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Gossip among cultures Gossip among cultures
by Joseph Gatt
2020-01-02 10:30:09
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I use a condescending, almost racist term for China, Japan and Korea and ASEAN nations. I call them the “yellow” papers; because of how much they love to sit down and gossip (it's basically all they do). The Arab world, Indians and South Asians love gossip. Arabs and South Asians tend to be very judgmental. Europeans are no big fans of gossip, and will leave the room if you start gossiping. Latin Americans like to discuss who's sexually “hot” and who's “not.” And North Americans and Israelis will tend to gossip in an informative way, that is telling you what you should know about a person and how that can help you understand the person, or how that person can help.

The “yellow” papers

In China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Korea, Japan and ASEAN nations I'm famous for being an “arrogant prince” who is “lazy” and enjoys “smoking and drinking coffee” and doesn't get much done.

goss01_400“Arrogant prince” because I often refuse to bow and treat older people like friends, and often lecture older people, a big “no no” in Asian nations. Lazy because I can't get anything done if I don't chat it out. In East Asia, you're better off pretending to work from 7 AM to 1 AM, even if that involves blankly staring at your computer screen all day. Smoking and drinking coffee in East Asia is viewed as a sign of laziness, and you only chain smoke during official breaks at work or in the privacy of your own home. Doesn't get much done because in East Asia “getting things done” involves how much time your ass was on that chair, not how much you're helping humanity.

Gossip in East Asia is a free game. A favorite topic is “who slept with whom.” East Asians also keep careful notes on who dates whom and who dated whom in the past.

Favorite adjectives to describe people are “he or she's diligent” but by “diligent” they tend to mean “obedient” and “a good slave in the master-slave traditional relationship.” Another favorite adjective is “he or she's demanding” and by “demanding” they tend to mean someone who throw tantrums at subordinates. Not someone who has clear rules on how they expect work to get done. “Demanding” means someone who likes to yell at employees, with no clear rules in mind.

Another favorite when it comes to gossip is “who likes whom” and “who hates whom.” East Asians love to discuss how “John hates Jack because...” or “Jessica loves Sally because...”

Yet another favorite topic is family background. Another one is educational background. Another is financial background and ability.

Finally, how a person grooms him or herself is a big favorite when gossiping about people. For women, facial features are incredibly detailed as in “she has small/big eyes” or “she has a round/V-shaped chin” or she has a “small/round/oval/big face” or “a huge front” or “dented teeth” and so on. Makeup choices and outfit choices are gossiped about in detail, as in good choices or terrible choices. Haircuts are analyzed and scrutinized. Men's haircuts, outfit choices, choice of shoes and facial features are also discussed at length.

Finally, finally, when East Asians have a crush or fall in love they tend to discuss that very openly with their friends, which leads to awkward situations, because secrets are not very well kept to say the least. This can lead to terrible situations of exploitation. A Korean girl friend of mine found out through gossip that a guy liked her. She made the guy perform all kinds of tasks and chores, before, when they guy was really warming up a bit too much, she abruptly told him that she “had a boyfriend she intends to marry.” She was lucky nothing happened to her.

Unfortunately, intellectual abilities tend not to be a hot topic when it comes to gossip in East Asia, and those tend to be considered futile. He speaks 4 languages, so what? He can unsolve math problems so what? She can write beautiful poems, so what? She can get the work done, so what? This is East Asia's Achilles heel, as they tend to do away with intellectual. When hiring people, they will look at all that I discussed above, but won't look at intellectual potential or skills. East Asians tend to believe that any skill can be learned with the necessary efforts.

Arabs and South Asians: the Supreme Court Justices

There's an Arab writer who was promoting his book on a show. I patiently watched for a few minutes. The writer lives in Italy, and claims that “Europeans always learn the language of their host country, but Arabs don't.” That was one of many generalities he was claiming.

Now I know Arabs who are great at learning the language of their host country and I know Europeans who don't bother learning the language of their host country. But Arabs and South Asians, as a general rule, do have something I like to call a “tribal complex of inferiority.”

That is when chatting with Arabs and South Asians; they will spend hour after hour lecturing each other about how they “failed” as a nation. They will give example after example of how Arabs are “not civilized” when “Europeans are civilized.” What I like to tell them is that while life certainly is easier in many ways in Europe, transportation tends to be better, housing tends to be cheaper, consumer goods tend to be more available, banks more reliable. But Europeans also have their flaws. They tend to overspend, go on unnecessary debt, and, more importantly, their bureaucracies and taste for formality can drown people into administrative and justice battles that should be unnecessary. In sum, Europe is not always the heaven on Earth portrayed.

Now when gossiping with Arabs and South Asians you have to be very, very, very careful. Because a lot of times the gossip will be misunderstood as “you” sending “the person you are talking to” covert messages. So if I'm talking to Ahmed and tell him “Zineb is so pretty!” Ahmed will think I'm indirectly hinting that he is handsome. If I tell Ahmed “Zineb is kind of boring!” Ahmed will reply by saying “that's because she always hangs out with boring people!” In sum, discussing football or cricket or cinema is always a safe bet. And even when discussing those you have to be careful. If you mention Zidane's headbutt, they could think you are subtly suggesting that you are very angry at them.

But, Arabs and South Asians love to hate people, and if you hang out with them too much, they will love to hate you (usually). This means they could spend hours discussing with other people how every single thing you did to them was wrong. Below is a story to illustrate this point.

Mohamed (an alias) and Ahmed (another alias) are brothers. They lived together in England for a year before Ahmed was deported back to Egypt because he overstayed his visa. I spent a few days with Mohamed in London and he spit all his venom at Ahmed. “Ahmed smokes too much, he doesn't work, he doesn't want to learn English, he's too lazy, all he does is drink and on and on and on.” Then I met Ahmed in Cairo. “Mohamed is not reliable. He keeps yelling at me. He doesn't teach me anything. He doesn't give me money. He's a control freak. I started dating a British girl and he sabotaged me. And on and on and on.”

Note that one form of gossip that is favored is character assassination. According to the Arabs and South Asians, I “need to take more risks” and “I haven't cut the umbilical cord with my mother” and I  “still heavily depend on my parents” and “I'm lethargic and sit home all day and do nothing.” Problem is: THEY KNOW I'M A FOSTER CHILD.

So why would they say all those things when they know I'm a foster child? Character assassination. They couldn't say I'm a foster child, I should really be in Israel, I have all the potential I need to thrive etc. etc. Because, Arabs and South Asians rarely discuss what makes other people look good. If I make him look good, I look bad. So if other people look good, they will do away with the good stuff and focus on the negatives, or invent the negatives if necessary. And character assassination of good people tends to make bad people feel good about themselves.

Sub-Saharan Africans: you are not an individual

As a general rule in Sub-Saharan Africa, people are rarely perceived as individuals. Things that tend to be discussed are: school performance, driving abilities, property ownership, job and quality of the job, and an estimate of your net worth.

Things that tend not to be discussed are: personality and anything revolving around personality. But choice of hair style, physical features, choice of outfit tend to be heavily discussed.

Note that people who deserve all the praise tend to be deliberately shot down (if you succeed in life people will probably criticize you for being “selfish”) but those who fail at life are also derided and mocked a great deal. And also note that Africans can take great pleasure in “tormenting” people who succeed at life. Let me illustrate this with an example.

We had an African night in Turkey. I was sitting between a high profile soccer player and an African nanny (or maid). The nanny spent almost the entire night destroying the soccer player, everything from his behavior to his attitude with women to his car and house got heavily criticized. Problem is the nanny lives in a basement. But, the soccer player did allow the nanny to go on and on, and I had the feeling he was playing the modesty card as he allowed her to go on. The nanny was older than him, so he treated her like he would treat his mother. 

Latin America: where gossip is “sexy.”

In Arab nations and South Asia, casual dating is rare. So men tend to be very aggressive, and women tend to use gossip about their husbands as a weapon to calm the aggressiveness.

Latin America is a little different. Men don't understand women, and women don't understand men. That is Latin American men often dislike being romantic and will tend to have a “sex is the only thing I want” kind of attitude with women. Women in turn have to play a guessing game where it's never clear if the man's in love or if he's just looking for a one-night-stand.

So women will gossip about men a great deal. They'll try to find out everything they can about as many men as they can. Not just men's wealth and belongings. Of course finances are important, and the more the man has the better. But more important still, is trying to find out whether the man can handle a committed relationship or not. Most women would rather date a committed and kind man (who might have all kinds of shortcomings) than a rich man but who's a serial and aggressive womanizer.

So Latin American women have this theory that the more money and man has, the more likely he's playing around. But, interestingly, a lot of women are looking for the kind of man who has both riches and commitment. That's why gossip magazines are very popular, and most 18 year-old or 21 year-old male actors or singers will claim to desire a committed relationship, which will lead to a deluge of mail from gullible female fans looking for a relationship.

Men look for the sluts. Not always, but men tend to discuss women quite a lot and it's almost like they are grading women on a scale from one to ten to figure out which ones are up for a one-night-stand and which wants want the boring kind of committed relationship.

Other forms of gossip tend to be harmless. A lot of conversations will start with “¿qué pasó con...?” meaning “whatever happened with...” as in “whatever happened with Jason?” they will then share the information they have on Jason, but it will tend to be accurate and non-judgmental. A lot of gossip involves one's ability to adapt or not to certain situations or workplace cultures for example.

Europe: they leave the minute they hear gossip

Of course I'm generalizing here. I was once in Paris, and entered a classroom that had been improvised into a cafeteria. Many students, none of which I knew, were having their salads and sandwiches. Professor Jane Doe had just sent me an email mistakenly telling me that I had too many absences and would thus fail her class. I took it, in Israeli fashion, the girl in my class I didn't know very well, and started telling her that Professor Jane Doe wanted to fail me because she hated my guts for pointing out that she was not married and that she was over 50 yet still wanted me to call her “mademoiselle” yada yada yada. The girl I was talking to blushed, and the guys and girls eating their sandwiches started leaving the classroom one by one. One of the girls slammed the door as she left.

Gossip in Europe varies from country to country. The general idea is as follows: you only gossip with very close friends about people who, very often, your very close friends have never met.

Gossip in Europe is kind of like diamonds. Few people own diamonds, most people wouldn't mind owning diamonds, no one would refuse a diamond, but you wouldn't accept a diamond from a stranger, and you'd feel very uncomfortable with a stranger who showers you with diamonds every day.

So privacy laws are strict in Europe, and television gossip programs know this. Gossip programs on TV make a lot of money. But they also pay a lot of fines to angry entertainers who like to sue those gossip programs. In Europe even if something you say about the entertainer is true, privacy laws mean you have to pay the entertainer a fine. So entertainers don't really mind being gossiped about, because they make cash in the form of fines from gossip.

North America and Israel: you can ask John, he's the one with all the knowledge about maps

Finally, in North America and Israel, people gossip for two reasons: to identify threats, and to see where you can get help.

If someone's a threat, we gossip about him or her. We let them play a bit to find patterns in their game, and then we come up with a game plan to eliminate or weaken the monster. Sometimes we succeed, other times we fail.

If someone can help us, we gossip about them. We tend to discuss who knows what and who can help us with what. For example if I'm the guy who speaks Korean, everyone will know that I'm the guy to talk to if Korean speakers are ever needed.

Finally, of course, we gossip about dating and sex and all that, although we tend to set boundaries on that. That is we might mention that two people are dating, but after discussing that for 3 minutes, a lot of times we're going to be like: “that's none of our business after all, is it?” We also discuss people and how the adjust to life, but tend not to dwell on that either.

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