Recently, I had an interesting conversation about drinking straws. As a cultural scholar in China, I picked up on the cultural difference regarding drinking straw use in The West and in China.
I was drinking my Starbucks coffee, when my student said, “How come you don’t use a straw?”
I responded, “Australian people never use straws.”
He asked, “Why?”
Culture is just the decisions that a group of people in one society collectively make along a specific period of time. For example, one culture chooses to use chopsticks, while another culture chooses to use knives and forks.
So, I had to explain why Western society as a whole decided to discourage the use of straws when compared to China, and subsequently, pinpoint when – if ever – the cultural change occurred.
The kid said, “In China I will use a straw when I am playing a computer game on my mobile phone. Then it is easier to drink out of a straw and play the game at the same time. Also, with a straw, you can make sure that the drops of drink do not drop onto your clothes.” He looked at me as if not spilling drink on your clothes was important in his culture’s decision-process.
I said, “Yeah, well, Australian people would not do that.”
He said, “But don’t you have straws at school?”
I said, “In Australia, we do.”
He asked, “Doesn’t McDonald’s in Australia have straws?”
I said, “We would have straws there too. The difference is that in Australia, straws are only for people who are not mature yet, and need help to drink from a cup. Straws are not for adults.”
And to me, that was the difference, that in Western society, adults do not drink from straws.
I added, ” You would have straws at school for kids, but adults do not need to drink out of straws. Maybe in China they need straws in Starbucks and in restaurants, but in The West, we have not gotten accustomed to straws.”
“Once you are old enough, you drop all use of straws. It is only when you go to McDonald’s or the cinemas and have something to drink, then you use a straw for convenience. But you definitely would not go to a restaurant and drink out of a straw. It is not a sophisticated thing to do. You would only serve straws at restaurants if there is a need for them.”
To me, it was a nice cultural lesson to make distinctions between both Chinese and Western cultures in terms of drinking straws.
In both cultures, fast food chains like McDonald’s, Starbucks and the cinemas provide straws with their drinks, but Western people would not actively use a straw to drink Starbucks coffee for example, whereas Chinese people would. I also found that business provides uniform convenience across countries, but the society makes its own choices on whether a straw is necessary to use.
The author of Diary Of A Mad Chaos from 1996 to 2018, The Lost Years book, Wubao In China (猎艳奇缘) book series, and Foreigner (华人) an exploration of race relations in Australia. Fluent in Chinese Mandarin, Macedonian, and English, the author currently resides in China, Guangzhou where he continues to make comparative analysis of the cultural differences between Eastern and Western societies.