Common Property

Leo’s nanny takes him all around our neighborhood to play while we’re at work and school. One day, she showed up back at the house with a stack of pictures.. all of Leo.

“I took your camera to the store and had pictures developed! Isn’t Leo cute?”

She hadn’t only not asked our permission to borrow our digital camera, but also developed pictures on our memory card dating almost a year ago. We were speechless at the invasion of privacy.

We patiently explained to her that she needed to ask our permission before using our things. What if something broke? Would she be able to replace it? What if the store uses our pictures illegally for advertisements?

We fumed about this for a day, but then mentioned it to our Chinese teacher. “She probably thought she was doing you a favor,” she explained, “saving you the time of going to the shop yourself.” Only, we didn’t have any intentions to go in the first place!

“Also, Chinese people don’t have the same concept of private property that Westerners have. If they see another person eating something that looks good, for instance, they’ll just take some and share it together. Things are considered to be held in common. Especially for someone from the country, where this is more of a traditional value.”

It’s hard to be upset over something like this. It’s just a blatant difference in cultural perspective. “Ours” always comes before “mine” – how is that supposed to go over with we Americans??

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1 Response to “Common Property”


  1. 1 mjfalk June 6, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    First of all, this lady did tell you what she did—-unless that is the tip of the iceburg re other possibilities that you are as yet unaware of.
    Also, those who are hired by others to help out in one’s own home do need to understand that all conversation, observations, identity of one’s guests or correspondence, habits of behavior you two demonstrate within the privacy of the home while helpers are within earshot, etc–all of this aspect of their employ is great front page stuff in the newspaper they publish in talking with their own families after they leave your house—or even beyond their own families. It’s a tradeoff usually—the help you need and the admission of an unknown addition into the circle at home.
    I’m sure that the temptation to divulge greatly increases with the level of sensation you create in your helper’s mind and imagination.
    I wonder if the camera itself was useful beyond capturing Leo’s charm on film. The plot thickens.


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