From all of our discussions, posts and my own experiences I began to realise how vast Narcissism is. How global it is. My own Ns in my life come from different backgrounds and this not including the eternal acquaintances (a great phrase from Kara). My mother was born and raised in India; Friends: Marian is from Spain (Andalusia); Lydia (England) and Don (Northern Ireland); and throw in some of my classmates from school in the Netherlands (Dutch, Chinese, Indian, American, German, Canadian) – we were a highly narcissistic class! Not to mention when I first moved to Belgium I became friends with a person from Japan and soon stopped contact after a series of behaviours that were unhealthy for me.
Some cultures hide it better than others just from the nature of their norms and acceptability of lying or the openness of information. In Indian culture, it is okay to lie to each other, of course, not when it doesn’t suit oneself and most Indians would not dare to admit that lying is acceptable to an ‘outsider’.
It takes time to see forms of narcissism in people from other cultures – some of it is our own knowledge and a lot to do with language barriers. And still, I think we are able to pick up narcissism across all our differences purely based on our knowledge and how we feel from being with someone.
Recently, I traveled with DH to Shanghai. It was my first time in China and I am glad I went. It isn’t as easy to get around but one can get around. I had a lot of time on my own while DH was working. Here’s my observations on my trip:
Narcissism in Mandarin? 自恋狂 (Zì liàn kuáng)
While I was on the metro a middle aged woman entered and wanted to sit down. A young woman was sitting between two people and if she moved over a bit (in either direction) there would be enough room for one more person. The middle age woman said something to the young woman seated while pointing to the left. My guess, she asked her (in not so friendly tone) to move over to the left. The young woman moved over to the right making space for her to sit. The middle aged woman started yelling at her – while yelling she kept pointing to the left and then pointing to the other side her. The young woman clearly not happy with this started yelling back pointing to each side – my guess saying that either way she has a place to sit. At first, I thought they were mother and daughter because of the tone and aggressiveness of the argument. Then, as people started to exit and more space became available I saw that this wasn’t the case.
The middle aged woman moved down the aisle to another seat and her husband sat next to her while the young woman remained on the other side. As I stood there, I was wondering why the woman was so upset that the young woman didn’t move in the direction she pointed. With the available space it would not have mattered. Then, next to me another young woman was busy with her shoe. I realised that her shoe was broken. I thought that that sucks especially since it was pouring outside that day. My thoughts were distracted again by the middle aged woman. She was staring at the young woman with the broken shoe. A wide smile came across her face, almost a chuckle, which was such a contrast to her earlier state. She whispered to her husband and he turned to look at the young woman. His response was of total disinterest and ignored it. The middle aged woman continued to look at the woman with the broken shoe with a smile – a look of total amusement. To someone else’s crappy day.
I exited at my stop and I thought – man, those behaviours are everywhere, we just have to be able to see it. We have to look through what is said and beyond. And in some places it exists hidden away behind polite manners, it’s inside cultural norms, sometimes it’s beneath lies that look like truths, sometimes within a person who appears generous and makes us feel like we belong for a split second.
Just sometimes, every once in a while, you can even hear it. One of things I like doing when I travel is to take in not only what I see but also what I feel and hear and smell. And let me tell you, a huge city of 23 million people does not smell very good – and such is the case with many big cities around the world. And over the course of the week, as I got ‘used’ to (relatively) all the people, I began getting accustomed to the sounds. Noises and sounds tell me about danger and safety just as much as my eyes. On our last two days when DH wasn’t working we went outside the city to a lake and a canal town. Still, a lot of people but with more families spending time together. It was nice to get out of the hustle and bustle. And as I walked around I missed something that I have gotten quite used to when I’m in situations with a lot of people – a situation where there are a lot of families.
I didn’t hear one single baby or child cry or whine. In a country of 1.3 billion people I missed the sounds of children. There were children everywhere and I was struck at how well mannered they were. It was so strange. I mentioned this to DH. And he looked at me strangely and said ‘oh my god, I don’t hear it either’. Here, we were surrounded my more families than we have come across living in Belgium and yet, I haven’t heard a single baby cry out. DH then said, maybe they are happy. I replied with: what baby or child do you know is quiet and happy all the time?
A few memories were triggered by DH’s response – the children seem happy. I am told often by my family (and old school friends) that I was such a happy child and now it seems such a contrary to my current relationship with my family. Although Indian and Chinese cultures are different, there are quite a few similarities. The appearance that everything is okay even when it isn’t and even when you don’t feel like this. I remember reading how babies can learn this trait early on (I forget the source). They can learn to suppress their crying, their struggle to get something they need very early on. It doesn’t take long to train a baby. They know no different. And I wonder if my state of happiness was my own learned way of repressing my cries.
And as I continued to listen for other sounds and feelings, I began to see how much more we are connected as humans. We have different beliefs and values and norms. We enter the world the same and we soon discover that the world pushes upon us its own values and beliefs in various forms through the world of our parents / caregivers. The norms and behaviours of a culture get pushed upon our parents / caregivers and we continue in a rhythm that creates a false sense of peace.
Here’s a photo of Pudong in Shanghai:
P.S. I in no way want to imply that Indian and Chinese cultures are inherently narcissistic – merely that it exists everywhere – in every culture; just recounting my experiences of growing up with Indian parents and with observations during my travels.
Photos from Shanghai trip:
Art by entrance to metro station
West Lake (Hángzhōu)
Boat transport Zhūjiājiǎo