10 Habits I Picked Up in China That I'll (Probably) Keep for Life

Oct 14, 2013 By Elaine White , eChinacities.com Comments (60)     Add your comment Newsletter

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Living in a foreign country obviously rubs off on you, especially when the culture, language and customs there are so different compared to what you’ve been used to growing up. For me, as a twenty-something Irish lady who came here a few years ago “on an adventure” and has stayed here ever since, the effect of China on me was not apparent until after a year of living here. It was after my first trip home when friends and family first pointed out these strange new habits I had acquired – things like the way I said goodbye on the phone to my new choice of hot beverage. While each person has their own “China experience”, here are ten of the most obvious habits I picked up in China that I’ll most likely keep for life.

1) Saying “bye bye”
I don’t know how it happened but now I say “bye bye” every single time to bid farewell, no matter if it’s over the phone or in person. To me, saying bye bye is nothing unusual and everyone around me says it. It only started feeling weird when I began saying it to friends and family back home. Their “bye” or “see ya” suddenly made my cute, high-pitched little “bye bye” sound kind of lame. But the habit has been drilled in me and it’s unlikely to change. Who knows, maybe with the increase of Chinese abroad, this style of saying good-bye will catch on!

2) Drinking hot water
I remember waitressing in a restaurant when I was 18. Two elderly women ordered hot water. It annoyed me at the time because it wasn’t on the menu and I couldn’t comprehend why they wouldn’t just throw in a tea bag to give it a little flavor. Several years on, and now it is me who drinks hot water on a daily basis. I love it. I sip it during meals, while watching a DVD at home or even on the road in one of those super handy thermal flasks. When I feel the onslaught of the flu, drinking hot water is the first remedy I resort to. This habit is definitely one for life.

3) Bargaining “out of principal”
Bargaining was an alien concept to me before arriving in China. I was used to seeing clearly presented price tags on every item. I struggled with the whole concept at the beginning and was often too shy or embarrassed to push down the price. But living in China hardens you, especially when you know you’re being ripped off and possibly even laughed at behind your back for paying ten times too much. I soon found myself bargaining for everything by saying things like, “3 RMB for a bottle of water that costs 2 RMB elsewhere? You’ve got to be kidding! I will give you two.”

I would happily engage in 20 minute word battles to save 3, 2 or even just 1 kuai. I had been ripped off too many times and was bitter: my mission was to win back every kuai I lost through rip-offs, one item at a time. While my bargaining mojo has slowed down significantly over the years, I do find myself much more confident when it comes to asking for a lower price. Once, I even applied my new-found skill on a vendor at a Christmas market in Ireland and got a whopping 2 Euros off the marked price!

4) Adding Chinese words into English sentences
This is a bad habit, I know, but I somehow can’t help but use words like “chabuduo” or “mafan” when speaking in English. I will be bold and declare that in my opinion, no English word can hit the spot as well as “mafan”. Think about it: does an English word exist that can be substituted into the following sentence and still reflect the same meaning? “Moving flats in China and dealing with landlords is such mafan.” I really think it should be officially incorporated into the English language; if words like “gung-ho” or “chow mein” can make it into mainstream English, then “mafan” must stand a chance.

5) Inspecting plates and cutlery in restaurants to make sure they are clean
I’ve become a lot more conscious of the cleanliness of plates, chopsticks and other cutlery after my time spent in China. This is because I’ve eaten in some pretty disgusting restaurants with some very unappetizing things stuck on chopsticks or at the bottom of bowls. Even cleaner looking restaurants aren’t as hygienic as they may seem. You should try it: give your little bowl one wipe and see if the tissue still looks white. To be honest, this habit was instilled in me by my Chinese friends. I sometimes swear that they’re more paranoid about germs than I am. Often, the first thing my peers will do after sitting down is inspect the cleanliness of the table and ask the waiter to give it another wipe. Of course, the cleanliness of the cloth is a whole other matter…Now when I return home and eat out, one of the first things I do – without even thinking – is pick up the fork and inspect its cleanliness.  

6) Checking big bank notes to make sure they’re not fake
I once withdrew 2000 RMB from an ATM in Beijing. Eight of the 100 notes were fake. I managed to spend five of them but no-one fell for the remaining three. They’ve since become pretty fridge stickers. I went into the bank and tried to seek justice with my broken Chinese, but my over-ambitious plan proved fruitless. Fake money is so rampant here that even bank employees swap real notes for fake ones when they fill up ATMs. These fake notes are getting increasingly sophisticated and just this July, authorities noticed a new type of fake bill in circulation that had individual serial numbers (starting with C1F9) and was deemed authentic by the currency detector two out five times. Now, whenever I go back home I find myself rubbing the paper and holding the note up to the light to make sure the water mark’s in order. But with counterfeit currency also being a problem in Europe, this is not a bad habit to take away from my time in China.

cell phones on subway
Source: marko8904

7) Playing games on my phone
I remember riding the subway home once and observing the people around me. Literally every person I saw was glaring into a phone. On January 1 this year, China Daily announced that Chinese mobile phone users have reached 1.11 billion as of the end of 2012 – that’s 75% of the entire population. With pretty much everyone around me glued to their smart phone screens, is it any wonder that I have also become one of them? Playing games on my phone has become my number one way to pass the minutes on the crowded subway every day. I know reading a book would be so much better for my brain, but there are some really addictive games out there. Plants vs. Zombies, anyone?

8) Doing shots of beer
I may be Irish, the land where whiskey is called “water of life” in Gaelic, but that doesn’t mean we drink shots of wine or beer in our normal habitat; we’re more of the “pint” kind. It was therefore a bit of a shock to find not only a tendency to prefer luke warm beer over nicely chilled ones in China, but people here like to gulp down their alcohol fast. And what faster way than drinking everything as a shot! I don’t think I will ever take to doing shots of wine (sacrilege in my opinion), but I have taken to beer shots. The local beer here is so mild and closer to sparkling water in taste and potency, I really don’t mind downing a dozen or so shots. I don’t know what’s better, the expression of amazement on my Chinese friends’ faces or the victorious feeling of having downed dozens of shots and still being able to walk.  Baijiu, on the other hand… well, that’s a whole other story!

9) Taking my shoes off before entering the house
China can be a very dirty place. Besides the severity of widespread commercial polluting, Chinese tend to litter on the streets. While the street cleaners work hard to keep it tidy, the dirty things that often wind up on the sidewalk also end up on the bottom of your shoes. However, while I have gotten into the habit of taking off my shoes when going indoors as a way of keeping it clean, I also prefer the freedom of finally being able to kick off my shoes!

10) Being “one of the gang”:
You’re never alone in China, and more often than not you are in a crowd full of people. It is amongst the throng that rules for individuality get lost along the way. In queues, people want to get moving, and so sometimes a bit of shoving occurs. While this bit of rudeness is never pleasant, in China you just learn to accept that it’s not the person behind you who is shoving you, but the entire crowd…

These are just a few of the “habits” I’ve become accustomed to in China. I do think that many of them will stick with me long after I leave this fascinating country. But this list is far from complete; feel free to share yours in the comment section below.


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Keywords: saying bye bye drinking hot water 10 habits picked up in China

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60 Comments ( Add your comment )


I'm drinking hot water right now! Such a good habit though

Oct 15, 2013 12:22

as people say : "Good for healthy"

Apr 07, 2015 02:17

When I was back in the USA, carrying what is essentially a glorified jar with leaves in the bottom and hot water, I realized a lot of China had rubbed off on me.

Oct 15, 2013 12:36

You are the worst kind of person that I find in this place. I have been here for a good few years and have not picked up any of these 'habits' you seem to think are so endemic. I bet you congratulate yourself on being able to fit in so well, don't you? You are a sheep. Just one of the flock. Craving acceptance here and to be found interesting and 'quirky' when you go home. In short, you are immature.

Oct 14, 2013 08:31

Having a crappy day, son? It's a completely innocent article detailing a few funny habits the author has picked up, nothing more than that. But there'll always be haters I suppose....

Oct 14, 2013 09:40

Jeez, chill out dude! I did not get this impression from the article either. I think you're having a bad China day. Breath in through your nose, out through your mouth. Close your eyes and think of all the positive things in your life. It'll be okay!

Oct 14, 2013 09:51

My impression as well.

Oct 17, 2013 21:08

Get a foot massage, have some hot water, go to the park and dance and sing a while, ride the subway, and have some street food. You'll feel a lot better.

Oct 18, 2013 10:34

guess havent picked any of those habits. but i invented my own: kick cars hard and make a dent into cars who almost killed me while i was walking across with green light

Oct 14, 2013 09:55

yep, same here :-)

Oct 14, 2013 13:23

same here. i whack them as they drive by.

Oct 17, 2013 10:24

Good or bad, it is interesting to know from a foreigner's perspective.

Oct 14, 2013 12:26

This is pretty interesting! :) I am loving the list, specially, the first point, saying "bye-bye" like its one word. I write about my experiences in Beijing and around China as well, prachipreaches.blogspot.in

Oct 15, 2013 16:25

There is a word in english that is equivalent to "Mafan" (麻烦) : PAIN IN THE ASS

Oct 15, 2013 18:09

troublesome also works

Jan 12, 2015 11:47

hahahahah good to know.....

Apr 07, 2015 22:13

You sound like a bitter old man who failed in China.

Oct 16, 2013 08:46

Looks like you picked up at least one habit, the "Look at me I make so much money! I think I have 面子!" You have to admit, you have noticed or partaken in some of these habits at least once. The author of this article isn't necessarily saying they're brainwashed to performing these habits 24/7. And if you've been there 10 years and not done at least one of these things, then I'd say you've lived too much like a foreigner. 入乡随俗, mate.

Oct 18, 2013 06:38

Most of the list is fairly innocent enough..and some are genuinely good habits to have..But the last one is something to warrant a great deal of caution..."going with the flow"..is not a good thing if you are naive to what lies ahead..and "gang mentality" is something that goes very bad, very quickly because it relies on the strength of others and often leads to social bullying and thuggery...It also allows such thuggery to become acceptable as long as it is perceived in polite demeanor...I have profound feelings of caution everywhere I go when I sense that habit making it's influence on my life and those around me...and I think it is a better habit to warn others of it's dangers.

Oct 16, 2013 08:17

Drinking hot water is so true!

Oct 16, 2013 10:12

Such a good piece. I don't only drink hot water, i also carry the water bottle with me wherever i go and I ask for more hot water

Oct 16, 2013 16:55

To add to the list - using toothpicks at the end of a meal. I always wondered what those little sticks were for.

Oct 17, 2013 09:00

Never cross the street alone, I always cross in a crowd...preferably in the middle of the crowd. Pedestrians in China do not have the right of way.

Oct 18, 2013 01:24

Personal one => Saying "aaaaayyyyyaaaa" as the main way to express frustration. Seen a lot amongst Westerns around here (I don't, it makes me cringe) => Using bike lanes counter-way, or just biking on the walkway, completely free of guilt

Oct 18, 2013 16:04

Once I got back to the US, i found that I cannot use an elevator without yelling loudly on my iPhone while smoking a cigarette then coughing up phlem and spitting on the elevator floor (or someone's shoe). Also, I now seem to be baffled by escalators. I take one step off, stop and look around. Seems I brought a little Chinese culture home with me.

Oct 20, 2013 12:24
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