In Portland, cars will stop on a busy street and let pedestrians cross. Even with a whole line of cars behind them. The pedestrian then turns to the car, nods or waves, receives a nod in return and life goes on. This is not law. It is just how people do here in Portland.
When you walk down the street and pass someone, i would say about 75% of the time there is a mutual greeting. Respect and consideration is shown as much as possible.
In China crossing the street is like playing Frogger, with sentient cars trying to hit you. Cars will roll into a crosswalk and nose their way through, as the pedestrians kinda flow around. There are no traffic laws that are obeyed. Its just, see an opening and go. Or make an opening and go.
In China, if you greet someone, they will be surprised and non-plussed at first, but then will engage in a spirited conversation. People are happier in China if you show some respect, because it is not expected.
People get irate in the US if you do not show respect.
I think scale has a lot to do with these differences. If the streets of Portland were ALWAYS crowded with people, then I think consideration would take a back seat to expedience. People in China are extremely civilized in their own homes, but completely disdainful of the public area. If everyone in China were considerate and thoughtful while out on the town, there would be no time to do anything else but be polite to every person who crosses your path.
And this issue of scale also has a lot to do with the general air and water quality differences. In Oregon, you can pretty much see the stars all the time, the moon can light your way to anywhere and the sunrises hurt my eyes.
In China, you have to go to Tibet or Xinjiang to have that experience. Or deep into the countryside. There are Chinese villages, unknown and wallowing in some warped, stretched time-zone with TVs, nightsoil, cell phones and buffalo-operated tills, that have more people than the Greater Portland area.
In Oregon, I can go 30 minutes outside of the city and pick wild mushrooms and run from rutting young elk.
Wild animals in China lurk in the shadows or become a "protected delicacy."
And of course the absolute disregard for commoners shown by the "leaders" in China kind of sets an example. Which is another HUGE difference. There are phalanxes of unfriendly class-conscious older women protecting the halls of Chinese government buildings from unwanted commoners. They are backed up by commoners in military uniforms standing at every gate.
Here in Portland, the government is quite accessible. They answer phones, emails and blog posts. Here, everyone is entitled to respect and if a leader refuses to show it, he will be charged with elitism and thrown out of whatever office he holds.
This is of course the beautiful American sentiment that McCain hopes to capitalize upon. He believes there are enough ignorant people out there who fear and hate "the elite" to vote him into office. Hence Palin. It kinda backfired on him in Lakeville, MN when a particularly dumb woman said,"I dont trust Obama because he is an A-Rab."
Interesting similarities, interesting differences.