Where Underpants Come From

Keith June 19th, 2008

Just heard an interesting interview on the radio.  The subject was Joe Bennett, who has recently published a book called: Where Underpants Come From.  You can read more about the book in an article in New Zealand’s Dominion Post

Apparently, Bennett looked at the “Made in China” tag in his new undergarments one day, and decided to find out more.  This led him on a rather strange journey to China, and into Chinese history.

The thing that caught my attention was a story he told of one incident during the journey. 

As I remember the story, he was eating in a small restaurant in a lane-way in a Chinese city.  He was the only tourist in the restaurant, among 30 or 40 Chinese customers. The others in the restaurant fairly quickly noticed his entire lack of ability to eat with chopsticks.  He was “spreading food all over the restaurant, and not eating anything”.  Everyone was very good-natured about it, and some began to laugh at his predicament.  He laughed with them.  One came over and gave him instructions on eating with chopsticks.

By the end of the meal, even though he spoke almost no Chinese, and the other diners little English, they were all laughing and joking together. When he left the restaurant, everyone said goodbye to him.  The waitress even followed him out onto the street to return his tip.

Now here’s the good bit – as Bennett said, imagine reversing the situation.  A 50-something Chinese man goes into a restaurant in Sydney (or Christchurch, New York or London).  Would the same thing happen?  Would everyone in the restaurant say goodbye when he left?  Would the waitress chase him to return his tip?

How much of our behaviour and responses to other people is determined by our context and culture, and how much can we change?

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