I have been watching Chinese movies lately and usually have a lot of questions afterwards. A lot of the themes dont make sense to me. I asked my roommate (picture above) if he has the same issues when he watches American movies or television. He says he has the same thing, he does not understand a lot of what Americans do on tv. I think he has learned 90% of what he knows about American culture from the televisions shows Friends and Desperate Housewives, his two favorites. When I asked him for some examples, here is what he said:
Su Ya Dan: In Friends, I dont understand why Monica's parents dont like her. They like her older brother, Ross, and not her. I dont understand this. Do most American families favor one child over the other?
Me: I dont think so. I think most families treat kids the same.
Su Ya Dan: Also, during Christmas can anything serve as a gift for someone else?
Me: Hmm, it depends. You usually ask the person what they want and then buy them that.
Su Ya Dan: One time in Friends, Joey got his girlfriend a pen as a gift for Christmas. Is this normal?
Me: (laughing) No this is not normal. You usually get them something they want, not a pen. This is a bad gift.
Su Ya Dan: So what do you give your friends as gifts.
Me: Well, I think guys often dont give gifts to their friends. Girls often do because they like gifts but guys dont.
Su Ya Dan: But in Friends, all of them gave gifts to each other, including Ross, Chandler and Joey.
Me: (laughing) oh really? Well, Friends is not real. I think most American men dont often give their friends christmas gifts. If they have a girlfriend, then you must, but not other friends. Any other questions?
Su Ya Dan: In America, when you move to another house, I dont understand why the neighbors give you presents. Is this true?
Me: Neighbors give you presents? I dont think neighbors give their new neighbors presents.
Su Ya Dan: In Desperate Housewives, some new neighbors moved into the neighborhood and the people gave them cakes and other things.
Me: Oh, well yeah. It is polite to give your new neighbors a cake, some cookies or a bottle of wine. You want to make them feel welcome, right? Do Chinese people not do this?
Su Ya Dan: No, we never give gifts to new neighbors. We might ask them to share a meal but not gifts.
Me: Traditionally, neighbors give new neighors some cake or something but presently, Americans move a lot so it is less common. I dont even know any of my neighbors.
I found this conversation to be very entertaining. Being in China, I have also realized how influential movies and television are in shaping the outside world's perceptions about America. Everyone in China watches American television and movies. It seems by far the most popular show is Friends. It is alwasy the first one they mention. They use it to learn English and the plots and humor are fairly easy to understand. Others are Desperate Housewives, Lost, Prison Break and Hero's. Prison Break is especially interesting because all young Chinese people talk about it as one of their favorite shows but I dont know anyone in America who watches it. Is it very popular there?
So I think American Hollywood has a much more profound world influence than I previously realized. They are responsible for shaping the way the rest of the world views American life. Im not so sure this is a good thing.