Peccadillo is a wonderful word which gets used too frequently. It comes from Spanish, meaning "small sin" or "small error." "Pecado" means "sin," and the "illo" ending means "small."
Smoking in the elevator is a peccadillo. Forgetting to repay $5 to your buddy is a peccadillo. I don't believe there's an equivalent term in Chinese, but there definitely should be.
Peccadillos are small things, not evil in themselves, but steps on the road toward much larger evils. And there's a huge amount of empirical evidence that peccadillos in fact metastasize and become full-on evils.
China is full of peccadillos, and if they want to reduce major corruption, I would submit that the peccadillos are the place to start. Common manners would be a good first step.
There are many, many examples I could draw from, as I've written about in the past. Today, I had just one other set of experiences that made me think about the issue once again.
My students sometimes ask me a forlorn sort of question, to the effect of "when will China take its rightful place in the world?" I.e., when will China be a world leader?
My answer always surprises them.
China will be a world leader when old men don't hawk and spit on the sidewalk.
China will be a world leader when children don't pee inside the building.
China will be a world leader when its bathrooms don't reek.
China will be a world leader when men stop hitting their wives.
China will be a world leader when manners become common.
Here's an example:
In China, it's quite common for every public doorway to be covered by these huge, heavy, army-looking blankets to keep out the cold air. They work well, but they're filthy-disgusting, and they are really heavy to lift. I always get a little allergy twinge after walking through one, and I definitely feel like washing my hands if there's anywhere to do so. (There seldom is.)
I try to avoid walking through such doorways as much as possible, but today I had occasion to go through six or eight of them, including one on the way into the Walmart.
I happened to be doing so during daytime hours, today being my day off teaching, so most of the other customers were women. As an American, I just naturally expected to hold the giant-army-surplus-blanket for women, as we always do in America.
But that particular bit of manners requires a bit of reciprocality. The woman needs to expect that the man will hold it for her, and quicken her pace to fit with the rhythm of his giant-blanket-holding. She's also expected (in both my culture and the Chinese) to say a quick thank-you.
My wife gets super-pissed when I hold doors for people and they don't reciprocate in any way. It happens often enough in China, that I'm actually afraid to hold doors for people when my wife is around. If they blow me off, it's just one more little thing adding stress to me... but she gets ready to cuss someone out.
I think we have the same standards, we have very different ways of processing the frustration. I usually just say "Aw, hell, it's China!" But she goes to rip someone's head off. My way is more peaceful, but the stress gets internalized a lot more. I'll get high blood pressure long before she does.
Today, of the six or eight women for whom I held the blanket, exactly one quickened her pace and said thanks.
Three that I can remember were too busy on their phones to pay any attention or quicken their paces, so I gladly dropped the giant thing right into their faces. I'm not going to wait all day.
Two pushed right past me, ducking under my armpits without so much as a "fare-thee-well." They were at least alert enough to get that I was holding the blanket for them, but not polite enough to acknowledge it.
So I'd say Dalian's manners quotient for the day was about ⅕. 20% is probably a good estimate of the not-totally-ill-mannered population in this city.