May 11th, 2011
06:54 AM GMT
(CNN) – When China's Vice-Premier Wang Qishan appeared Monday on "The Charlie Rose Show" with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner during a two-day round of political and economic talks, Wang was asked what misperceptions the American public has about China.
“It is not easy to really know China because China is an ancient civilization and we are of the Oriental culture,” Wang told Rose on public television, according to a transcript. "The United States is the world's number one superpower, and the American people, they're very simple people," he said.
What did Wang mean by “simple”? Sounds dangerously close to "dumb" to American ears.
Producers from CNN's Beijing bureau weighed in, saying “单纯 is simple and pure, in a good way. Sometimes we translate it into “innocent ,” meaning their thinking is very straightforward, not complicated.” Another producer said “depending on tone, it’s (somewhere between) neutral to patronizing.”
But in the context of the conversation, Wang seemed to be pointing toward parochialism in the average American’s view of the world.
Wang went on: “If (Americans are) asked to choose to understand a foreign country, first choice would be the European countries, and the South American countries may come second.
“It was not only until recent years that the American people have begun to pay more attention to China. But over the years American media coverage of China has been scarce, and if there were some coverage, most of (the news reports) are lopsided , ” Wang added.
Asked for response, Geithner said: “You know, the thing about America and the world is that our role in the world, we took on this huge role in the world well ahead of the understanding of Americans about what was happening in the world. And that’s changing now.
“When I went to China to study Chinese 30 years ago, it was a unique, exceptional thing,” Geithner continued. “And now, of course, there’s tens of thousands of Americans sitting in China all across the United States. And you’re starting to see a much greater investment by Americans in understanding – not just China – but all the countries that are so important to our interests.”
About 30% of Americans have a passport, compared to 60% in northern neighbor Canada and 75% in the UK. That's too low for such an affluent country, Bruce Bommarito, executive vice president for the U.S. Travel Association, recently told CNN.
Lack of cultural awareness and sensitivity can come back to haunt companies: Think Groupon’s disastrous Superbowl ad – released just as the company was launching in China – that managed to offend all sides on the troubles in Tibet.
What do you think - is the U.S. a parochial nation, and does it create a competitive disadvantage? Are there examples of cultural insensitivities that cost American business?
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