East vs West in the Eyes of Yang Liu

Call me uncultured, but the truth is you’ll almost never find me in an art museum appreciating those fine pieces that speak so much of the world’s history. I suppose we just have different interests. However, I love all forms of intercultural communication which enables me to compare and contrast our similarities and differences. Hence when I came across the designs by Yang Liu, a Chinese born designer raised in Germany, it immediately caught my attention.

Here are 7 designs which I thought were interesting. The blue section represents German culture and red is Chinese. More of her designs can be found here.

1. Punctuality

puenktlichkeitThe Germans are spot on when it comes to timing. Whenever I have an appointment with my German friend, I put in 200% extra effort to ensure I’m NOT LATE. That’s to say, I’ll arrive 5 minutes early. So Chinese…

My German landlord (who isn’t my favourite person right now) fits the German stereotype perfectly. Last week he agreed to come to ours at 9.30am to sort out our window shutters. I looked at my watch at 9.29am and said casually to Daniel, “Reckon he’ll be late or will he ring the doorbell exactly at 9.30am?” Just as the clock struck half nine, he actually knocked on our door! Did he time it that well? Or was he standing outside 5 minutes before staring intensely at his watch to make sure it was exactly 9.30am before he knocked?

2. Concept of Beauty


Oh yes, we Asians are obsessed with beauty products to whiten our skin, something our Western counterparts cannot understand. Just because it’s called a whitening facial wash doesn’t actually mean we want to bleach our skins. We simply like to look fairer, remove spots and have flawless skin.

In the summer, I coat myself generously with SPF 150 if I can get hold of it because I enjoy my picnics along the river Main. While I enjoy warm weather and the sunshine, I don’t want premature aging skin, freckles, peeling skin due to sun burn and the worst of all, skin cancer. However around me I’m surrounded by German girls in bikinis or topless men roasting themselves lobster red, all desperate for a tan. To be fair, not only the Germans do this. Anyone living in Europe who have been deprived of the warmth of sun does it. Just not me.

3. Noise Level in Restaurants


Unless it’s Oktoberfest or if there’s a football match on, the Germans tend to keep their noise level down in restaurants and cafes. The Chinese don’t need alcohol to get high. We get high on oxygen.

Daniel, being very British at times, whispers whenever we’re out for a meal. Doesn’t help that he’s got a very low voice. I always find myself straining my ears to hear him. The chart above probably illustrates our noise levels extremely accurately. I used to think that the Chinese probably speaks loudly because they assume no one else understands them. However, they do that in China, Singapore, Britain and everywhere they set foot on. Maybe it’s the tonal language? Whenever I step into a Chinese restaurant in Germany, I don’t hear much of the Germans even though they are there. The Chinese drown the Germans.

4. Expressing Opinions


If you’ve read the article I wrote on what the Brits Say versus What They Really Mean, you would have known that the Germans are straight to point. And this is precisely why I like them – A LOT. I’ve never felt so free to express my likes and dislikes as openly as I do now in this country.

In Asian cultures, we tend to beat around the bush, taking U-turns every now and then before stating our point. Sometimes, we don’t even state it clearly. We leave it open for the listeners to decipher what we mean.

Unfortunately, the straight forwardness of Germans is usually deemed as rudeness. Truth be told, it can be shocking at times especially if the opinion is of a negative nature.

5. Anger


Sly, sly Chinese. You think we’re all happy when we smile? WRONG! I could very well be harbouring murder thoughts about you! Well, I do get quite imaginative at times.

My German landlord obviously isn’t very happy about replacing our window shutters because it’s going to cost him a bomb. And since it’s not a small installation, I don’t have to fork out a single cent according to our contract. Being the cheap skate he is, he insisted on the handyman to just “hide” the symptoms of the problem. All his unhappiness was written on his face as he stood next to me.

On the other hand, I smiled apologetically to him (bowing slightly) for taking the trouble to have a look at the shutters. Even though I didn’t ruin the more than 10-year old automatic shutters which I don’t even have to lay a finger on, I apologised to him because it’s broken. Doesn’t make any sense, right? As I apologised and bowed, I was boiling within and thought to myself, “You bloody miser!” Yes, hypocrite.

6. At a Party


I’ve been to a few work-related Japanese parties and yes, we stand in circles. Who knows why? It just seems like the natural thing to do. When I attended the Christmas party at law school in the UK, it was just so strange for me to be speaking to people in pairs or threes. I just didn’t feel comfortable – especially when there were times when you’d be standing alone in the ballroom.

7. Queueing (I can’t agree to this)


When I was in Singapore, I often find myself and others complaining about the Chinese from China not queueing. They love to stand together as a herd and block all paths. Ok, I may be stereotyping but this is generally true. But hey, Singaporeans do the same too. Just try taking the trains or public buses. To get on first requires a great deal of calculation and knowledge of where the bus/train will stop!

However, I disagree that Germans queue straight lines. I think this design is deceptive and misleading. Very often, they look like they’re queueing, but no. In reality, they’re plotting in their sly minds when the next cashier will open up so they can jump in front of you before you even realise. They don’t have the politeness of asking you if you would like to go first since you’re first in the queue. Go home, suck your thumb, sulk and cry to your mother if you’ve been standing in the line for 30 minutes only to see the person behind you who has been queueing for 5 minutes pay for his shopping before you as he’s got eagle eyes. It happens at department stores like Galeria and Karstadt (which I consider as fairly nice stores and classy), supermarkets, swimming pools etc. The Germans only LOOK LIKE they’re queueing.

Now, to be fair to the Germans, many Singaporeans tend to do the same too. We switch queues as quickly as we can without asking people in front of us if that’s ok. Whenever I do that, my embarrassed husband frowns upon me. He has expressed how wrong it is for me to jump queues countless of times to the point that each frown is like a death sentence for me. So when I’m back in Singapore, I try to be polite and not jump queue. When I’m in Britain, I DEFINITELY DO NOT jump queues. When in Germany, I do what the Germans do – much to the dismay of my husband.

NOTE: Of course not every German or Chinese is as how Yang Liu portrays. However, I think her designs do nail the general differences between Germans and the Chinese. I don’t think there’s anything racist about her designs or the content I’ve written. This isn’t meant to be an academic article (duh…) and whatever I say is based on my PERSONAL experience and thoughts. NOTHING suggests that a particular culture is superior to another. So people, chillax…




8 thoughts on “East vs West in the Eyes of Yang Liu

  1. So interesting! I love thinking about the differences between cultures, though I’m usually comparing and contrasting European cultures. The queueing bit is definitely interesting. I think it’s sort of similar with all cultures though, we can understand our own way to line up, but everything else is just a free for all!

    1. Thank you! I would love to learn more about European culture. My plan was to explore more of Europe next year however, I’m unable to travel for health reasons till the baby’s here. I’m really ignorant of what other Europeans are like apart from the stereotypes I hear.

  2. It’s so true! Very clever diagrams!! My encounter with the Germans is rather limited but I can understand where your observation comes from. They were rather blunt and self-centered even though it seemed unintentional. About queuing, the French is the worst, especially Parisiennes! I saw them gate-crashing the queue with no batting an eyelid everywhere…😨

    1. OMG! I need to go to France to experience it for myself now. I remember I was in Madam Tussauds in London a couple of years back queueing to have a photo taken with the “Queen” and a non-English speaking lady literally pushed me out of the queue. Not only her but many of them did that (probably with a tour group and were in a rush… But still…).

      1. I think the Brits are far politer than any European neighbours. I was in NYC with Paul, waiting in a queue to the attraction, a bunch of German tourists muscled in in front of us. We complained and they moved back. I couldn’t believe how they thought if they could get away with it…😡

        1. Oh! I’ve had ppl behind me in the queue who think that they have the right to pay first because they only have a bottle of wine whereas I have a trolley of shopping. They don’t even ask. It happens all the time and I thought it was the norm. But when I checked with my German friends, they said it’s not. Will have to figure out how to complain! The Brits favourite past time is queueing and apologising even if someone stepped on their foot! Haha… Daniel does it all the time

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