Imagining America

Most Chinese were intensely curious about foreign life, and they liked to ask certain questions … People tended to have extreme views of the US, both positive and negative, and they became fixated on fantastic details that they had heard … In China, I came to think of the United States as essentially imaginary: it was always being created in people’s minds, and in that sense it was more personal for them than it was for me. The questions reflected Chinese interests, dreams, and fears—even when people discussed America, the conversation was partly about their home.

… A Chinese person with options would never choose to live in a place like southwestern Colorado. The American appetite for loneliness impressed me, and there was something about this solitude that freed conversation. I learned there’s no reliable small talk in America; at any moment a conversation can become personal … Many Americans were great talkers but they didn’t like to listen … Leslie and I learned that the most effective way to kill our end of a conversation was to say that we were writers who had lived in China for more than a decade.

— Returning to America from a life in China, an article by Peter Hessler on returning to the US after living in China for 15 years (via the pandas)

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