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Chinese Squat Theory

Behaviour normally observed in China, but completely foreign in Western Society might not be as foreign as I thought it was. Or maybe globalization of cultures is becoming more widespread than I thought.

It was the weirdest thing. Two years ago, I went to China for the very first time. I had anticipated some sort of culture shock but I would be spending five weeks there so I figured it would be enough time to adjust and move along.

I learned a lot on that trip about Chinese heritage and today’s Chinese. The warnings of people spitting all over the street and the rarity of regular seated toilets are all true. But no one warned me about the squatting.

Regardless of the area, everywhere I went in China I saw people squatting. In Western society, where I would normally see people standing (e.g. waiting for the bus, queuing up to buy groceries, playing chess in the park) I would see people squatting.

I have heard people say that it’s better for your posture because the human spine is one of evolution’s screw ups, but you can’t tell me that it looks at all aesthetically pleasing. There I was, standing at the edge of beautiful West Lake in Hangzhou, admiring the scenery, and I turn to see two old men, squatting on the bench. I really ruined the moment.

Several years prior to my trip to China, I was in San Francisco’s Chinatown with my cousin. We had been shopping and went to Chinatown for lunch. When we reached the bus stop, I checked the schedule and saw that the bus would not be arriving for another five minutes. I turned to tell my cousin this but he had disappeared. I looked around but didn’t see him anywhere. For some reason, my eye went downwards and there I saw him squatting on the ground next to me with his arms crossed over his knees. I was mortified! I relayed this story to my grandparents who told me that it was very common for Chinese people to do this (my cousin had only been in America for a few months) and there was nothing at all embarrassing about his behaviour.

So for years now, I have come to accept that Chinese people in China, and new immigrant Chinese to North America do this. I don’t like it, but I’ve accepted that this is their behaviour.

Last week, I was walking down the stairs towards the subway platform behind a medium built Caucasian man in a light grey suit. I didn’t think anything of it, but when we got down to the subway platform, he walked right up to the edge, put down his briefcase and squatted down. I thought at first that he was just going to tie his shoelace or something, but no. He just crossed his arms across his knees as I’ve seen all other Chinese people do and waited for the subway. Being that this is North America, he did look like quite the oddity in doing so. It was so shocking that several people turned to look at him oddly and then quickly look away (it’s not polite to stare). There’s really only one explanation for it though. He must be the one white guy who was raised in China.

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  1. Jim

    On February 12, 2011 at 8:49 pm


    I admit it’s intriguing. Physiologically it can be explained by citing the fact that the Asian femur is much longer than it’s western counterpart which allows for heels firmly on floor as compared to most Westerners whose heels will be raised. But as to why, pleasure and pain being the ultimate arbiter of choice, perhaps if Westerners could squat with heels flat, the experience would be more pleasurable than standing and therefore the path of least resistance and pain. But then what about perching, a kind of elevated squat http://www.flickr.com/photos/cosmicsausage/5418197328/?

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