries in general, are so pround of their own system and modern culture that their view is limited as well. Use democracy as an example, most people in democratic countries would critisize the current communist system in China while most Chinese feel happy about their own system. Though many Chinese people like the political system in US, but what will happen if the China suffer political unrest or economic slowdown after adopting the system? Very few Chinese would want to take the risk.

I don’t want to discuss the political system today, but I just use this as an example that not all Chinese are brain washed. They have their own judgement based on Chinese history, the suffering in the past 150 years, and more important, the current situation. And don’t forget that Chinese people use mobile phone and IM (e.g. QQ) much often than many developed countries people, thus inter people communication is very effective in recent years. When you have difficulty in communicating with them, have you asked yourself why? Shall you rethink in the shoes of those Chinese people? Last year I read the Tibetan history in BBC and was shocked that its extremely misleading, I would say, it’s almost totally wrong. You may find the same thing in China Daily. But I think the description in Wikipedia is much better as it display the opinions from both Chinese government and Dalai and asked the readers to make their own judgement. Most of media in the world, from Xinhua, CCTV, to BBC and CNN, are mainly showing only one side of the story. So every one in the world could be brained washed, just the extent is different.

My final recommendation: if you find it’s difficult to communicate with certain group of people, no matter Chinese or French, please try to understand why it’s difficult. I think most people in the world are worthy of respect, and please don’t make decision before understanding them.

March 12, 2009 @ 4:22 pm | Comment

Kevin, thanks for the thoughtful and intelligent comment. I would agree with a fair amount of it, especially the fact that many in the US have an opinionated and not always accurate picture of Tibet. I would say this in mainly due to media gullibility and the sensational PR campaign of the Tibet independence movement, and not due to any government program to indoctrinate Americans against China.

I have to say that I do find evidence of indoctrination of Chinese on certain topics, such as Tibet and Taiwan; I am reading Peter Hessler’s book River Town now, that offers some wonderful examples of this in his teaching materials regarding the Three Gorges Dam, where kids really are indoctrinated with slogans and party philosophy. It’s written right into the lessons. Is it the same in the US? I honestly don’t think so, mainly because we were always taught to debate and question authority. Of course, there’s some propaganda in every country, but the diversity of America’s media makes it more difficult to plant basic truths – especially ones that defy logic – in students’ minds.

March 12, 2009 @ 5:16 pm | Comment

China and Asia, the land of virtue!

Crime rates are lower, saving rates are higher, people are less likely to be obese.

They just don’t spent lots of time covering up like Americans/Europeans do

March 13, 2009 @ 1:44 am | Comment


March 13, 2009 @ 1:46 am | Comment

ferin, as I said somewhere else, you slipped in under the radar screen. Anything you write about any other commenter’s wife from now on will be instantly deleted.

March 13, 2009 @ 5:55 pm | Comment

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