There was one thursday noon where my colleagues and I, 7 people in total, went out for lunch together(Palm Palace, mediterranean style). We were all chatting about personal stories, entrepreneur stuff, funny thing etc etc, nothing contentious or sensitive. When dinner’s almost done, one of the colleagues asked me, quite formally, “Peixin, I have a question to ask.” “Sure. Go ahead.” I replied. So he cleared his throat, “so I hope this is not offensive…”all of a sudden the whole table became quiet, listening to him, “but do you guys eat dogs?”
I immediately laughed because that was such a common question I’ve encountered here, to an extent that I felt normal, nonetheless to say being offended. However, before I could answer that question, the other intern girl, who is about my age, immediately shouted to him “That is offensive!” Despite I could understand her reaction in hindsight, I still found this situation interesting(perhaps a bit absurd). How could she assume, that such question was offensive to me, even before I acted as if I was offended? I understand that other Chinese people/Asian people may have told her don’t ask such questions because it is mostly a myth; but to be honest, I’d rather people ask instead of holding it back and assume how thing should be based on some so called “common sense”(aka “political correctness”). What if he is just genuinely curious about such myth and want to hear it from someone who actually from China? (which I think that’s the case here.) It almost makes me wonder, if it is because of such “political correctness”, that when people are engaging in cross cultural communications they are not able to actually break the cultural barrier and learn from each other? For instance, an American student may not dare to ask certain questions that they assumed to be “offensive” or “sensitive” to another international student, therefore choose to remain silence and continues to have certain assumptions about cultures that are different to them. In some cases, some of those assumptions involves stereotypes and prejudices brought by the mainstream media that are hard to break. The problem is, if you never ask, or never engage in those “difficult” conversations, how can you actually break those stereotypes ? Whoever asked “offensive” questions out of sheer curiosity shouldn’t be judged. I suppose this whole concept of “political correctness” is to teach people respect different culture and not judge, but to over-stretch this concept and apply it to even the smallest detail of the conversation seemed unnecessary. We need to keep those “difficult conversations” going to be able to understand where people are coming from, and actually gather them together instead of isolating ourselves in our own bubble.
P.S I agree those difficult conversations are hard to engage in, I recalled another difficult conversation over US-Russia relationship once during the office. Apparently I have quite a different political view with other interns. While I appreciate their honesty, I still feel like the reasoning behind their statements pretty much reiterate what the media was saying, without any critical thinking or supportive data to back it up. Those kind of conversation drained me a lot. Let’s just talk about food;)