I noticed a distinct difference on how a child is addressed when mentioned during a social conversation between Chinese and Aussie/French.
A Chinese conversation would go like this between two friends.
– 你家小孩最近怎样？How has your child been recently?
– 她很好！吃得好，睡得好。你家小朋友呢？She’s great. She eats well, and sleeps well. What about yours?
– 他还行吧。他要是能像你们家小孩胃口那么好就好了。He’s ok. I wish he would eat as much as your child.
An Aussie/French conversation would go like this:
– How has Nina been recently?
– She’s great. She eats well, and sleeeps well. What about Jason?
– Jason is ok. I wish he would eat as much as Nina.
The relationship and level of friendship between these two pairs of friends are similar – they both know each other’s child’s name at least. Yet how the children are referred to is different: one as ‘your child’ and another as ‘Nina’ or Jason.
It got me think, because this in fact reflects one of the fundamental values about identity in each society.
In China, One is identified as the child of someone, later on the wife/husband of someone, and then the father/mother of somone before becoming the grandparent of someone. You can argue that it shows how tight the family tie is, but fundamentally it just shows that the ‘self’ is not the most important part in how you identify yourself. You are part of someone else, and that’s what seems to count more than who ‘you’ are. It’s not uncommon that I would know a friend’s wife/husband simply as ‘my friend’s wife/husband’ for many years without actually knowing their names, AND nobody (including my friend, his/her partner, and well myself) seems to be bothered by it. Many friends would perhaps refer to Nina as ‘your child’ for many many years to come, if not forever.
I have noticed that here in Australia, and in France as well for that matter, Nina is referred to as, well Nina. She is an independent identity from day one. Yes she’s my daughter, but before that, she is Nina. Friends know her as Nina. Doctor knows her as Nina. Close neighbours know her as Nina. When Nina was one month old, we received her Australian passport by mail. I was surprised, pleasantly so, that they actually addressed the letter to Nina, not to us her parents! Australian government definitely has Nina on their record, officially.
Another great illustration of this difference is about when the name of the child is given. For Aussie/French, the new-born’s name is revealed often right after the child is born. For Chinese, it’s not uncommon that the child’s name is not confirmed till months later – when the parents have to register the child officially.
I have made some deliberate efforts in referring to Nina as Nina, or 小南as her Chinese nickname, no matter whom I talk to. And I’m also mindful that Nina is just ‘my child’ sometimes for some.