While I was supposed to be teaching my students (sophomores and juniors in University) “Oral English” and “Advanced Oral English,” I was also serving as a representative of all American and even all “Western” culture and thought. Tough work really. During my first semester of teaching, I could be mid lesson on something like, how to state an opinion, or key phrases to use during phone conversations, when all of the sudden, a hand would shoot up. Delighted that someone was interested in the lesson, I would call on them. But more times than not, the student would stand and ask something like, “Are you married” or, “What do American’s think about Chinese people?” I never wanted to discourage participation, but these questions would completely derail any kind of lesson I thought I had planned.
As a result, I began second semester (same students) by telling my students that each class would begin with “question time.” During question time students could ask any question they wanted of me. Some classes loved question time and we never moved past it throughout the whole two hours. Other classes would sit silently and wait for me to continue the lesson. The questions ranged from seriously political to embarrassingly personal. Though, considering the still conservative nature of the Chinese culture, I never worried too much about getting into topics that would make even me squirm in front of the class. Some were easy to answer and others not even an hours worth of conversation and clarification could patch the cultural and political gaps that inspired the question in the first place.
I have collected as many questions as I wrote down and can remember and put them in the list below. I will add explanations only where necessary so as to allow you to experience the same shock/confusion/embarrassment as me at the moment of the inquiry.
Are you married? [Many Chinese do not wear wedding bands].
Do you have a boyfriend?
Do you live with your boyfriend?
Will you marry your boyfriend?
Do you like Chinese men?
Are your eyelashes real?
Are Americans particular about their clothing?
Are Americans very open minded? [I later found that “open minded” apparently means sexually open minded]
What kind of shampoo do you use?
Do you believe that China should hold the Olympic Games in 2008?
Why do Western countries care about China’s problems, like Tibet?
Can you drive?
What kind of car do you drive?
What is the name, in English, for the occupation in the government that is charge of putting out/ distributing propaganda?
Why aren’t some of the Western countries helping with “One World One Dream?” [Referencing those boycotting the Olympics and the Olympic slogan]
In the US, do you have to use a password when you use your credit card?
At what age do American’s get their first job?
Can you recommend some scenic places in America?
What is North Dakota like? [I learned later that some students are going to a college in University in North Dakota next year]
What do you eat every day? [He meant staple food…basically, what is my rice?]
What does this mean (crossing her fingers)?
Are you afraid to live in America? [She was referring to the fact that guns are legal.]
Do you believe in God?
Are you a WASP? [White Anglo-Saxon Protestant]
Why do black people like rap and R&B?
At what age do most American girls get married?
What time [of the day] does school end in America?
Do American college students have many parties?
Is marijuana illegal in America?
Then why can I see students smoking marijuana in movies?
What do the words “red-neck agenda” mean? [Referencing song lyrics in Green Day’s “American Idiot” song]
If you don’t have chopsticks in America…..then how can you eat noodles?