Okay maybe that title is a little ambitious because owing to my appearance I’ll never fit in like a local. Neither will J. Between my heavily freckled skin and his beard people just don’t know who to stare at first most of the time. However, I can give you a few tips that will help westerners prepare for the culture shock they will no doubt experience on their first time in China.
If you’re tired, just take a nap – regardless of your location or whether you are at work. It’s no problem in China, people nap at the side of roads, on park benches and in shops. Just go ahead and catch yourself a few zeds.
Sleeping on the job!
The concept takes some getting used to. More so for me the hocking up of the spit before the actual spit. However Chinese people describe it as an involuntary action of their body. Most assume everyone does it, at least in private. They find it repulsive that anyone would swallow all the spit that accumulates in their mouth or worse still put it in a tissue and back in their pocket. It’s not so bad on the street but can get pretty tough going when someone does it on the floor in a restaurant. But if you find yourself in China with a cold, crack on.
No one queues. No one. If you don’t get with the programme you’ll be waiting a long time to get on buses or into attractions. It’s really not considered impolite so don’t be afraid to get in there with your elbows and give someone a good old nudge. Even if there is something that resembles a queue don’t be fooled, people will just matter of factly come and stand in front of you.
Some people stare then chuckle in amusement when you wave or smile at them, others just point blank stare in deadpan disbelief no matter how wide your smile is. This takes some getting used to and you spend a while thinking a bird has shat on your head or something. However the positive is if you want to be nosey and check out what someone’s doing just go right over and have a good old look.
Unlike in the UK and many other European countries, smoking in public places has not been outlawed in China. So don’t be alarmed if the guy on the table at the side of you in the restaurant lights up a fag after spitting on the floor. If you’re a smoker this may be good news for you. People even smoke whilst eating – chopsticks in one hand, fag in the other!
6. Snap Away
We’ve had so many photos taken of us, sneaky ones where someone pretends to be taking one of a sign etc, permission asked ones (someone even sat on J’s knee) and photos of us taking a photo. Sat on a beach in a park one afternoon was like being in a photo shoot. Who knows what is done with them? But people are snap happy in general, the selfie is as popular here as anywhere and everyone is always on their phones. So if you want to take a photo of something or someone just go for it. My advice anywhere else would be ask first but the same rules don’t apply in China.
One of our many photo shoots!
7. Just Cross
Pedestrian crossings in China don’t work like they do in the western world. The green man does not mean it safe to cross. It basically means traffic may stop coming from one direction. It’s also a cue for a free for all so be sure to keep your wits about you but also just be brave and cross, if you wait for the perfect opportunity you’re going to be there all day.
Chaos; pedestrians and mopeds go!
Electric mopeds are the thing in China, the roads are crammed with them. Because the roads are so crazy and they are electric and virtually silent they tend to sneak up on you from all angles. Therefore people are always on the horn to announce they are there. Same applies for bicycles so if you rent either don’t be afraid to make some noise. You’ll have to, either that or be slamming on your brakes every 2 seconds. Also don’t be afraid to ride on the pavements, everyone does it – bicycles, mopeds and even cars from time to time.
Look behind you!
Similar to napping, if you fancy a sit down – do it! However when I say sit I mean squat. It takes some perfecting so get some practice in before you go, it will also be useful for the squat toilets that you will have to use.
Working those thigh muscles!
10. Do Not Tip
Not the done thing. Waitresses and taxi drivers do not expect this and will think you’re a weirdo if you offer it quite frankly. In fact in most restaurants you are asked to pay up front for your food as soon as you have ordered it anyway.
11. Toilet On The Street
Don’t be alarmed to witness young children going to the toilet for both number 1 and 2’s just on the street. Many wear these crotchless pants with their genitals and bum exposed so they can just simply squat and go wherever they are. This has taken a lot of getting used to for my western eyes but it’s just part of the culture.
12. Take Your Umbrella
These are not used just for shelter from rain, but to provide shade from the sun too. It can be quite odd seeing people walking around with them in the blazing sunshine but it does make sense. People also have them permanently attached like parasols to mopeds and bicycles for all weathers.
Mary Poppings style!
I can’t get along with this and I am by no means suggesting you practice this but littering is common in China. From the surreptitious drop of a wrapper, throwing cartons out of a moving bus in the countryside, to chucking empty bottles into endangered panda’s enclosures it all happens here and I have to bite my lip every time. Despite this the cities we have been to have been very clean and street sweepers are a common sight so you don’t actually see much rubbish around.
Maybe it’s because the language sounds so harsh to our western ears that exaggerates it but Chinese people tend to be loud. Especially in groups and on the phone, or when getting a waiter’s attention. So don’t be afraid to raise your voice if you need to.
15. Be Friendly
Having said all the above everyone we have met in China has been extremely friendly and helpful, even when we haven’t been able to understand a word each other has been saying. If you’re looking lost people will go out of their way to help you and if you haven’t a clue what to order in a restaurant people will make suggestions. It’s such a friendly place so be sure to reciprocate their generosity.
This dude even bought our dinner!
So that’s it. My low down on culture in China. Already been? Did you experience anything I haven’t?