After a short, jammed-packed, 6-day trip to New York, it was one of those “hate to leave but glad to be returning” feelings when I boarded the United Airlines direct flight to Shanghai last Wednesday. The 15-hour journey by air flew by faster than normal. My seat-mate was a Chinese NYU graduate student, living in NYC, who happened to be returning for a short visit home to visit her parents in Shanghai.
Yini, a product of the one-child policy, is an atypical Chinese — bubbly, outgoing, quick-witted, full of jokes, and was (is) both interested and interesting. Our conversations, which started before we left the gate, lasted several hours into the flight before we both dozed off.
Speaking flawless English, what struck me was her use of “whites” when referring to Americans. When I pointed it out she profusely apologized, her ingrained politeness covering up a potential minor faux pas. Not that I minded in the least, I was simply curious because she, as well as most of the Chinese I know, are as white (or whiter) than many Americans. Although there are large groups who’s skin is a dustier tone than many of the milky white caucasians from North America, she says “whites” was only an endearing term for easy referral. I asked her if “her people” had a referred to color and her response, after a shoulder shrug, was “yellow.” So as many of us do from different cultures, we discussed our similarities (not abundant), and also most notably, our differences. It was the whites and the yellows.
What are those differences? More than a few but what pulled us into the topic was the “loudness” factor. She thinks that the whites are loud (exuberant), by comparison. There is no denying whites can be a little volume heavy in the vocals. I’ve heard my share of them in different parts of the world, talking as if the person next to them had a hearing problem. I think though, and I could be wrong, that the loud spoken whities constitute the mostly insensitive minority.
What struck me though was Lini’s opinion that perhaps yellows are not so loud. I suggested that if the category were widened from loud to noise, the yellows might have the upper hand.
Humans tend to create a lot of unnecessary noise, some pleasurable, some not. Musical notes from a trumpet might have a pleasing melodic tune. The sound from a typical automobile horn has a much different quality. They are both noise.
Some might say that liberal use of vehicle horns, not just a tap, but multiple held blasts of piercingly loud horns, is noise pollution at its finest. Horns are regularly used in lieu of turn signals. The yellows, because of their unique (to whites) culture of traffic flow and the mostly lack of right-of-way sense, tend to be extroverts when it comes to automobile horn use.
They are also accustomed to setting off fire crackers at any time of day or night, at almost any place, in celebration of a marriage, birth, death, or who knows what. And they are loud. Forget the routine, clearly audible shovel-against-cement sounding throat hack in preparation for a walkway expectoration, or the multitudes who talk to each other like they are in a boisterous argument (when they are not), the yellows seem to be quite cozy with a noise level that most whites would consider obnoxious. To Yini though, the loudness of whites was a noticeable difference.
So whites beware. Dampen your verbal decibel level a bit. It can be seen, as someone I knew used so say, as crude, rude, barbaric, uncouth and uncalled for.
Now that I remember, prior to this particular discussion, I did ask Yini if I was talking too loud. She said I wasn’t, but then again maybe she was just being polite.