Saturday, May 17, 2008

High Population Density=No Privacy

To survive sharing a country with 1.6 billion others necessitates individuals to redefine (eliminate) any social concept of privacy, or else you would go completely bizzonk due to lack of personal space. As individuals have minimal space, there are minimal social constraints that dictate it rude to invade others' space, because any space is potentially your space. (This drives foreigners bonkers. The lack of elbow room--or something like unto it--is probably the most common complaint I've heard among expat circles here.)

We've had our fair share of frustrations, especially when the ridiculous crowd you encounter during a routine weekend trip to the supermarket is the same as the 5am Circuit City Day-After-Thanksgiving extravaganza in the US. I think that many 'crowd-sensitive' Americans are only willing to put up with the antics of a door-buster sale because its only one day a year, and they'll score a free iPod out of the privacy-sucking deal. In a space-deprived country like China, all I get for facing the masses is some eggs, a loaf of bread, and maybe some bags of fake milk, if I brave that aisle (this morning, I didn't).

When my frustrations seem to get the best of me, I realize that I'm the one with the problem; the natives don't seem to mind much at all. Adapting to local concepts different from your own is often a necessary survival tactic for any expat family anywhere in the world, and I'm sure Tiffany would agree that it has been especially important for us here. Though, I've tried learning from Didi's attention-grabbing approach to privacy concerns, I can't pull it off nearly as well as he.

Didi takes advantage of the crowds by soaking-up the attention of an adoring audience in order to improve his own self-image. For one example, Didi recently realized that when he smashes his head against our living room window and smiles, he will within a few moments gather a crowd of bystanders who stare into my house for some 15 awkward minutes. Didi loves it. These grown men and women giggle like school children as they admire the foreign baby (and chastise the foreign parents through the window, i.e. his shirt is wet from drool, he's only wearing a onesie, and so forth...). It's funny every time at first, but when they don't leave, we strategize the least culturally-offensive escape plan. Our American concept of privacy often kicks in pretty quick in this specific situation, probably because they don't peer into the house from the street, no!, they come up and put their paws on our window:


Bethany said...

Yeah, that's pretty creepy!

mmm.chocolate said...

Oooohhh! A serious drawback to living on the first floor which I hadn't even considered!