Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to Sit in China

seats at slight angle, heads turn
seats at slight angle, bodies conform
seats at slight angle, bodies slightly turn
President Obama moving furniture
seats at bigger angle, bodies even moreso

seats at wide angle, bodies conform, heads turn

How do you sit in China? Usually side by side, or nearly so, forcing you to turn your whole body, or at least your head, at an uncomfortable angle to speak to the person next to you. Diplomatic protocol is clearly always tweaking seat placement, and body placement (!) to adjust to the situation and chemistry.

Secretary Clinton and PM Wen from Life.com
Secretary Geithner and PM Wen from Life.com
President Obama and President Hu in Australia from australian.com.au
President Obama moving furniture from Commons.wikimedia.org
President Obama and Australian PM Rudd from state.gov
Presidents Bush and Obama from Peopleinpublicplaces.com


  1. Off topic comment -- I'm leaving it here just because it's the top post. (Sorry.)

    I've just begun reading your book, DREAMING IN CHINESE (which I heard of because of your husband's plug on his blog, by the way -- score one for uxorious support!), and like it a lot.

    I'm just curious about one thing. You say early on that you're a linguist, and that you've studied other languages before. I'm curious what other languages you've studied, and how (and whether) the specifics affected your learning of Chinese. (If you cover this later in the book, just point me to the chapter!)



  2. I've studied lots of different languages, to varying degrees of success! Among them, French, German, Japanese, Swedish, Twi (spoken in Ghana). Studying linguistics adds a different dimension; linguistics is the study of the structure and description of language (including the sound system, word system, grammar and semantics); how languages change over time, how languages are similar to and different from each other, and more.
    After all that experience, it was probably a little easier for me to approach Chinese because I had some tools to work with. I could get a pretty good sense of how Chinese is put together, I could recognize patterns in how Chinese works, and I had some skills for dealing with the very different sound system and other mechanics of the language.
    However, this doesn't really carry over to helping me understand and speak the language. Linguists still have to make their theoretical knowledge real!

  3. Deb is being modest, leaving out Italian, Latin, Malay, and Esperanto. And she was an actual French teacher for a while.

    Also, that people *always* say to her what they *never* once have said to me when I speak a foreign language: that her "accent is good." Come to think of it, they don't say that about me even in English.

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