Destination: The World
Book: Going Dutch In Beijing by Mark McCrum
I am excited to welcome a regular columnist to A Traveler’s Library. The last week of every month, Dr. Jessie Voigts will be sharing some favorite book and/or author information from her web site, Wandering Educators, an eclectic travel site for global educators and other wanderers. Jessie says, “If you love to learn and explore the world, come join us! “ Welcome aboard, Jessie.
Books from a Wanderer
by Dr. Jessie Voigts
One of the most influential books in my personal traveler’s library is [amazonify]0805086765::text::::Going Dutch in Beijing: How to Behave Properly When Far Away from Home[/amazonify]. Written by Mark McCrum, this book re-emphasizes what we all have learned the hard way – that behaving correctly in another culture is a learning experience! Signs, nonverbal communication, behaviors, and the phrases we use all have cultural connotations, whether we are aware of it or not.
I remember when I lived in Japan, I was always conscious of being different – both physically and culturally. Many times, my Japanese friends had talked of several important Japanese concepts – saving face, and the phrase “the nail that sticks out will get hammered down.” The Japanese concept of saving face, in which you never show a person in a bad light, was brought to life for me one time quite clearly.
I had gone out for sushi with one of my host fathers and a group of his friends, and he was so proud of me that he ordered a very expensive live anemone for me to eat. I did not want to eat this wiggling, wriggling creature, but to save face for him, I choked it down. The look on his face was two-fold – pride that I had done this, and relief that I had not shamed him in front of his cronies.
The fact that I didn’t want to eat it was secondary – I realized that I needed to eat it, in order for him to save face in front of his friends. So I did (to my great dismay!), and I realized that THIS, this saving face, was real, personal, and yes, an important aspect of Japanese culture. From then on, it was like a window had opened for me – a true glimpse into Japanese culture and mores. It was priceless, and a life-lesson that has stood me well since then.
So, if you aren’t in a Japanese neighborhood and downing live anemones, you might want to peruse Going Dutch in Beijing – it is much easier, and a great deal more fun.
McCrum’s book is an invaluable tool for world travelers – or for those who work with people from different cultures. A little intercultural sensitivity can go a long way toward smooth interactions. This intercultural sensitivity can come from learning the hard way, or learning from others (easily done, reading this book!). We were lucky enough at Wandering Educators to interview Mark about his book. Here’s some of what he had to say…
WE: Tell us a little bit about Going Dutch in Beijing.
MM: It’s a guide to the huge variety of manners and customs around the world. Here you will find why you should never make the thumbs-up sign in the Middle East, or offer to ‘go Dutch’ when out for a meal in China. The book is organized by themes, from first greetings to last rites, so there are lots of fun comparisons in different kinds of behavior.
For example, while it’s never done to be even a minute late for dinner in Germany, in Argentina it’s expected. Indeed, to turn up on time, might imply that you’re greedy. I’ve taken a reasonably lighthearted tone throughout the book, but it does also cover more serious issues, such as attitudes to women in the Middle East and gay rights (or the lack of them) around the world.
WE: What led you to write this book?
MM: I’ve traveled widely around the world during twenty years as a professional travel writer, writing books and articles for UK newspapers and magazines. I realized that though there are plenty of hefty guides to intercultural differences for business people, there was no simple little guide like this, organized by behavior rather than country. I’m fascinated by etiquette in any case, which may seem trivial but is often hugely important, even (in fact particularly) to those who wouldn’t on the face of it seem to care about manners at all.
Think about road rage, for example. Or queues, the barging of which can lead to people screaming at each other, if not to blows. But though essential here in the UK and in many other places, queuing is not universal, by any means.
To read the rest of this fascinating interview, please see Wandering Educators for our Book Review: Going Dutch In Beijing . For a look at Mark as an artist, see our feature in Artisans of the Month. I truly enjoyed both reading the book (several times), and talking with Mark. He’s very knowledgeable about intercultural sensitivity, and this made me so happy to share his work.