Thursday, July 15, 2004

A Bird in The Hand? Proverbs Show Differing Cultural Views

I just found this interesting item googling "A bird in the hand"--trying to find whether it was "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" or "a bird in the bush is worth two in the hand." Leaving aside the question of whether we should adopt the presumptive human's perspective or the bird's point of view, there is an interesting ambiguity and both sentences can be read to mean that that it's better to have a sure thing. (1) A bird in the hand has the value of two birds in the bush. (2) A bird in the bush would have twice it's actual value if it were in the hand. Modality rears it's fuzzy head.

The suprise in the article is that Chinese turn out to be much less risk averse than Americans, particularly when it comes to financial transactions. The explanation suggested is that the Chinese, with family networks to cushion them, can afford to take on risk whereas Americans can't. Once the initial shock wears off, it makes perfect sense: if you play without a net you can't afford to take risks.

We've been taught to imagine that the open frontier and the pioneer life, rugged individualism and self-reliance promote courage, but rugged individualists who can't rely on anyone but themselves can't afford to take risks.

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