What is your biggest cultural shock and realization from visiting China?
Ranjeet Rain, Live in China. It's like my second home.
Originally Answered: What was your biggest culture shock going to China?
There are numerous things that come across as “weird” to a first time visitor in China. There are too many of those, but let me jot a few from top of my head.
1.Crowds - Well, not a culture shock for those from Asia but for most Europeans the first thing that strikes them is how crowded China is. Prepare to queue nearly wherever you go. Subway, Bus-stop, even restaurants.
2.Smell - This is the craziest thing, and perhaps the most offending of them all, about China that stares you in the face. Small markets, specially the street food markets have a unfamiliar, some what choking, strong smell. This is true of all food markets, regardless of whether the market has “fish shops” or not. I guess it’s due to the oil they use. Is it some kind of oil extracted from fish!?? Don’t know! Fortunately, if you are going to be there for a long time, in a few weeks to a month or two your body gets used to it.
4.Oral Hygiene - Well, I am struggling to put this into words. How to say - Chinese people don’t brush their teeth. At least they don’t do it daily/regularly. I guess the few that brush their teeth regularly are the ones with foreign education or have lived abroad. Others simply don’t understand the importance of oral hygiene in China. Till 8-10 years ago it was hard to find good quality toothpaste in China, even in western super marts such as Carrefour.
5.Helpfulness - Well, I found most Chinese people to be extremely helpful. Some will run away from you if you try to approach them to ask something, but you shouldn’t take that otherwise. They are running away due to shyness. The ones that are not shy and would dare to have conversation with you in broken English/Chinglish or part English part Chinese will come across as extremely helpful.
Once I was going somewhere in Shanghai. After getting down the subway I just wouldn’t understand which way to go. I asked a gentleman, he tried explaining me I couldn’t understand. He crossed the road with me, walked with me 50 steps when I was well on my path correctly showed me the direction. I was so pleasantly shocked with his gesture.
On another occassion I was lost trying to find an address. I asked a guy who wouldn’n know either. He turned on 3G connection on his smartphone. Opened maps, zoomed in to it, got an idea of the address then guided me correctly. I wouldn’t expect so much help. It is simply remarkable.
6.Gender bias - Well, you would notice much less gender bias in China than you would expect. For instance, the “sweepers/cleaners” for washrooms can be either gender. I often noticed female cleaners doing their job dutifully inside the male washrooms even as men were standing doing their “business”. No “oh could you all please back off and gimme a second to clean the space before you can go ahead and do your business?” nonsense, plain duty with diligence.
Similarly, a large number of (if not majority of) “adult toy” shops are run by girls/women.
7.They eat all of the chicken. Yes all of it. And I mean all of it. They don’t even skin it. And feet! Some might find it offending to even hear, but Chinese don’t even leave out their feet. Supermarkets/Fresh shops are full of “Fried Chicken Feet” (did I just invent a new product category?) that Chinese love to munch on. Well, I guess in the past there must have been an acute shortage of food in China that gave rise to such food choices!
8.Vomiting in the subway - I have come across a number of instances (too many to not notice it) of people so badly drunk, they have no idea where they are and what they are doing. Of course, it also means some of them will puke and the surrounding spaces will all at a sudden be empty in an otherwise crowded train.
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9.Price by weight - I was frustrated of being cheated by the Chinese first few weeks I arrived here. They would always charge me double the amount. Poor me! I won’t be able to tell them anything as I could hardly say anything other than “ni hao” (hello) and “xie xie” (thank you) in Chinese. It took me a while to realize that Chinese price their stuff by “Half a Kilogram”. I.e. if something has a tag of ¥5.70, and if you order 1 Kg of it, you need to pay ¥11.40 and not ¥5.70 as you may have thought. Wierd, isn’t it? Hello China!
10.Discount on list - In most countries discount is expressed in percentage. As in 15% off, 20% off, 50% off and so on. In China, they would mention what multiplier you need to pay. I.e. if something is available for a 25% discount, the discount indicator will read .75. Chinese like maths, don’t they!
11.Age of a baby - So you are going to China with a 4 year old? Be ready for a surprise. As soon as your baby enters China, his/her age become 5 :) Well, that’s because, in China, babies are supposed to be already one year old when they are born. So a 3 day young infant is not a 3-day old baby, it’s a one year 3 days old baby. Genius! :)
12.There is no ground floor - Well, you would be totally baffled to know that there is no “ground floor” in any building anywhere in China. So where did they all go? Don’t worry, they are all there. Just that the Chinese don’t call them the ground floor. They call it, well, hold your breath, the “first floor”.
Oh yeah, whatever it may mean, the “ground floor” is called the “first floor” in China.
So, now you many wanna ask - “what the hell do they call the ‘first floor’ then?”. Well, simple - they call it the “second floor” ;)
13.Fakes/Knock offs - Well, perhaps this is no more a shock by now (less or more the entire world knows by now). But you can buy a cheaper knock off of almost anything expensive. From watches to bags to perfume. Chinese are experts at manufacturing “Hi copy” or “First copy” products. Rolex, Cartier, Tag Heuer, LV, Gucci, Versace, Emporio Armani, Hugo Boss, Rayban, name the brand and you can find a first copy at a fraction of the price of the original.
14.Domestic flights - Well, let’s just say that they run late. And the airlines don’t even inform you in advance about it so you can plan on utilizing your time better. They wouldn’t even say “4 hours delay” at once. They will shift the departure time in 30 minute blocks. When the boarding time nears, you wind up and ready yourself to queue (yes there is a queue, long ones, for everything in China) they will announce the flight is being pushed back by half an hour (again). Now you would rush back to find yourself a seat (again). Well, the wise ones don’t get up in the first place until the boarding has actually begun :)
15.Public bath/spas - Well, this is incredibly funny. But if you go to a spa or a swimming pool in China you are very highly likely to notice this phenomena that you wouldn’t anywhere else, specially if the pool is small and cold.
When you pass by someone you will suddenly feel warm current. Jesus! People peeing in the pool? Like seriously!? I have joked about this with my Chinese friends and they all admit having experience this. Well, at least the ones I know, or I go along with, they now understand the need to empty themselves before stepping in to the pool
And I swear to God I have seen poop floating in the small (2x2 meter) pool in a small time spa. Well… …
16.Well, gotta go. Will add more later!
Lance C. Anderson, American living in China.
I threw my headphones in today while doing homework and I couldn’t stop smiling. I prepared for so many things for when I came over but I never realized how much I value my time spent in my car for privacy in America. I used to get 30 minutes a day I could either scream to my music at the top of my lungs or just sit in silence as I pass cars on the highway. Those days are behind me. I no longer get 100 cubic feet of space and air all to myself during my daily commute to/from work. That’s honestly the thing I miss the most about America, the solitude I always took for granted..
A distant second largest realization is how bad I am at telling apart Chinese people. I mean that in the least offensive way possible, but I’m bad enough with faces at it is. I swear I’ve seen the same lady in 5 different spots however the city has 25 million people — that just doesn’t happen.
See below for more info, but thanks for reading!
This question asks about my biggest realization so I’ve responded to that first.
I have already written extensively about my biggest culture shocks here, so I won’t bother my followers with that, although I’ll include it at the end of the answer and feel free to skip over it because there’s a lot of info there.
I moved to China last month so I’m still knee-deep in the culture shock process.
These are the most difficult things to get used to:
1.Everything involving going to the bathroom.
1.The first thing you notice are the toilets, which are not western toilets but squatty potties.
A. Okay fine, you get used to that. After dropping a massive dump, you need to use toilet paper. Shit, this is when you realize that public restrooms don’t carry toilet paper for you to use, you should’ve brought your own. Now you have to beg a stranger to give you some tissue to use.
B. Okay, now that you’ve got that whole debacle out of the way, you also have to get accustomed to not flushing your toilet paper. That’s right, there’s a little receptacle next to the toilet for you to put your used toilet paper in.
- Prices. I eat out nearly every day and rarely spend more than $3. It’s amazing. Other than at sit down restaurants, you only spend more than $4 on a meal if you get American fast food E.g. KFC, Burger King, etc.
- The smoking! Smoking is ubiquitous. Everywhere you go there are people smoking.
- It’s ironic after the last one, but air masks. The smog is pretty bad on some days in Shanghai, so some people try hard to wreck their lungs (see point 3) while some are extremely concerned about preserving theirs.
- The efficiency. There are 25 million people who live in Shanghai alone, so thank goodness the government has done a good job with public transportation. The city is larger than the size of the state of Delaware in area but it rarely costs more than 1 USD to travel anywhere on the subway (see point 2). However, the metro can get pretty crazy at times.
- The sheer size of China. I’m from America, so I should be accustomed to it, but I’m taking a trip to do some hiking later and it’s a 24 hour train ride! It’s ridiculous. And want to know the crazy part? The standing tickets are sold out. That’s because it is the Chinese New Year and it’s the biggest mass migration event in history, every single year, because people all go home to their families.
On a related note again to the pricing, I’m traveling over 3000 KM for the trip and staying for 3 nights in hostels. Booking everything cost me less than $45. Wow!
- Spitting! A lot of guys just hock up a loogie and spit wherever they are, even on the metro! That's probably the biggest culture shock.
- Being interesting. People will literally line up to take pictures with me because I look so different from all of them! It's much more common in rural areas where they've never seen an American in their life. They'll even walk up and immediately start touching your hair to see what it feels like. It was a huge shock the first time!
So far those are the biggest culture shocks I’ve had from visiting China and I’m sure there will be plenty more to come.
Henry Vaughan, Been to more than a dozen countries on three continents
I kinda knew a lot about China before I arrived. I understood the culture and the language pretty well, and I’ve spent enough time in Chinatown to be prepared for most of the smells. I knew that the cities were going to be massive and that the pollution would be bad.
The only thing that I had never expected was this:
Wait a second, you’re telling me that pretty much everyone in the entire city lives in some kind of apartment high-rise?
I live in the suburbs of Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States. Yet, we have so much open space that there was actually a political initiative to block building apartment complexes in the suburbs! You see, most people live in houses kinda like this:
. .每个人吗? ?
Notice the big, green front lawns, the backyard fences, and sidewalks with mailboxes. This is what I’m used to in Houston. Yet, in Chengdu, I never saw a single standalone home, only countless apartment high-rises. Of course, it makes perfect sense for China to be that way, given their incredible size; I just wasn’t at all expecting it.
Needless to say, it felt sweet to be back in the Big Sky country.
Jordana Manchester, Adventure Travel Specialist| Writer| Canadian| 70+ Countries
My first introduction to mainland China (Beijing) was tough - It almost broke me. I had carefully planned a trip to the Great Wall for the next day, but after traveling through Sumatra for some time, I needed to get my Nikon cleaned. I dropped my camera off at a Nikon store, took my slip and thought nothing of it. I returned at the end of the day retrieve it, and the salesperson took one look at me, twisted my lens so violently, it broke, and smiled. He held out his hand and said I needed to pay triple if I wanted my camera back in one piece. After a huge argument in broken English/Mandarin, I went out to the street to find some tourist police. I walked into a small store and asked if they could tell me where the police station was, and the shopkeeper came around the counter, shoved me out of his store and spat all over my jacket. It was horrifying.
I eventually retrieved my lens (never repaired) and spent the next 5 days wondering why the hell I'd ever bought a ticket to China. I was treated like zoo animal. Poked, my hair pulled, people photographing and videotaping me like I was some sort of spectacle. Just when I was ready to retreat, I hopped a train south, into the rural countryside, and that's when I fell head over heels with the rest of China. My advice? Get the hell out of the big cities and run to the countryside.
The locals were always curious about my skin tone, they would touch my hair, but it wasn't in a menacing way. I was invited into strangers homes for dinner, I was given gifts, and most importantly, I was treated like a human being.
I would return to China in a New York minute. I just don't think I was prepared for it, and after having learned (and experienced) the history between the Chinese and Africans, I understand the situation more now.
Additionally, the other things that shocked me was the treatment of animals. In many places they were abused, abandoned, tortured, it was too much for a bleeding heart North American like myself. I also found the excessive spitting sort of shocking. They were spitting into the open excavations at the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xian!