Ten Years A Citizen: Ten Learnings

As I come close to celebrating my tenth year of US citizenship, I started thinking about when I first came here in 1989. Despite having traveled extensively around the world before that, I still had some serious cultural barriers to understand. Here are ten entertaining cultural lessons I learned during my first year in the states:

1. “What’s up?” is not, despite how it sounds, a question -– it’s just a way to say hello. It is also acceptable to just echo the sentiment right back -– resulting in two questions, neither of which requires an answer. In fact, actually proceeding to tell the asker all that is indeed “up” provokes great awkwardness and confusion.

2. A “party” does not always entail the usual things you find at parties such as music, food, and entertainment. Among younger people, a party just means there’s cheap liquor and a stale joint or two. I was frequently disappointed the first few times I was invited to “party” only to show up and find seven guys crushing beer cans on their foreheads.

3. It is not rare at all to find rabid sports fans who are grossly overweight.You would assume that a sports fan would stay fit and in shape by actively playing the sport that he or she is such a fan of. But no, you don't need to play the sport to be a fan. You can admire and tout the athleticism of others without having any urge to be athletic yourself. This disconnect does not surprise many Americans.

4. Despite what you see in many movies, only white people seem to high-five one another. Also, you should never actually ask for a high-five because that removes the coolness quotient and makes you look odd. Standing there with your open palm in the air and an expectant grin on your face while waiting for someone to execute the second half of the high-five, however, doesn’t look odd at all, apparently.

5. Losing weight is considered a laudable achievement. The ability to deny oneself excessive or unhealthy food is considered admirable. This is not to say that losing weight is not a healthy and good thing for many people; it's just odd that such an act is worthy of celebration.

6. People who have lots of crosses and crucifixes tattooed on their bodies aren't necessarily strong Christians. Having such tattoos or even wearing clothing or jewelry with crosses is considered a style statement and little else. In some cases, excessive religious iconography can be found on some decidedly un-Christian people.

7. Just because two people are “roommates,” it doesn’t mean that they actually share a single room. People who share a house but have their own bedrooms and bathrooms are still called “roommates.” For the longest time, I thought the majority of single Americans lived with other single Americans in one-bedroom domiciles.

8. On hot days, people –- mostly women –- like to put on bathing suits and lie by a swimming pool. Even though they are wearing swimwear, it’s hot, and they strategically place themselves next to water, they will never actually enter the pool. They just need to be in proximity of it. I had never before experienced a scenario where people would be crowded around the pool but with barely anyone actually in the pool.

9. Though Americans get a lot of flak for generalizing people of other geographical areas and being ignorant of various cultural and political borders, most people outside of the United States do the same thing to Americans. Americans are generalized as a single population who all share a common culture, but the truth is that some subcontinents divided by large oceans share more common values than Americans in different parts of the nation do.

10. People will tattoo just about anything on their bodies as long as it is not of their culture. East Asians never tattoo Chinese or Japanese characters on their bodies, but others do. Tribal tattoos are popular, but only with people who don't come from any of the lands the tribal tattoos originated from. South Asian Hindu iconography or Sanskrit will rarely be found on anyone of actual South Asian heritage.

But I've also made many wonderful discoveries about this great nation. Here's just one (and my favorite):

No matter how well they know (or don’t know) you, if you do not have a place to go on Thanksgiving Day, countless friends and acquaintances will insist upon inviting you into their homes, where you will meet all those odd relatives and family members they told you they never wanted you to meet. And they will feed you until you are bursting and send you home with enough food for a week. It’s an unspoken rule: no one spends Thanksgiving alone if you can help it.

Five Facts About Publishing and Books in China

Jim Bryant is the CEO of Trajectory, Inc. and has negotiated some of the biggest distribution deals for books in China. Here are five myths he dispels about the book market in China:

Myth #1: Except for small urban pockets, the majority of Chinese rarely access the internet and so e-books are just not viable. 
With over 600 million people using the Internet and 80% or more are accessing the web through their smart phones, the digital marketplace is impressive to say the least. A majority of people in China prefer to read on their mobile devices, research shows (especially since the average smartphone screen in China is considerably larger than standard iPhone-size screens -- which makes for a much easier read).  

Myth #2: The government's censorship process stops a lot of work from getting through.
The Chinese government has recently become receptive to importing a larger volume of foreign published titles. The official policy on international engagement is summarized in this simple statement :

qing jinlai, zou chuqu (welcome in, going out).

It is true that all titles imported into the country must be submitted to a government agency for approval, and that can be problematic, but there are ways around it. At Trajectory, we process our titles through a Natural Language Processing engine that helps us identify troublesome topics. By filtering obviously objectionable titles and highlighting titles that contain marginally controversial subjects, we have been able to accelerate the approval process.

Myth #3: My titles need to be translated into Chinese since no one speaks English there.
While there is an advantage in having the titles available in Simplified Chinese, there is a large market for English language editions. Another fact to consider is that more people speak English in China than in the US

Myth #4: Books are priced so low in China due to competition, local economies, and the exchange rate, that earnings will be paltry.
The prices of books have actually been going up since 2005. Actually there are advantages to competitive pricing in light of the potential demand and scale of the market. The potential volume of sales will often more than compensate for lower individual unit sales income.

Myth #5: Online piracy is a serious problem in China that people should be concerned about.
While China does not have the same level of copyright enforcement as in the United States and other countries, the Chinese Government has, in tandem with some of the largest national service providers, been taking steps to mitigate piracy. The Chinese Government recognizes the reciprocal responsibility in protecting foreign publishers’ rights as it is encouraging Chinese publishers to export their titles to new markets where they obviously need to be protected.

What are the big new book trends are in China? Open Sesame on all fronts! The market for imported books is growing exponentially along with the expected migration to preferred digital formats. There are certainly first mover advantages to be realized as well as the unique opportunity to build brand recognition while the volume of content is comparatively low.