“These girls gave me panda earrings!” laughed this Chinese girl, who came over to my home for the holidays. “I mean, seriously, panda earrings? I can buy those in China anytime.” These girls were her American classmates. And even though pandas are pretty much the national symbol of China — and even one of the mascots for the Beijing Olympics — these Americans somehow thought this gift would truly be something special.
It was like how one of my relatives gave John — who comes from Hangzhou, the home of Dragonwell, one of the most famous and prized green teas in all of the world — a box of Celestial Seasonings green tea.
So it’s not surprising that, as I giggled at my friend’s tale of gifting gone wrong, I couldn’t help but think of many similar misunderstandings here in the US of A.
Like when people say this to John, after hearing he is from China: “Oh, I love sushi.” This culinary faux pas would usually make me cough uncomfortably. Sometimes, I would step in, reminding them politely, “Uh, you know, sushi is Japanese.”
Then there are the so-called “Chinese” things that don’t even really exist in China. Like General Tso’s chicken, and fortune cookies. When my husband first heard about chop suey from my Grandpa, I had to explain to him, later on, that this was a dish created by Chinese immigrants to the US, as a way to make Chinese food into something a little more American.
As long as people continue to learn about countries from afar — through the media, movies, TV and reading — there will always be misunderstandings. Which is why I’m sure this won’t be the last time an American gives a Chinese girl panda earrings.
What China misunderstandings have you experienced?