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Why do Chinese like "laughing"? Are they laughing at me?

Cross Culture Communication Case Studies

Case No.1

The different feeling about "laughing"

 

 cross-cultural communication in China

 

 

The Story

 

Selma, who is from the US, is in a student exchange program in Indonesia. One day, she was asked to attend a birthday party and she was delighted, for she was curious to know what an Indonesian birthday party was like. To her surprise, she was the only one that dressed in typically Western clothes. 
Although she had no strong reason to become uneasy, her uneasy feeling prevailed as the party was going on. 

To make herself feel better, she went to the food table and began to help herself. But, upon leaving the table, she tripped on the leg of a chair and spilled her drink on the floor. One of the girls stooped down to mop up the spill and everyone else laughed out loud. 

Selma, uncertain what to do next, quietly moved out of her way with her head lowered in shame.

 

Questions

 

  1. Have you met similar situation and feel strange about the "laughing"? while you live in a different country, China especially?

  2. What functions does laughing serve in similar situations your country?

  3. Do you know what functions does laughing serve in a similar situation in China?  

  4. What should we do to help ourselves or other people out of embarrassment caused by cultural differences in laughing?

 

Please feel free to share your experiences or ideas in comment area to discuss. But Please understand that this does not serve in any sense to scam, criticize or discriminate any culture, only to share and improve understanding and help with cross-culture communication.

 

Some tips from cross-cultural communication theory

 

Just like a smile, laughing does not always serve the same function in different cultures. Interestingly, for Chinese, laughing often has a special function on some tense social occasions. 

 

People may laugh to release the tension or embarrassment, to express their concern about you, their intention to put you at ease or to help you come out of the embarrassment. In this case, the people there were actually wishing to laugh with Selma rather than laugh at her. 

 

Their laughing seemed to convey a number of messages: don‘t take it so seriously; laugh it off, it‘s nothing; such things can happen to any of us, etc. Unfortunately, Selma was unaware of this. She thought they were laughing at her, which made her feel more badly and angry, for in 
her culture laughing on such an occasion would be interpreted as an an insulting response, humiliating and negative.

 

So, if you ever met situation when you tried to speak Chinese, but heard "laughing" from the listeners, don't think of it as "embarrassed" or "being laughed at". It's a response without any harms and most cases, it's a friendly way they want to encourage you to try again (of course, they are unaware of the culture difference). Forgive them and be confident and try again to say what you wanted to say!

 

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