It’s time for Christmas holidays with the family in America. After working and living in China for six and a half years, I now experience culture shock each time I return to Washington.
Empty sidewalks. Empty subways. Clean air. Polite people. Polite drivers. (Yes, by Beijing standards.)
I also appreciate those American characteristics that are so deeply ingrained that I can’t change, no matter how hard I try to adapt to my surroundings in Beijing. Here is a list of some of those American traits that give me reverse culture shock – and some I can’t shake.
- American food portion sizes are obscene. The steaks are enormous. And so are the plates. No wonder people eat so much. No wonder we’ve become a super-sized society.
- Americans eat way too quickly. Maybe it’s the chopsticks that have slowed me down. But I seem to be the last person finished with my meal each time I return to the U.S. Eating slowly improves digestion and helps you lose weight. Another reason there are so many obese Americans with heartburn.
- Most of the world doesn’t share America’s obsession with junk food, fried food and gloppy, sweet sauces. I have to admit it: I love good French fries (especially in Belgium). But do we have to eat everything fried, or cooked in/with bacon.
- Americans are impatient. We want what we want when we want it. We don’t like to wait in lines. We like our customer service to be friendly. (But not too “have-a-nice-day” saccharine.) Basically, we want service. Most of the world isn’t like that. They wait in lines. In England, the queue up. They don’t complain. I’m American. I complain. I can’t help it.
- Guns. Rifles. Machine guns. The rest of the world will never understand the fascination of so many Americans with weapons of death and destruction. Try explaining to Chinese (or Europeans, or Africans) why the U.S. Supreme Court says Americans have the right to own and use assault weapons. You can talk about the Founding Fathers and the anger at British soldiers for billeting themselves in private homes. You can talk about militias and suspicion of too much government power. Almost nobody agrees.
- American football does not translate. While NBA basketball enjoys a rabid following in China, and the NHL has a modest cadre of ice hockey fans, the National Football League does not compute. Modern-day gladiators and physical freaks ripping each other’s heads off for the pleasure of the masses and the profits of the few. OK, every society has its peculiar attractions. We don’t eat duck paws or pig’s brains in America, after all.
- The Electoral College just cannot be explained. America is a democracy, right? We tell that to people around the world. But the presidential candidate with the most votes wins? No, she doesn’t. The only things harder to explain than the logic of the Electoral College are gerrymandering and the fact that California and Alaska have the same number of senators. Democracy. In theory: great. In practice, it’s complicated. But better than the alternative.
- What is a Kardashian? The peculiarly American trait of people being famous for being famous is a hard one to explain.
- Binge-watching is unheard of. Most people from most countries don’t sit in front of a screen for days on end and watch a TV series. They find the modern American habit a bit amusing, if baffling.
- More food differences: Americans expect ice in their drinks. Americans expect cold beer. Americans expect free refills on (most) drinks. After six-plus years, I’ve given up ice. But I prefer my beer chilled, not room temperature.
- Americans are caffeine addicts. The morning cup of coffee is American (and European). It’s definitely not Chinese, at least yet. Every visiting professor in my program asks where they can get a morning coffee fix. I now find this American addiction to be amusing. I prefer some nice Chinese tea.
- Americans tip. A lot. And they tip a lot of people. Chinese people don’t tip. Some students of mine, visiting Washington, asked if they had to tip the waiter at a bar-and-grill. After all, the bill already was $30 per person, including tax. Yes, I sternly replied. It’s not optional.
- Americans drive on small errands. In the U.S., people drive to the grocery store, drive to the pharmacy, drive to the library, drive to restaurants. It’s the default means of transportation. I still have to readjust each time I return. I’m so used to jumping on the subway or my bike.
- Americans are very old-fashioned when it comes to paying for products. Cash is almost obsolete in China. Electronic payments via AliPay or WeChat Pay are the norm. Americans use credit cards, many with big annual fees and high interest rates. A lot of Americans still carry cash. How 20th century.
- Americans stubbornly cling to their weights and measures. Almost every country in the world has gone metric. Not the US of A. Every American expat has to translate their heights, weights, volumes and temperatures. Since I’m mathematically inclined, it’s easy. Other Americans just give up. But when they say it’s 32 degrees, they mean it’s freezing. People in China are baffled because they seem to be saying that it’s 90 degrees (Fahrenheit) – 32 degrees Celsius. By the way, I am 168 cm tall.
- You can’t always get what you want. Some food favorites from the U.S. are not popular in China: Bagels, donuts, rye bread, corned beef, cheese, queso, hummus, cream of mushroom soup. We have to be patient and wait for the next trip home.
- Chinese have a different version of Christmas. Yes, there are Santa Clauses, Christmas trees and Christmas songs across China. ‘Tis the season for conspicuous consumption. What’s missing? In a sentence: The Chinese Christmas does not have Christ and does not have a mass. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Do you have any more cultural differences to add to the lift? Post a comment.
All of us have vivid memories of where we were when we found out about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. I was three blocks from the White House having breakfast with a group of reporters and three of Bill Clinton’s top political advisers. The following memory comes from my niece Delia’s boyfriend Jake. It is wiser than anything I could write:
Sixteen years ago, I watched from my elementary school window as smoke shot out of the twin towers and a second plane collided with the buildings. At that age, 7, almost 8, I couldn’t comprehend what was happening. I honestly believed it to be a super high budget movie. The wind blew debris over my school, as my classmates and I ran around the yard collecting scraps in childlike glee.
They took us inside and turned on the news as parents arived to bring their children home, and my friends and I played and laughed, ignorant in the happenings of our city.
My dad arrived and brought me home. A look of pure stress on his face, but I still sat smiling at a day of school ending earlier than usual.
As I’ve aged, my understanding grew quickly, and now every year I remember what it was like to be carefree and ignorant, before a great tragedy took countless lives from this earth.
This world is in turmoil. Take today to remember what what the world looked like before you knew its truth, and know the truth can become the peaceful world of a child’s thoughts if we stop the hate and remember to love.
Here is the text of my address to the 2017 graduating class of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University on June 28, 2017.
大家好。Добрый день. Benvenuti. Welcome.
I am honored, on behalf of the International Center for Journalists and the international faculty of the Global Business Journalism Program, to congratulate all of you on your successful completion of your graduate studies.
You are a special group – the best young business journalism minds in China, along with a unique mixture of nations: Iran, Israel, Italy, Vietnam, Thailand, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Slovakia, Turkey, Russia, Canada, and the United States. Some of you already have made a mark on the world of business journalism during your Tsinghua years. I have great confidence that many more of you will have an impact in the years to come, in journalism systems as disparate as Iran, the United States and China.
All of us in this room have our differences – cultural, geographical, even political – but one thing that unites us is the search for truth. As Jim Asher, a 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner for his role in the Panama Papers investigation, said recently: “A world without facts can’t function.”
We live in an unsettling era when the concept of “truth” can be a matter of dispute. Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to Donald Trump, has declared that the White House is entitled to its own “alternative facts.” Whatever that means.
To the graduating class of 2017 and your proud professors, that’s just plain nonsense. We owe it to the public, whether we operate in the United States, China, or anywhere around the world, to share the truth, as best as we can tell it, and to explain what the truth means to our audience. As the 2017 National Press Club president, Jeffrey Ballou, said to fellow American journalists in Akron, Ohio: “Truth is not a game at all.”
The esteemed Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, in Братья Карамазовы, The Brothers Karamazov, summed up the predicament of the perpetual prevaricator. “The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie,” he wrote, “comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.”
We must respect knowledge, respect truth, and respect ourselves. We owe it to the global public to use the knowledge we have gained about China and about global economics to provide our audiences with intelligent, insightful and factual reports. With your newfound expertise on the Chinese economy, globalization, corporate strategies and much more, you can communicate clearly and comprehensively, on any multimedia platform, about issues ranging from the Paris climate change accords to the Belt and Road Initiative.
One of my favorite philosophers, Nelson Mandela, said that “a good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”
You have something very special – tools that you can use to make the world a more informed and a more just place. Because, as our dean, Liu Binjie, said in his speech welcoming many of you to the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication in September 2016, “Justice is the soul of the news.”
Barbara Cochran, my successor as president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute in Washington, reminds us that truth is an imperfect pursuit, and journalists are imperfect people. “All news organizations make mistakes from time to time,” she said recently, “but they are trying to tell the truth and generally do it well.”
Truth and justice. The Global Business Journalism program has been trying to live up to the highest international standards for the past 10 years. Since 2007, the GBJ program has combined rigorous academics with practical journalism training in a cross-cultural setting at one of the world’s great universities.
Thanks to the vision of brilliant minds such as Professor Li Xiguang, ICFJ president Joyce Barnathan, and ICFJ vice president Vjollca Shtylla, the GBJ program was created. Thanks to the financial and journalistic support of Bloomberg News, ICFJ, the Knight Foundation and Bank of America, it has grown and prospered. Thanks to the commitment of Tsinghua leaders like Dr. Hang Min, Dean Shi, Dean Chen, Dean Hu, Professor Lee Miller, Professor Dai Jia, and many more, it has a bright future. Thanks to dedicated and high-achieving alumni from some 60 countries, GBJ is improving the quality of journalism – and public understanding of economic issues — in China and around the world.
I close by quoting my favorite philosopher, my grandfather, Barrows Dunham. In his 1947 book Man Against Myth, he concluded that understanding the truth was necessary to overcome society’s myths. “With words, as with knowledge generally,” my grandfather wrote, “there can be no substitute for constant analysis of fact.”
Truth. Justice. Words. Knowledge. Tsinghua. That pretty much sums it up. Congratulations on your achievements in the Global Business Journalism Program. I look forward to your truth-telling in the years to come.
Welcome to the third installment of The Index, a series of posts analyzing the latest polling data through the lens of 100 micro-targeted demographic groups. Today, we look at the voters who can’t make up their minds.
The presidential campaign polling has been remarkable stable over the past month — despite temporary blips — but the number of voters who are not supporting either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump remains historically high for the summer before a presidential election.
On June 5, Hillary Clinton was leading Donald Trump in Reuters Polling, 40.9 percent to 30.9 percent — a margin of 10 percentage points.
On July 5, Clinton led the presumptive Republican nominee by 40.2 percent to 30.0 percent — a margin of 10.2 percentage points.
Both candidates declined a little over the month. Trump slipped a bit more than his Democratic rival. In some ways, the minuscule decline is good news for Trump. He had a horrendous month in “free media”: Jewish stars and white supremacist message boards; a quick trip to Scotland; a vice presidential search (and rescue) mission; more praise for Saddam Hussein’s murderous efficiency; and more former Reagan and Bush (41 + 43) officials endorsing Democrat Clinton. The controversies dinged Trump temporarily, but each time he seemed to bounce back to his core support, 10 points behind Clinton’s core.
Clinton also weathered a media storm over her email server and the final report of the Republican Benghazi committee. But the clouds over her candidacy are hindering her from pulling away from the most unpopular Republican presidential candidate since the invention of scientific polling.
Amid the two candidates’ troubles, the number of undecided voters — already higher than at comparable times in recent election cycles — continued to grow. These are the people who tell Reuters they support another candidate, favor “none of the above,” plan to stay home on Election Day, or refuse to answer the question. This “other” category ticked up from 28.2 percent to 29.8 percent — within the poll’s margin of error, but still the only number that has gone up since early June.
To get from 30 percent to 50 percent, Trump has to win about two-thirds of these up-for-grabs voters. So let’s look at our 34 “battleground” voting groups and see which of these blocs has the most undecided voters. You can decide for yourself if Trump is likely to win two-thirds of them.
Battleground groups with highest share in the “other” column:
- Mormon women 54% (Clinton leads by 4 points*)
- Latinos earning $100,000 a year and more 39% (Clinton leads by 41 points)
- Midwestern white women 39% (Trump leads by 7)
- Lean conservative 38% (Clinton leads by 4 points)
- Great Lakes states voters 35% (Clinton leads by 6 points)
- All women 33.7% (Clinton leads by 7 points)
- White men under age 30 32% (Clinton leads by 4 points)
- Midwestern voters 31.8% (Clinton leads by 6.5 points)
- White voters under 40 31.1% (Clinton leads by 24.9 points)
- Single whites (never married) 30.9% (Clinton leads by 19)
Analysis: Mormon women can’t decide between two unpalatable choices. Trump has the support of only 10 percent of America’s wealthiest Latinos, but 39 percent still are not committed to either major-party candidate. Midwestern voters are the most volatile, with Midwestern women resisting Clinton but not fully embracing Trump. White men under 30 — the Bernie Sanders demographic — still have not moved to Clinton. But they haven’t gone to Trump, either.
Bottom line: More upside for Clinton among these voters, if she can close the deal. Trump can do very little to win many of these voters. They are there for Clinton to win or lose.
Now here are the battleground groups with lowest share in the “other” column:
- White Catholic men 13% (Clinton leads by 13 points)
- Whites earning between $75K and $100K 18% (Clinton leads by 18 points)
- Southern white men with college degree 20% (Clinton leads by 2 points)
- All men 20.7% (Clinton leads by 8.9 points)
- Voters earning $75K+ 22.2% (Clinton leads by 20.4 points)
Analysis: Men are more likely to have made up their minds already. And Clinton is doing surprisingly well among some unlikely blocs including Southern white men with college degrees and white Catholic men. If she were doing as well among white Catholic women as among men, she would have clinched the battleground states of the industrial heartland. Trump has lost upper-middle-class voters of all races and genders, and he’s losing college-educated voters, even in the South.
Bottom line: Most swing voters who’ve made up their minds have chosen Clinton.
While the overall “horserace” numbers haven’t changed in the past month, some of my 100 key demographic subgroups have shown movement. Here are some examples:
The Index analyzes the 2016 presidential election through the voting preferences of 100 different demographic blocs. Thirty-three of them are part of Donald Trump’s Republican base. Thirty-three of them are part of Hillary Clinton’s Democratic base. And 34 of them are battleground groups — keys to both candidates’ paths to the White House.
The information for the feature comes from Reuters’ polling data, which is available, open source, on the internet. I am using Reuters’ rolling five-day averages for most of my analysis. I chose Reuters’ numbers because the poll is respected, but, most of all, because the global news service makes the information available to anyone. You can check behind me to examine my methodology — or to create new searches of your own.
One small asterisk (*): Certain subgroups are too small to have a statistically significant counts on the five-day average. In the cases marked with an asterisk (*), I have included data for these groups from the past 30 days of polling. One warning: Subgroups are, by definition, smaller than the entire survey, so they have a larger margin of error and more volatility from survey to survey.
It has been a honor to serve as international co-director of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University for the past three years. Here is a transcript of my remarks at the 2016 commencement on June 30:
This is a very special day for all of us. To you, the graduating class of 2016, it is the culmination of a multicultural, global experience that is certain to benefit you personally and professionally. For me, this day is very special, too.
This is the first group of Chinese students I taught at Tsinghua, and you have made this veteran journalist into a better professor and a better person. Jiao Jie, Cynthia, Jarchine. I could go on and on. I have such respect and affection for you. I am so proud of all of you.
This is the first group of international students I interviewed, taught and mentored from beginning to end. Jade: you may not remember it, but I recall asking you in your interview: Who was your favorite character from En Attendant Godot? (I bet you didn’t prepare for that question.)
From the beginning, I can remember being supremely impressed by the qualifications and enthusiasm of Lauren and Gaelle, who have been leaders and high achievers since the day they arrived.
And I can remember recruiting Jordyn as if she were a star athlete in the United States and I were an eager coach. I knew she would be an invaluable addition to our program. Even while she’s still in school, she’s published superb articles in Forbes and Beijing Review, respected global news outlets.
I am honored, on behalf of the faculty of the Global Business Journalism Program and the International Center for Journalists, to congratulate all of you on your successful completion of graduate studies at the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication.
You are entering an uncertain world of journalism … of business and economics … of geopolitics and global conflict. I guess any commencement speaker could have said that at any time. But the pace of technological change, the immediacy brought by social media and 24/7 news, and the interconnectedness of the world, have made it easier for human beings to create positive things — or sow destruction anywhere, anytime.
The disruption created by the digital communications revolution has affected businesses from Dallas to Da Tong. In our world of journalism and communication, traditional forms of communication are collapsing – rapidly in America and Europe, more slowly in China. But make no mistake about it, the old world is gone and will never be revived, despite the antediluvian longings of ultranationalists and isolationists and technophobes.
The good news is that there are so many opportunities for people who embrace change and embrace the latest technologies. You are among the fortunate few. You have been trained in the latest technologies, but you also understand the enduring basics of journalism: accuracy, fairness, accountability, ethics and compelling storytelling. The Global Business Journalism program is a combination of a rigorous academic education taught by some of the finest professors in China, and a real-world journalism newsroom where students learn from distinguished journalists from around the world and create professional multimedia projects and data journalism reports.
With the skills you have learned, and the intelligence and drive you bring to your work, I have no doubt some of you are going to be journalism industry leaders and innovators, in China and around the world.
The Global Business Journalism Program is about to begin its tenth academic year this fall. In its first decade — with the support of Bloomberg News, ICFJ, the Knight Foundation and Merrill Lynch/Bank of America — it has brought together students from about 60 countries to experience a diversity of cultures and ideas.
The GBJ program has been indispensable in creating a new generation of business journalists who are reshaping and improving journalism in China. Not only does Chinese journalism benefit from our superbly trained alumni, but international journalism benefits because the next generation of reporters from Cameroon to California have a more accurate and sophisticated view of the Chinese economy and its role in global growth – and an understanding of the highest standards in global reporting.
What’s more, GBJ has created de facto goodwill ambassadors for China in dozens of countries throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. It could not come at a more important time.
The journalism industry is facing an era of limits. In the United States and Europe, those limits are mostly economic: the profit imperative at a time of declining revenues, the mistaken choice of click bait journalism over quality. In China, those limits are mostly political.
But neither the journalism establishments of China nor the rest of the world can afford to be reactive. Traditional news outlets, whether in Beijing or Great Britain, are at risk of losing the next generation of information consumers to social media or alternative sources of information. We must – and we will –adapt, to create innovative new ways to share news.
I would like to close by quoting from my favorite philosopher, who happens to be my grandfather, Barrows Dunham. Seventy years ago, as the world emerged from the destruction wrought by fascists, he wrote in his book Man Against Myth that the peoples of our planet faced “ambiguous gloom, which may perhaps be twilight and may perhaps be dawn.”
Sounds like today. Looking at the pace of change, he wrote in 1947:
“In our day, indeed, events have attained so formidable a tempo that a single lifetime … will seem to contain more than there once appeared to be in history itself.”
Sounds like today.
Every generation sees an unprecedented pace of social change. That is the reality of human accomplishment, and human nature. There are always those who see the dawn and those who see the sunset. In the dawn of our new era, many in our chosen line of work will resist the changes that are needed.
This challenge reminds me of the Season 6 finale of Game of Thrones – specifically, the reaction of the receptionist at the Citadel, who, in response to a message delivered by Samwell Tarly, told our hero: “This is highly irregular.”
“Well,” Samwell responded, “I suppose that life is irregular.”
Indeed, life is irregular. But we can’t respond to occasional irregularities by retreating or taking the safe path. We must pursue the ambitious vision we learned in GBJ.
As all of you know, I am an optimist. I choose to see the dawn. I don’t fear the future, and you should not, either. You are uniquely prepared to be the change – to lead the change – as we approach the third decade of the 21st century.
To quote Dr. Dunham one last time: “Even now, we ourselves are determining the future, not by knowing what it will be, but by conceiving what it can be.”
Congratulations to the GBJ graduating class. Good luck to all of you. Thank you.