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Paranoia E-mail
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Written by Mary Higgins
It is natural to develop random idiosyncrasies and quirks when you live in one place for too long. This is especially true after an extended tour of duty in China. Quick and obvious examples are jaywalking or “nudging” people out of your way in a crowded area. There is nothing wrong with picking up a few habits (be they good or bad) as they are very much a part of the experience.

However, there is one unfortunate act that horrifies me when I find myself doing it back in my home country: handing over money to a cashier in a store. It isn’t the act of physically offering money which is a problem rather I have forgotten how the world works and, like someone learning to walk again after recovering from a terrible accident, I need to re-learn how to live with other people. Allow me to explain:

For those of you that aren’t aware, waiting in line to pay for something in China very often involves pushing and shoving to get the register and then shoving money in the clerk’s face in the hope that she’ll take your cash first and let you get the hell out of the payee mosh pit. It doesn’t matter if you are getting yourself a Big Mac, new t-shirt, or fresh vegetables. Paying for something can easily feel like Ladies’ Night at an all-you-can-drink pub. Pure fucking mayhem. Alright, perhaps I exaggerate…a bit, but I think you catch my drift. Over time, you get used to handing over your bag of chips and then immediately waiting, cash in outstretched hand, for the cashier to take your things, scan them, bag them, talk to her friend, answer questions from four other people, and then take your money. Like an idiot, you wait through the entire routine like a patient zombie – slow, dimwitted, and so frustrated that you’re willing to eat her brains to get the job done. Again, there is nothing wrong with any of this as it is the way the world works here (zombie brain eating included).

The problem arises when you go back home where the rules of cashier engagement are completely different and you end up looking like a total asshole when you jam money in someone’s face before you’ve even gotten to the front the queue. The last time I went home I was greeted with a friendly but very much surprised “Whoa! Um…Thank you but I’ll be with you in a moment, sir.” I felt like a six year old going to the store to buy candy for the first time and not knowing what to do. Even after all this time living abroad, there are some things that have become so natural that I can no longer remember where the differentiation line starts and ends. I honestly don’t remember the protocols for interacting with random people.

Spend too much time away from your old life and going back home for a visit can easily feel like you’re a paranoid schizophrenic that has lost the ability to differentiate between what is real and what is perceived as being real. I guess if you’re reading this article now and nodding your head in agreement then it is a sign that you are losing your grip on reality. Get out of your head! Get out of China! Go home! Save yourself!

Our valuable Editor Mary Higgins has been with us since Tuesday, 24 November 2009.

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0 #2 Ninax 2010-08-22 11:03
Reverse culture shock. But no worries, it only takes a short time for us to be back in civilization.
0 #1 Bumboo 2010-08-22 10:11
LOL, this is so true!!

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