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If Culture Is Learned When Young Then My Daughter Is Half Chinese

For all intents and purposes Petra is still very much culturally Chinese.

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My seven year old daughter Petra doesn’t talk, she wails. The sheer volume of her normal speaking voice continuously reminds me of some fat, drunk Chinese guy sitting in a restaurant, smoking a cigarette, and screaming into his cellphone — and that’s not too far off from the truth. 

My daughter hasn’t been in China for over two years but she still maintains some of the common cultural traits of the mainland. 

She lived in China for over three years, from just before she turned two until she was five. A span of years that are some of the most formative in a person’s life. To put it simply, these are the years when you really learn what’s what, who’s who, and how to interact with all of it. 

I can remember her picking up both the Chinese language and character traits as I would clap and cheer. Besides fluent Mandarin, she became brash, spoke loud, and acted much like the other little kids. 

Now, over two years later some of these traits are still evident. The most glaring of which is the volume that she speaks with. She’s always the loudest one in the room, and no amount of telling her to speak more softly works. This is something that’s just been hardwired in from growing up in a country of loud people. 

The most common critique that I hear other Asians say about the Chinese is about how loudly they speak. It’s true: just go to China and stand next to someone as they answer their phone, or have a conversation in a restaurant, or just about anything that consists of communicating with other people. 

Itmakes sense how this trait is picked up: if everyone around you yells when they talk then you’re going to have to yell too in order to be heard. 

As a kid, you just become used to this, you follow suit, you inherently believe that this is the way the world is and this is just what humans do — and these are behavioral patterns that apparently stick for a lifetime. 


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Filed under: China, Culture and Society, Petra Hendele Adara Shepard

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3719 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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