Mark Salzman’s book Iron and Silk, discusses the experiences he faced in China as a teacher. It is necessary to note that he had learned a lot about Chinese culture before he went to that country. However, Salzman had realized that the Chinese culture was different from that of his home country only after he came to China.
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The verbal communication and gestures, customs, and food are quite different from what he was used to in America. This paper will focus on some of Salzman’s experiences, which helped him understand the new culture in a better way. These experiences involve traditions, non-verbal communication, and even foods.
The visual representation of certain practices and customs affects the perception of an individual towards others who belong to a different culture. If this individual lacks an understanding of the Chinese culture, he or she may perceive the new culture of bowing the head as primitive or even strange behavior.
Salzman knew this tradition and respected it. However, the way people greet each other also became a good lesson for Salzman as he learned that Chinese people were very respectful of other people’s traditions, too. For instance, Master Pan Qingfu “extended his hand,” and Salzman appreciated this readiness to be respectful of his traditions (Salzman 66). Thus, even simple gestures helped Salzman develop his understanding of the different culture.
Salzman also realized how different Chinese foods could be. Unlike in America where dogs are human friends, a hotel menu in China where dog meat is served may influence a new person to hate this culture. In the case of Salzman, he never showed disrespect and ate the Chinese meals ‘as if this mound would give him power” (Salzman 34).
Apart from differences in the menu, Salzman realized how hospitable, generous, and kind Chinese people were. For instance, he only mentioned he was hungry, and in a few minutes, he had more food than he “could eat in a week set in front of” him (Salzman 71). Salzman was not ready for such responsiveness. Admittedly, the author appreciated this hospitality and respect the traditions and customs of his Chinese friends and acquaintances.
Finally, Salzman witnessed a lot of examples of Chinese social responsibility and readiness to help. The author recalled that Chinese people helped each other in many ways. In the 1980s, Chinese people had to face lots of financial difficulties, and many had numerous problems.
Nonetheless, friends and even neighbors always helped each other in the time of need. For instance, the author notes that the woman held a memorial service, and her house “was crowded with friends and neighbors who came to help with cooking and cleaning” (Salzman 79). Likewise, Salzman had numerous situations when he needed help and his new friends, his students were ready to help.
From the above reflection of the cultural background of an individual in terms of food, tradition, and way of interaction may influence the perception of that person towards others belonging to different cultures. Salzman realized that Chinese people had another culture and were somewhat different from Americans.
However, the author also understood that Chinese people were hospitable and open-minded. They appreciated his respect for their traditions and tried to make him feel at home. In his turn, Salzman learned more about the culture that had fascinated him for so long.
Salzman, Mark. Iron and Silk. New York: Vintage, 1987. Print.