Growing up in Texas, I became familiar with the slogan, “Don’t mess with Texas.” I saw it on highway road signs, bumper stickers, and magazine covers. The slogan is a friendly reminder to take pride in your state, and to take care of it; namely, to throw your trash away, and even pick up other trash you might see on the ground. I often associated this slogan with a “no littering” sign that warned of some major fines for putting garbage where it didn’t go.
Raising kids in Texas, they learned this slogan as well. I can’t remember how many times I’ve reminded/trained my kids to throw their trash away. Napkins on a table, candy wrappers, juice boxes… you name it, they know it goes in the trash can and not on the ground. I might even give my kids the impression that they’re committing a crime by my response when I see that little gum wrapper fall. It’s kind of a big deal.
Well, at least it was. Now, it’s a bit confusing. When we moved to China, one of the biggest culture shocks we had (and currently have) is seeing people discard their trash on the ground without a second thought. And it isn’t just kids, like one might suspect. I’ve seen EVERY age let their trash fall. Sometimes, there’s even a trashcan within reach. To this day, it boggles my mind that someone would intentionally throw waste on the ground. But then again, I understand my culture better than I understand Chinese culture.
My kids have also noticed the cultural difference. While walking home from a mall one day, my son stared at the ground. As he was carefully stepping over masses of cardboard, paper, and plastic, he asked, “Mom, don’t they like China?” His question made me proud and sad at the same time. He remembered what we taught him about taking pride in your state, but he also equated litter with other people not taking pride in theirs. I told him of course they do and suggested that we could help by picking up trash when we see it.
On another occasion, we were taking a scenic route, walking through a small village avenue. Amidst the simple homes and shop fronts, smack in the middle of the lane, was a mound of trash that could have swallowed one of my littles ones. Noticing the pile of trash, and the wrapper in his hand, one of my younger sons left his trash on the pile. Now I was confused.
Do I applaud him for putting his trash with the other trash, or remind him that we don’t throw our trash on the ground? In the moment, I realized my 4-year old was trying to do the right thing. He put his trash with the other trash. Good job.
Both instances reminded me that as a parent, no matter where we live, I need to teach my kids the way I think they should go. In China, that means teaching my kids to put their trash where it goes- in a trashcan. I understand this will be more of a challenging lesson here in China, as they’ll be hearing one thing from their parents, but seeing another thing from others.
Just the other day I watched from a bus window as a girl peeled the wrapper off her snack and threw it on the ground as she was sitting on the back of an e-bike. Maybe a logical thought would be, she’s on a bike, there’s not a trashcan nearby. That’s no excuse! Put that trash in your pocket, in your bag, or ANYWHERE other than the ground and dispose of it later.
I know this lesson on littering isn’t taught by all, even back in Texas. But you can be sure, we’ll be instilling that pride in our kids. Whether they’re in America or China, they’ll learn to take care of the place in which they live by throwing their trash away, and even picking up trash now and then. I must confess, here in China I’m more inclined to make my kids leave discarded trash alone and let the street cleaners pick it up for the sake of sanitation.
I have a feeling that’s likely what other Chinese people feel as well- someone else will pick this up. I still hold my ground on not putting it there in the first place! Keep the roadsides and rivers cleaner and throw that trash away. It may be a long, dirty road, but our kids will learn to love their home, and maybe even start saying, “Don’t mess with China.”
How do you deal with littering expectations in China?
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Photo: Timquijano (Flickr)