I guess this would qualify as the number 1 reason I’m glad I don’t live in China.
The word for “sorry” or “Thank you” in China essentially means “I owe you.” So nobody really ever says either one of those words.
This story is told to me by another English teacher I met this past weekend who taught for 2 years in China before coming to South Korea. Paraphrased from my memory.
He was walking down the street near his apartment complex when he stepped in front of a woman riding her bike. The woman fell and seemed to be fine. My friend (here to fore referred to as ‘Billy’) tries to help her out and without thinking about it says what comes naturally in that situation in American culture, he said sorry.
The womans facial expression went from moderately annoyed but ok to “child who has just been told he’s going to Disneyland and is half expecting to wake up,” to deathly pained in 5 seconds flat. “OH it hurts to death,” Billy told me the woman wailed.
Frightened, Billy ran. He ran into his apartment which was gated and for the moment he was safe.
45 minutes later he said he left his apartment to get KFC because he “couldn’t stand the greasiness of Chinese cuisine.”
(let that last sentence sink in for a second)
Anyways, as he walked back from KFC with his chicken in hand a woman yelled “Hey, that’s the foreigner who tried to kill that woman.” At first a crowd of 5 people surrounded him and he tried to run. He was tackled and then there was a crowd of 15 people. Then there was a crowd of 40 to 50 people all yelling at him. “I am so screwed,” thought Billy.
He was saved from the mob when two police officers showed up to arrest him. A small, dimly lit room with no windows in a police station in China would be a place that I would try to avoid. I’m not sure if it was better or worse than the mob. I didn’t ask Billy.
Questioned for a few hours, accused to attempted murder for a few more, Billy was finally released when he was allowed to call his employer who came down and told the police he was not guilty. That seemed to suit the police who released him.
Knowing my penchant for saying sorry, probably more than I should, I think I made the correct decision to come to South Korea and not China.