Brian's Blogs

Bad Habits

There was a young man from Darjeeling
Who travelled from Barking to Ealing
When it said on the door
Don’t spit on the floor
He immediately spat on the ceiling!
                                    (traditional “Lymeric” verse)

Every nationality has its customs and taboos; and what is considered socially acceptable in one country may be shunned in another part of the world.

One habit in China that is guaranteed to upset practically every westerner without fail is the Chinese penchant for spitting in the street. As one hears the grahhhhhh sound followed by the gobbing to the floor, westerners turn away in disgust.

Yet it wasn’t until around 70 years ago that spitting was considered quite normal in Europe as well. But following a particularly bad outbreak of tuberculosis in the 1940s (which can be spread by spitting) the practice was banned by law, with a fixed penalty of £5 for those caught doing so. I well remember seeing “No Spitting” signs on the buses in London in the 1950s (and Défence de Cracher on the Paris Metro too).

Now the “educated” public of Europe considers spitting in public a wholly obnoxious habit – a gruesome piece of anti-social behaviour. It is one item of conversation guaranteed to get an identical response from all westerners. “How disgusting,” they say. “Don’t the Chinese know better than to behave like that?”

It got me wondering, though, what habits we Europeans have that upset the Chinese to the same degree. For as sure as eggs is eggs, I am sure we do some things that offend in equal measure.

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