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Los Angeles, CA, United States


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Culture, Etiquette, and Just Plain Good Manners

So the wife and I got into a little discussion today about etiquette.  Just so you know, both of us are Asian-American and are pretty sensitive to racial bias and ignorance against the Asian community.   We don't believe in calling Asians...Orientals.  We don't like the stereotypes even if many of them are positive, and we definitely don't like it when Asians get bullied.  With that said, our conversation centered on the topic of Chinese immigrants who have a tendency to hack up their phlegm and spit it out.  You may have witnessed it yourself. The heavy inhale that sounds like snoring, then the growl of the throat, then the violent spitting of thick saliva onto the pavement usually on the sidewalk.  Growing up in ELA, we called it hawking a loogie or tirando un gargajo.  In any case, we see it all the time.  Men, women, teenagers, it doesn't matter.  I remember taking the bus as a kid and this Chinese lady pegged the "gross out" meter when she stepped to the curb, put a finger on one nostril and blew out a loogie from her other nostril onto the street.  I know you're saying to yourself.."that's f..n gross."  You're telling me. I saw that.  I was amazed because the lady just stepped back onto the sidewalk and nonchalantly just waited for the bus.  I was so traumatized, I had to tell anyone who listened what happened that morning.

So getting back to the issue at hand, is it a cultural thing to just hack it up or is it just bad manners.  Most of the Chinese I know are Chinese-American and for the most part educated. I can't really remember them performing the ritual.  Even my aunts and uncles who were 1st generation immigrants didn't do this.  So why do some Chinese do it and others do not.  I think it has to do with assimilation.  When I discuss assimilation, I'm talking about immigrants who have bothered to learn the language and honor their culture while respecting the new culture where they now live.  In short, when in Rome, do as the Romans with the caveat that you do as the Romans do as long as it doesn't violate your moral code and you don't lose your cultural identity.

Without trying to stereotype and label, what I'm saying is that there is a higher probability that Asian immigrants who live in the US and only deal with others like them and refuse to learn the language and limit their exposure to Americans (White, Asian, Black or Latino) are more likely to hawk a loogie.  While in China on vacation, I did experience this phenomenon as well so I'm leaning toward it being a cultural thing.  If you have phlegm, expel it and don't bother with tissue.  Who cares about bacteria or getting others sick.  It's all about relieving the tickle in the throat.  These non-assimilators don't have anyone to tell them that it's not cool to spit in public.  It gets so bad sometimes that City Halls in Monterey Park, San Gabriel and bordering neighborhoods receive calls to have someone come out and pressure wash the sidewalk because how gross it is.

So now that I've ascertained it's a cultural thing, how does it get corrected?  Can we put a PSA out on Jade, CCTV and the other Chinese stations? I think most are ignorant of the fact that spitting is not proper behavior in public.  Would it be okay to walk up to a perpetrator and tell him, "Dude, spitting is not cool" and hand him a tissue pack.  Maybe we just start handing out tissue packs like they do on the streets of Tokyo for advertising but instead of advertising a business, enclose instructions including a bold directive-DO NOT SPIT IN PUBLIC.  SPIT INTO TISSUE.   This may be the best use of public funds since Unemployment Benefits.  In any case, I know that I'll continue to see spitting in public and that eliminating it will be about as possible as the US getting out of debt.  So if you happen to witness an Asian person hacking it up and spitting, just remember, it's cultural.  Embrace it.

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