Culture Clash: Please, get me out of here!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015, by Eliane Karsaklian

cultural differences

After boarding a flight from Paris to Doha, I found myself alone in my row. A Frenchman was sitting alone in the row in front of me and a Frenchwoman sat alone in the row just behind me.

Almost all passengers had already boarded and I was thinking that I would have all three seats in my row to myself. I’m sure that the French people I mentioned were thinking the same thing, when all of a sudden the back of the plane was invaded by a group of at least 30 Chinese passengers.

They arrived as a wave of people, ignoring everyone else already on the plane. They were speaking loudly across rows, stuffing their luggage in the overhead bins and getting to their seats by walking over the people who were already seated. They switched places several times until they got to sit with whom they wanted.

Among the Chinese moving back and forth, I could glimpse the Frenchman and the Frenchwoman standing and looking around for available seats. They called the flight attendant and asked, desperately, for a spare seat far away from all that commotion. They were lucky and off they went to potentially quieter and more civilized environments.

I stayed where I was. A Chinese couple sat next to me. They couldn’t speak English. They were not used to airplane travel and could hardly manage opening and closing their tables, fastening their seat belts and navigating the in-flight entertainment remote. They could not find the way of turning the language to Chinese and of searching for their favorite movies and shows. Seeing that they were going through some trouble, I helped them out with all that. They looked very grateful.

When the meal was served, they observed what I was eating and did not touch their own food. When I had almost finished, they gave me, from their trays, everything I had eaten from mine as a replacement of what they thought I liked the most, as a gift to me. Then, they ate what remained in their respective trays.

What do we learn from this? People might look and sound rude, but that doesn’t mean that they are actually rude and that there is no way of being together with them. If we could have spoken the same language, we would have had a pleasant trip together. Although we were unable to communicate verbally, we were sympathetic and grateful to each other.

Being scared of people who behave differently or running away from those who don’t behave like us is not the way of getting into international relationships or business. If that Frenchman and that Frenchwoman where traveling abroad for business, I really wish them good luck. They will need it.

To learn more, read From Foreign to International: Lessons on Being a Citizen of the World.

  • Ping Wang

    Thank you help our Chinese people with your warm-hearted action== accept international differences! Great!