Are you affected with China Bore Syndrome?

Whenever I journey home for a visit, I’m certain that I push the limits of friendship and familial bonds with my constant weaseling of “in China…” into far too many conversations.

Out for dinner, I may casually mention how much cheaper dinning in China is. Walking down the street, I’ll drop a remark about how clean and uncrowded it is, and how no one is j-walking or spitting. And god forbid that some well-intentioned family member order “Chinese” take-out.

The China Daily Show has a hilarious piece entitled “Returned expat ‘won’t shut up about China’” which mocks something I’m sure many a laowai is guilty of being affected by: China Bore Syndrome.

“Jim was fine before he left,” neighbour Herb Winkleman, 43, told China Daily Show. “We used to talk about local politics, whether the Browns have a chance this year, that kind of thing. Now it’s all about yuan appreciation, China’s human rights violations and authentic Henanese cuisine. It’s too much.”

“My son had a ‘Free Tibet’ poster in our garage window. No big deal,” said local resident Ted Fisher. “Frankly, I don’t think Steve even knows where Tibet is. But as soon as Jim saw it, he was all, ‘Well, what about the feudal economy before China invaded? Then Jim was like, yeah, you’re right, the dilution of local customs through Han ethnic migration and Communist education policy is totally wrong.

“Jim wondered whether Steve had considered if the economic benefits and rise in living standards outweighed some of the more egregious tactics employed by officials and pondered whether Steve thought the Party was now taking a more enlightened tone towards some of the criticism aimed at Tibetan governance. Steve said it was just a poster.”

After a night out with friends, or a family dinner, I always feel a pang of annoyance at myself from absent-mindedly falling into the trap of being “that guy”. However, I wonder if this kind of verbal exchange isn’t a lot more common than I think, but that usually its juxtaposition isn’t as contrasted as when the source is an expatriate. What I mean is, if I’m visiting friends in one city and I’m from another city, I wouldn’t hesitate to relate our dining experience to another restaurant or similar past experience.

Likewise, I’m certain that when visiting large metropolitan areas, small-town kids like me regularly make mention of the smog and traffic and vice versa with urbanites commenting how “quaint” and boring small towns are. My thinking is that unlike these solely domestic conversations, when dropping China into a conversation, you can’t help but sound like you’re doing it intentionally, when very likely it is more just a consequence of your experience.

The challenge comes when you are put to the choice of either coming across as a China braggart or being disingenuous and consciously holding your tongue so as to avoid the label of the former. By our nature we are comparative animals, we define everything in our environment by its relation to something else, so I don’t feel as though it’s reasonable to expect ourselves not to draw these analogous lines between our lives in and out of China. But how much is too much?

I think a need for caution comes in when those comparisons become patronizing, but admittedly the whole ordeal is a slippery slope. I doubt many of us set out to intentionally come off as a pompous know-it-all bragging about their global exploits, and in turn boring the pants off all that listen through sideways glances and rolled eyes. The answer, I imagine, is to balance “China this… China that…” conversations with genuine interest in what has happened at home since you left, and comparisons that favour the world in which your friends and family live.

What do you think? How do you avoid being affected with China Bore Syndrome when you return home? Please share your thoughts and experiences below.

“China Bore Syndrome” coined by Todd Finlay. H/T to Aimee Barnes.