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Localization as Racism?
January 4, 2013 - By: - In: Localization - Comments Off on Localization as Racism?

“Swiss Hospitality for Chinese Guests,” a how-to-handle-Chinese guide by the Swiss Hotel Association, is offensive, says Rafit  Ali, CEO of Skiff.com, “an early-stage travel intelligence media company.”

The hospitality  guide starts out “well-meaning at least,” according to Ali , but soon crosses the insult frontier into “borderline offensiveness.”  Talking about the differences between ethnic groups often requires “cultural shorthand,” says Ali.  Shorthand  invites cliché, which encourages stereotypical thinlomg. And Stereotypes are racist, unless you call them “personas” in which case they are  good marketing.

Below, I’ve excerpted Ali’s own cherry-pick list of alleged cultural faux pas. You can read the entire report right here, no Swiss required. See what you think.

1. Chinese eat quickly: try and serve the food all at the same time and please don’t take it as a mark of disrespect when the Chinese leave the table immediately – as soon as they have put down their cutlery  or chopsticks.

2. Avoid using too many milk products (cream, cheese, butter) and be moderate in the use of salt.

3. The Chinese like foods which are liquid and soft. However, baked goods are not very common in China.

3. Soft-boiled eggs are not so much appreciated. So please boil them longer.

4. Hot drinks (and often simply hot water) are preferred to cold drinks.

5. A basic selection of Chinese food, such as rice, stewed or fried vegetables and sliced meat (chicken, beef, veal, pork) or fish should be available at all meals.

6. Reserve a big, if possible round, table for your Chinese guests: The group travelling together will, in principle, prefer to eat together.

7. Chinese like to combine different dishes and tastes: It is appreciated if all courses are served together. The soup will, in principle, be served at the end of the meal.

8. Together with the classical European cutlery, chop sticks – placed on the right side of the bowl or dish – should be provided for each person. Chop sticks should never be stuck into the food – this will be associated with bad luck or even death. Otherwise the usual European tableware and decoration will be appreciated by your Chinese guests.

9. Chinese eat early: Breakfast at 7 a.m., lunch at noon and dinner at 7 p.m. are quite standard eating hours for Chinese tourists.

I’m no expert on Chinese eating habits, so I don’t know if these tips are true or false, except for the part about sticking your chopsticks in the rice, which you never want to do. The big problem with clichés is that the truer  they are, the more likely they are to keep coming up. Like the Energizer Bunny, case in point.

Another question, or maybe two. Is it racist or hospitable to give a Chinese guest a pair of chopsticks? Or is it both?

That answer will be provided by the chopstick recipient, not us bloggers. Tourists vote with their wallet. My wife, who is of the Japanese persuasion, to this day will not enter a Benetton store, United Colors or no, because once 20 years ago, she felt she was being treated poorly on account of her ethnicity by a store clerk (also of Asian background, curiously.) Unforgivable and never forgotten.

I’m sure this story dredges up searing memories of ethnic humiliation for some of my readers too. Fortunately and hopefully more often and not, travellers are treated extra nice, simply because we are foreigners bearing wallets. My wife envies the special treatment I always receive from friendly people curious about my hairy arms and long nose. So I guess racism is like many other gifts. It’s the thought that counts.

I’d love to hear from readers with stories about the indignities of racist tourist treatment — getting kicked out of swimming pools and having doors slammed in your face and such — since your suffering will stir up traffic to promote our organic search ranking. Happy stories of special foreign guest-handling would be even nicer.

Thank you for your participation.

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