The conduct of Chinese tourists traveling abroad has been under scrutiny quite a bit recently. Yet, don’t the citizens of every country have their own quirks? There are oddities that Westerners and Filipinos see in China, but there are peculiar habits that Chinese people see while traveling abroad as well. So, I interviewed a travel writer who is based in China as an Expat for years now. Trahms, long-time Beijing resident, aware of China’s idiosyncrasies, explains how to behave like a local in China.
*Disclaimer: All opinions and views are of the interviewee
Regardless of the eccentricities, China is an exotic travel destination for people from around the world. It is also a great place for more and more young expats to find jobs, volunteering or internships. If you are a planning to move or travel to China and don’t want to stick out in your new environment, here is a review of some behaviors you will want to change before arriving:
10 Habits to Forget When in China
10. Being polite to strangers
Forget overly using “Thank you,” “You’re welcome,” and “How are you doing?” in China. Chinese people are friendly and extremely polite to people they are introduced to by other acquaintances. However, if you are just some random person on the street, you will be floored by the lack of politeness as you are ogled, bumped into, and yelled at during some point of any venture outside. You can view this as rude, but as Jay Z would say, brush your shoulders off.
China is also a developing country with a billion other people who are competing against each other to survive. Life is not as easy as it may be elsewhere. Act like a local and just ignore seemingly rude behavior.
9. Being helpful to strangers and just plain too trusting
It is quite common in the West and in Philippines to help people who are in need. However, doing that in China can get you in financial trouble or worse yet, wind up with a lawsuit. Pretending to be hurt in an “accident” is just one of many scams in China. Another common scam is for a nice, young English-speaking Chinese person to go up to a foreigner, quickly befriend them, and then ask to take them out to dinner or tea. By the time the meal is finished, the foreign tourist might be out hundreds of dollars.
There is also the counterfeit money scam. Chinese people know to inspect their money upon receipt, which makes an unsuspecting foreigner an easy target. Even the transportation industry in China has its own scam (although the government has recently stepped up their efforts to stop these miscreants.) “Black” taxis are not always black in color; however, these taxis are always illegal. They usually do not have a taximeter and will charge you as much as they want to. To avoid China scams, keep your wits about you and be aware of how the locals are responding to any sudden incidents.
8. Drinking coffee
For all of you coffee addicts out there, don’t worry too much about having to give up your daily shot of caffeine. There are Starbucks in China. However, you’ll almost never find coffee in any Chinese person’s home or at the workplace, which means that within a few months, you’ll get used to drinking tea (usually green tea or pu’er). Before long, you are making it yourself and forgetting all about your Gold Starbucks status. Tea in China is of the best quality and a huge part of the culture. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is for one hot drink to replace another.
7. Wearing shoes in the house and putting your feet up
Wearing shoes or going barefoot inside the house in many cultures is quite common. In most Asian cultures, however, you must wear slippers indoors. Outside shoes are only for outside and if you ever take the time to carefully watch what happens outside, you’ll be more than happy to take off your urine-spattered, phlegm-covered, dusty Converse. Another taboo is putting your feet up on a coffee table or on the seat in front of you. Play it cool as you sip your Longjing green tea, and sit up straight.
6. Expecting your day or week to go as planned
China is like a circus. Every day brings a new, loud, fascinating attraction for your viewing pleasure. You’ll try new experiences you never knew existed and you’ll be shocked at how hard it is to get a 100% guarantee on anything. For example, you called ahead to a store and were assured the product you wanted was there. After you arrive at the store, the product is nowhere to be found.
Another example is when you move into your new apartment and assume that everything (e.g. lights, toilet, water, bed, etc.) works correctly, yet somehow end up becoming best friends with a repairman. Perhaps at the office, you were planning to go home right after work when someone informs you at 17:55 that a mandatory teambuilding KTV (Karaoke) night is scheduled for the evening and will last until the wee hours of the next day. Expect the unexpected in China.
5. Paying what’s on the price tag
Ah, bargaining. A few people love it, but most love to hate it. Unless you want to be taken advantage of, expect to bargain in most lower-priced stores. In addition to being smart about bartering, be aware that asking for a refund in China on items that you have bought for a steal is uncommon. Make sure you love it before haggling.
4. Wearing heels and driving to work
Gone are the days where you walk less than 5 minutes during your trip to work. In China, your commute may take over an hour and since traffic is so bad, you will most likely be on the subway most of that time. Forget the heels. You will need to walk what seems like miles underground going up and down multiple flights of stairs. Even once you get to street level, the uneven sidewalks or crazy traffic may be the death of you.
3. Stocking up on groceries to last over a week or two
Chinese people are not a fan of leftovers or buying in bulk. It’s quite normal for them to buy groceries every day. This way the food is fresh and there will be no leftovers. However, to most foreigners, this can be a hassle. Who wants to grocery shop everyday after a long day at work? Luckily, Chinese restaurants are numerous and delicious in China, which makes eating out fast, affordable, and desirable. To truly look like a local, don’t be caught juggling multiple, overflowing grocery bags.
2. Using a clothes dryer and oven
In most developed countries, putting your clothes into a drying machine after washing them is quite normal. There are no dryers in homes in China. There are also rarely ovens. But guess what? You are saving the earth! You may be able to buy these two appliances in China, but give up the urge and instead, brag to your friends about how green you have become.
1. Grinning from ear to ear when taking photos
Chinese people are rather serious when taking photos. The younger generation is moving away from this, but you’ll still likely be the odd one out if you are smiling ecstatically next to your Chinese co-workers. Don’t forget the peace sign!
Well, whatever it is with the different tradition or culture of Chinese people, China is still a must visit country in the world! Do you have any plans to go? Comment below!