I have now been living in China for just over 3 months. There has been a lot of adjusting and adapting in that time. The culture shock was very real when I arrived and it took me a week or two to get over that initial shock. However, even now I sometimes struggle. Most expats do have days every now and again of confusion or annoyance at the cultural differences or “quirks”. I have friends who have been here 3-4 years and they still get frustrated on some days.
The first step to living in China is acceptance. Accept that if you choose to live in this country you have to take the good, the bad and the ugly. These are some (only SOME) of the quirks you will need to accept and adjust to if you choose to come to this great country.
The Quirks Of Chinese Culture
Three months in and I do not have any clue what the rules of the road are. In fact, I am doubtful anyone in this country know the rules of the road. That is if there even are any. I live in Xi’an which is a city of 8.5million people which makes for a lot of traffic. Rather worryingly though drivers who have passed their driving test haven’t even been on the roads yet. The entire learning and testing process is done in private centres. I have also heard of bribery being a common way to “pass” your test and receive your license.
In China a popular transport option are E bikes which means they are everywhere. They are so easy and cheap to get. They cost 2,000-4,000RMB and are purchased and ready to go. No need for tax, insurance or any of that. It’s the same thing as buying a bicycle. On the roads these bikes are considered pedestrians. They can use the road but they can also use the pavement. Basically you have to watch out as wherever you are at any given time there could be an E bike closing in on you.
The good news though is with all these cars, E bikes and bicycles travelling around most drivers are very wary and observant. They have to be to avoid collisions. So you could argue they are better drivers than other countries, as they have to be. Although it doesn’t always feel that way as you try to cross the road and feel as if you’re playing chicken with 8 lanes of traffic.
I’m afraid that does say what you thought it said. It’s true, people pee everywhere here. Mostly it’s children, however men too have been known to pee wherever is convenient. It’s not even in semi hidden spots. Children will pull down their trousers and go where they are. Often in the middle of the pavement right in front of you. If they are inside they will step outside and go right in the doorway. This is especially disturbing when it’s a restaurant. More times than I would like, I have been sat eating lunch with a child urinating in the doorway 2 metres away.
You would think public toilets don’t exist here however they do. In fact wherever you are you are normally within a few hundred metres of one. I honestly have yet to hear an acceptable reason for this quirk but nevertheless it’s something I must accept about Chinese culture. I’ve adapted by being extra careful about stepping in puddles, especially when it hasn’t been raining. I also ensure to take of my shoes the second I step in the door. I also do not plan to wear flip flops whilst I live here.
Cut Out Clothes
This point follows on from the previous ones. Babies and toddles wear clothes which have cut outs to allow them to go to the toilet anywhere. They don’t even need to pull down their trousers. When I explained this to my dad his response was “Don’t you mean open-able flaps? Otherwise it sounds like bottoms are hanging out.” I mean exactly what I say. They are cut outs NOT flaps. And yes, there are not only bottoms hanging out but willies and vaginas too. Parents who are carrying their baby are basically holiday their kids bare butt. You’ve got to be careful about who’s hand you shake if they’ve been holding a baby.
My main query with this is how do they avoid babies pooping on their mums arms when they’re being carried. I would ask how they also avoid babies from weeing inside but the answer is they don’t. I was at the train station when a baby next to me pissed on the floor through his cut out. I swiftly moved where I was sitting.
This is a horrible trait which most Chinese men and some Chinese women have. It’s also the quirk that seems to grind most on many expats. Basically men will spit out huge globs of phlegm. The sound they make as they gather up their deposit is the worst. It sends shivers down my spine. Especially when I know what’s coming next. They will then spit out their phlegm glob on the pavement, in the road or indoors if that’s where they happen to be. If you’re lucky they will aim for a bin if you are inside other times they will just spit onto the floor.
Smoking is very common here but I can accept that. What I can’t accept is where people smoke. In restaurants, in lifts and in cars, they will light up anywhere. There will be no smoking signs however they are disregarded. No smoking signs are like useless decoration. Not even the staff of an establishment will acknowledge it’s existence. My worst experiences have been when I’ve been in a lift and men have smoked for the entire 22 floor journey down. The other instances which stand out in my memory are taxi journeys. The driver light up and will start smoking encasing me in unbreathable air. This is the quirk which I hate most. Especially as an asthmatic already striving to live in a city with severely polluted air.
After reading this article you may be put off China forever however it’s not all bad. If it was would I still be here
What’s the biggest cultural quirk you’ve come across and then had to adapt to?