Sounds of Narcissism in Mandarin

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.

xxoo TR

Photos from Shanghai trip:


People’s Square


People’s Square


Art by entrance to metro station


West Lake (Hángzhōu)


Bike transport


Boat transport Zhūjiājiǎo


24 thoughts on “Sounds of Narcissism in Mandarin

  1. When I finally decided to stop lying, especially to myself, I still thought, “I hate that I had to deal with NM, but at least most people don’t deal with someone like her.” Silly me. I recently reconnected with someone I grew up with from early childhood but went our separate ways for many years. We talk now and realize we could almost trade NMs. It’s odd and funny how we don’t have to finish sentences, simply head in the general direction. I realize we’re all born with a certain amount of narcissism. It’s how babies survive, but it’s astonishing how many people never grow out of it and turn it into a nasty art form. Thanks for sharing the example. It adds to my overall picture to help me better recognize the behavior.


  2. I experienced Shanghai very differently. People were gregarious and generous to me and my then 9 year old son, very eager to practice English and share their culture with us. I took a tour with a gentleman who even showed us the back rooms of shops and where the regular folk lived. While it was crowded, people were tidy and had pride in their homes. Kids dressed crazy and laughed and seemed pretty normal, if less angsty than American teens. This was about 10 years ago, so maybe it changed.

    That middle aged “lady” sounds like a real peach. I’m glad the young woman didn’t shift to the side the middle aged one wanted her to. Once upon a time, I probably would’ve do e what the woman asked just out of irrational fear.


    • Hi PV,
      Thanks for highlighting your experience. I have seen Chinese and Indian people to be very generous especially when visiting their homes. I think your experiences are still valid today.

      It was interesting on the metro. I would have done the same thing earlier too.
      xxoo TR


  3. Hi TR, this is a really interesting post. You’ve got to be right about this. That narcissism can be a universal trait, to greater or lesser degrees, but cultures manage or channel it differently. I guess the Chinese often use their sons as conduits for parental narcissism–what the son achieves “for” the parents. I also think that the temperament and intelligence of children makes a big difference. If a child is very intuitive or sensitive, s/he will be more hurt by parental narcissism, less able to let it roll off, than a child with thicker emotional skin. It’s such a complicated nexus. I love hearing about your experiences in these places. The story about the Chinese woman is fascinating–like she wanted the young woman to get up and evacuate her seat altogether for the older woman, even though she scooted over and made room. One thing that seems to be universal is many people’s tendencies to take pleasure in the misfortunes of others. I guess we all do it but most of us only in contexts that are highly specific (ie, someone has repeatedly pissed us off, then something happens to that person. Not something tragic, but something, say, unfortunate. I’ve been known to experience a bit of schadenfreude and I aint too proud to admit it!).


    • Thank you, CS. When I look at all my experiences I am often in shock at how this trait develops in the context of different cultures. It has been a learning experience to replay tapes from my parents and then from my friends who are American or European.
      Yeah, me2. I’ve written about my own narcissistic behaviours. Figuring out where they come from and why this is my response. xxoo


  4. Very interesting post TR, I’d like to add the following nationalities to the list 😉 : Italian, Portuguese, Australian, South African, Danish.
    What you said about babies learning quick is so true: years ago someone explained to me that the babies of deaf people don’t cry. They learn very quickly that they’re not being heard.

    Kara xxoo


  5. This is an interesting post, TR. I have to admit that my ignorant American mentality had me thinking that narcissism is more serious and more widespread here in the U.S. than it is abroad. But I’m sure that is not true. I mean, of course narcissism is everywhere, because there are undeveloped, self-centered, unhappy people everywhere. I do still wonder if narcissism as a cultural norm is greater here than it is elsewhere, though. I have no frame of reference to say, so I really appreciate this post. As a world traveler, what are your thoughts on this?


    • Thanks, Kitty. That is no way an ignorance. I think that with all the information out there – it would seem that narcissism exists (solely) in the US.

      ‘I do still wonder if narcissism as a cultural norm is greater here than it is elsewhere, though.’ I have thought a lot about this for a really long time since identifying narcissism in my FOO – because my FOO is from India. And then when I moved here – I saw it with friends who were not from the US. I have many thoughts on this and I have wanted to write more about cultures and narcissism – I think part of me would be putting my opinions out there and these would be opinions based solely on experiences and not on additional resources (books, blogs, etc.) I struggle with this a lot because I do have prejudices about the Indian culture and knowing this, I know that how I communicate my ‘findings’ needs to be thought through and weighed out cautiously.
      xxoo TR


      • Well, I hope you do some posts on this TR because it’s a fascinating topic. Understanding the viewpoints of people from other cultures is always helpful, and always interesting. And hey, it’s your blog! You are free to write any thoughts and opinions you have! If I waited to research every opinion I ever had, I would never get anything posted, lol. I for one would LOVE to hear more about your experiences with narcissism in Indian culture, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I think it would really help me put my own experiences into a better perspective.





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