Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Article in the Chinese press praises the "relaxed" Italian lifestyle!

I was amused yesterday to read an article in the English language Chinese newspaper China Daily by someone called Lu Chang, called "Piano, Piano stressed Beijingers". Piano, Piano means "slowly, slowly" in Italian. The article encourages Beijingers to learn from the slow, relaxed Italian mindset.

The author apparently spent some time as an exchange student in Perugia a few years ago. She recounts an episode in which she wanted to buy a dress in a shop on the main street. She started to enter the shop, but the shop assistant stopped her and told her to come back the next day, because she was already off work and closing the store. The author insisted that she was a serious buyer, but the shop assistant was unmovable: it was closing time.

The Chinese woman, naturally for her, assumed that this shop assistant must have something urgent to attend to, but later on she saw her merrily drinking espresso and chatting with her friends in a bar. As the author says, at that point "I realized that for her money is far from everything. She would rather enjoy her coffee and leisure time than do business with me."

This is contrasted with Beijing, where a shop assistant would apparently never turn away a customer, whatever the time. She goes on praising the relaxed pace of life she found in Perugia, where businesses will close for two hours during the day for lunch, and comparing it with stressful, hurried Beijing.

Although comparing Beijing (at least 10 million inhabitants) with Perugia (166,000) seems a bit unfair, it is obviously true that to the Chinese, European life seems very relaxed and slow. Chinese people who come back from holidays in Europe, and not just Italy or Spain but even Germany or Britain, will often tell you how much free time everyone seems to have. I remember a Chinese man who had been to Germany and Italy on holiday, telling me how relaxed people are there, always drinking beer in bars. Another Chinese girl I know who spent a summer in Denmark, told me that she could never get used to such a lazy lifestyle! And it's not just holidaymakers. Chinese people who have lived in Europe also tend to have this impression. If even Germany or Denmark seem slow and relaxed to them, then Italy must really blow their minds.

I do wonder if it doesn't in part boil down to misunderstanding, due to the fact that the Chinese have different ways of spending their free time than Europeans. Perhaps in China it is simply less common to see people drinking coffee or beer in street caffes with their friends, because people tend to spend their leisure time in other, less public ways. In small cities, people certainly seem to find the time to play majiang a lot, and KTV (Karaoke) parlours never lack customers anywhere in China. However, it certainly is the case that Europeans do have more free time and work less hard than the Chinese on average.

Anyway, at least one Beijinger has decided to take life a bit more piano piano.

5 comments:

Lariko Melnik said...

The idea of the 2-3 hour lunch break in Italy is disappearing. When I arrived in Italy 28 years ago all shops, even big supermarkets, used to close from about 1.30 until 4.00 pm. Now more and more shops stay open all day, particularly supermarkets and other large stores.

On the other hand, although the shops in Italy traditionally closed in the middle of the day (which makes sense in the heat of summer), they stayed open much later than in Northern Europe, until 8.00 pm. The result is that many shops now have longer hours than in Northern Europe, because they no longer have the long lunch break, but they still close late.

So while that journalist is urging the Chinese to behave more like Italians, perhaps Italian working practices are moving a little more (luckily not too much more!) in the direction of China.

Lariko Melnik said...

By the way, what are KTV parlours?

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