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(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-11-20 07:56

Pajamas on streets will leave poor impression

Let me express, as an European, why I wholeheartedly support the Shanghai government's endeavor to educate some residents to abandon - even if momentarily - the habit of wearing pajamas outside their homes.

I should stress momentarily, because after the World Expo, there will not be, for a long time, such an extraordinary confluence of foreigners in the metropolis. What the Shanghainese wear afterwards will become insignificant as a means of exercising soft power in the minds of the estimated 70 million outsiders, mostly Westerners, who will visit the country for the first time. There will be no other chance, for many years, to give foreigners a positive, congenial impression of the average Chinese people in a way comparable to the Olympics.

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Many of those visitors will, of course, be privileged, sophisticated and influential Westerners. They will be future opinion makers, who will be surely amazed by the technological marvels of the city, but also emotionally shaken by the sight of elderly residents wearing pajamas on the streets in downtown Shanghai. In addition to this strange phenomenon, local intellectuals have provided justification - the Westerners, en masse, will feel disappointed in their expectations of a new, advanced, emergence of the Chinese culture.

Pajamas, whatever their origin, are a Western creation. In Western eyes, they are not a "thing". Wearing them is a social ceremony, a ritual, a symbol of intimacy. The majority of us feel uneasy receiving guests at home when wearing pajamas, without losing face - that is, out of our sense of propriety.

A nightdress, we perceive since our childhood, must be absolutely clean, never exposed to dust and filth unavoidable when working, or generally circulating in the streets. That pajamas should be worn exclusively at home is firmly built into our collective urban psyche.

So, please, understand why most Westerners will react in horror, even if unconsciously, that the average Chinese - when sleeping - wear the same garments they use when outside. That's more incomprehensible than spitting in public. After all, spitting is not a Chinese characteristic. Cowboys and farmers all over the world spit freely.

Home is home, and not a public space. What a pity many downtown Shanghainese are totally unaware that they are victims of the remnants of a phenomenon, called cultural contamination by sociologists, which was introduced unwittingly by the same Westerners who will make it a laughing stock of Chinese, living in Shanghai or elsewhere, when they gather in that city for the Expo.


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(China Daily 11/20/2009 page8)