Because east is east and west is west, and the twain have only recently met.因为东西方泾渭分明,而两者才刚刚相遇。

Language and culture cannot be separated, of course, and one of the main reasons Chinese is so difficult for Americans is that our two cultures have been isolated for so long. The reason reading French sentences like "Le président Bush assure le peuple koweitien que le gouvernement américain va continuer à défendre le Koweit contre la menace irakienne," is about as hard as deciphering pig Latin is not just because of the deep Indo-European family resemblance, but also because the core concepts and cultural assumptions in such utterances stem from the same source. We share the same art history, the same music history, the same history history -- which means that in the head of a French person there is basically the same set of archetypes and the same cultural cast of characters that's in an American's head. We are as familiar with Rimbaud as they are with Rambo. In fact, compared to the difference between China and the U.S., American culture and and French culture seem about as different as Peter Pan and Skippy peanut butter.
语言和文化当然无法分割,这也是中文对美国人如此难的主要原因之一。中美文化隔绝太久了。读法语句子“Le président Bush assure le peuple koweitien que le gouvernement américain va continuer à défendre le Koweit contre la menace irakienne”的难度仅仅如同于看懂一些行话而已。其原因不但在于印欧语系之间的相似性,还因为这些表达方式中的核心概念和文化背景是同源的。我们有一样的绘画史,音乐史,乃至历史的历史,后者的意思是一个法国人脑中的各种典型例子以及文化角色的集合和一个美国人一样的。我们熟悉阿蒂尔•兰波,就好象法国人熟悉兰博。事实上,与中美文化的差异比起来,美国和法国文化的区别就类似于Peter Pan花生酱和Skippy花生酱。(译者:好吧,换个例子,就好象可口可乐和百事可乐,两者内容几乎一样……)

Speaking with a Chinese person is usually a different matter. You just can't drop Dickens, Tarzan, Jack the Ripper, Goethe, or the Beatles into a conversation and always expect to be understood. I once had a Chinese friend who had read the first translations of Kafka into Chinese, yet didn't know who Santa Claus was. China has had extensive contact with the West in the last few decades, but there is still a vast sea of knowledge and ideas that is not shared by both cultures.
和中国人说话往往不一样。你没法谈话中随口提到狄更斯,人猿泰山,开膛手杰克,歌德,或者披头士,同时期望对方总是能明白。我有个中国朋友,他都读过卡夫卡著作最早的中文译文,却仍然不知道Santa Claus是什么。最近几十年来中国和西方接触甚多,然而两者之间仍然有大量的知识和思想差异。

Similarly, how many Americans other than sinophiles have even a rough idea of the chronology of China's dynasties? Has the average history major here ever heard of Qin Shi Huangdi and his contribution to Chinese culture? How many American music majors have ever heard a note of Peking Opera, or would recognize a pipa if they tripped over one? How many otherwise literate Americans have heard of Lu Xun, Ba Jin, or even Mozi?

What this means is that when Americans and Chinese get together, there is often not just a language barrier, but an immense cultural barrier as well. Of course, this is one of the reasons the study of Chinese is so interesting. It is also one of the reasons it is so damn hard.