I know some of you are all ready to take issue with the title of this post because you are a foreigner and you can squat! I know it's a generalization but generalizations tend towards being true on the whole, and even most foreigners who can squat do so with difficulty and not a lot of grace.
Last weekend I went with some friends to visit a foster home for orphans outside of Beijing. We hired one of our favorite taxi drivers, Driver Z. to take us out there. After spending the morning playing with some of the children and visiting with friends who work there, we took one of the Chinese staff of the foster home out to lunch in the nearby town.
As is customary here, we invited the driver to join us for lunch. It's also customary for him to adamantly refuse to join us, but after we had performed our ritualistic argument, it ended as it should–with him joining us.
When we entered the restaurant, there was a low-hanging cloud of blue smoke in the dining area so we pleaded with the waitress to take us to a private room. Nearly every restaurant in China has private rooms available, and they're great if you want to escape the smoke or the noise and have a peaceful (and private) meal.
When the tea and da ke le (large bottle of Coke) was served, I faced a dilemma: to drink or not to drink. It's all about the squatting, you see, because four months out from knee surgery, squatting is something I CANNOT do. I knew the restaurant we were in would only have "squatty potties" (as we grew up calling them in Pakistan), and I knew we had an hour's drive back to Beijing.
As I pondered my options, I asked if we were planning to return Miss S. back to the foster home before heading to the city (I knew there were 'sitters' there). Once it was determined that we were, I could drink the da ke le with reckless abandon.
After we had sorted this out, Mr. W (an American ) asked the Chinese at the table if they knew why it was that foreigners had such a hard time squatting. By the looks on their faces, it was obvious that such a thought had never, ever crossed their minds, but seeing that the foreigners needed to be humored, asked him to explain. This launched, not only a riotous discussion of the relative lengths of the Achilles tendons of Chinese and foreigners (theirs are long, ours our short), but of the different exercise regimens that are a part of our respective educational systems. Mr. W also emphasized that when foreigners squat, we are on our toes, but Chinese have their feet flat on the ground. This didn't compute with Driver Z so in a flash both of them were out of their chairs demonstrating their squatting techniques. Not wanting to miss out on the fun Mrs. W and Miss S. were also soon showing off how they could squat. That got me out of my chair too, and I wowed them with my ability to squat to about 45 degrees!!
At this point the poor waitress walked into the room, and, upon seeing us all in various degrees of squatting around the table, she ran away!
Later, as we were nearing home on our way back into the city, Driver Z said to us, "You know this was a really interesting day for me. I learned something new. I never knew before that foreigners couldn't squat, and now I know, not only that they can't squat, but why!"
I guess the adage is true; you can learn something new every day!