China, the land where coughing up a big one and spitting it on the pavement is the norm, squeezing out a fart raises no eyebrows and queue jumping is just part-and-parcel of queuing. There are a lot of Chinese habits that Westerners find strange, but it works the other way around, too. Foreigners living in China are broadly stereotyped as either binge-drinking, randy lady-killers or hypercritical freedom fighters, and we have plenty of habits the Chinese find abhorrent. Let's take a look.
Photo: Jon Rawlinson
Finger lickin' good
Putting the fight to the Colonel’s bucket dipping chicken, Chinese food can be pretty “finger lickin’ good” at times. There’s plenty of grub in China that will get your hands well and truly dirty. If you’re eating ribs, anything with bones, fresh shrimp or crab (practically any seafood), street vendor wraps or 85C’s infamous zhang zhang bao, your hands will be muckier than a kid’s at art class.
Whatever you do though, resist the urge to put those filthy fingers in your mouth and lick them clean. In China that’s a definite no-no. Never mind how tasty the food or how messy the hands, Chinese people never lick their fingers. To them it’s considered unhygienic and ill-mannered peasant-like behaviour. Use napkins instead, providing they don’t tear to pieces as you wrestle them out of the packet with your gammy paws.
Public displays of affection
In many countries, a casual public display of affection is not unusual or uncomfortable. It’s not uncommon to see couples getting a tad hot and heavy in nightclubs and even parks in Europe and the US. However, in China it’s almost unthinkable to kiss or make-out in public.
Flirting is done outside the public eye to avoid attracting uncomfortable stares and tutting from disapproving ayis. That said, young people are becoming less conservative and you’ll see more cooing and petting these days in China’s most cosmopolitan cities.
Many foreigners will order (and pay) for their own food when they go out to eat in a group, which starkly contrasts with the Chinese notion of sharing and selflessness. Going Dutch or AA (as it’s known here) is also less common, as, especially if you’re dining with older people, there’s often a fight over who’s going to pay the bill.
Sharing and living as a collective body has long roots in Chinese history and has played a significant part in building a harmonious society. Therefore, if you eat out with Chinese friends or colleagues, at least offer to share some of your food with the group. Even though people may order food individually, it would be selfish to enjoy it all alone.
Despite being home to a plethora of different types of food, China's desserts are rather lacklustre. The locals find Western desserts overly sweet, while foreigners think Chinese desserts are not sweet enough. Chinese people can’t understand our fondness for sweet food and believe sugar destroys the flavour; kind of like adding milk to tea – vandalism here. Going for desserts straight after eating is seen as strange.
Even a windy, frosty day won’t keep a Westerner from cracking open an icy can of Coke. Chinese people believe consuming cold drinks is unhealthy, especially if you’re ill. Some argue that Chinese people like to drink hot water because it’s unsafe to drink water in China without boiling it first. However, it’s more related to notions of heat and cold in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
No matter how hot the weather, you’ll still be asked if you want your beer cold in a restaurant, because warm is the standard. And cracking open a cold drink in the presence of Chinese friend might prompt them to point out that it’s bad for you. Foreigners don’t particularly like drinking plain hot water, while Chinese people can’t stand drinking it cold.
Both crave what the other doesn’t want. White people want tanned skin; Chinese people want pale skin. Therefore, the notion of sunbathing to a Chinese person is very strange indeed. No beach outside of China would be complete without sunburned tourists stripped down and baking themselves on the sand. This is not the scene on China’s sub-tropical beaches, however, as the Chinese holidaymakers (especially the ladies) will be fully-clad in long-sleeved tops, tights and even burkinis.
On any given sunny day in China you’ll also inevitably see people carrying umbrellas to maintain their skin’s pristine paleness. It’s all to do with status, as pale skin in Asia indicates that you don’t have to work outside. Chinese people therefore can’t comprehend why a person with pale skin would want to embrace the sun. To them, it’s like painting over gold.
Underwear in a washing machine
Unthinkable to many Chinese people. As you walk through the residential areas of China’s big cities, look up and you’ll see underwear drying on every balcony. These delicates have almost certainly been lovingly hand washed. Washing machines in China are for outer clothing only, as these are thought to carry a lot of dirt and bacteria from the streets. Thus, underwear is hand-washed for cleanliness. If you’re caught throwing your smalls into the machine you might get a few frowns of disapproval.
Have you noticed any other foreigner habits that Chinese people find strange? Tell us in the comments section below.
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Keywords: living in China
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Foreign habits that Chinese find strange: We do not defecate in public. We also do not teach our children to defecate in public. We do not walk together with three friends, four abreast, walking straight at you with grim, unsmiling faces and stare you right in the eyes, and attempt to walk right through you on the sidewalk. We do not push and shove on the street because in Europe, North America and South America, that will get you dropped with a bad left hook real quick. We do not mock and insult people on the street--Chinese people do not hesitate to mock and insult foreigners and presume, also, that we do not understand that they are mocking and insulting us. Makes it rather easy to decide to leave China, of course. We do not ride electric scooters with our eyes glued to cell phones so that we can run into people on sidewalks in China or anywhere else. By the way, best way to avoid getting run over by an electric scooter is to walk on that part of the sidewalk between the curb and the trees--it is too narrow for the Chinese to navigate with their scooters. What a pleasure it is to know that I am leaving China. What a greater pleasure to know that I have no reason to ever return. Here are some of the pleasantries I heard, when checking out of a 5star hotel in Qinhuangdao: "You are a white man. Why aren't you at a Chinese whorehouse? That is the only place you can get a Chinese woman." Amazing China! What a country! Talk about that ancient Chinese hospitality and 5,000 year old culture! My God, it just makes one want to read Confucius, it really does! And there's more: "Can you say fourteen, or forty? Can you speak English? Do not speak Chinese, only speak English. But can you speak English?" That from a hotel manager that knew, from my booking information, that I was an English teacher at a university here in North China. Amazing China.
Jun 20, 2018 20:53 Report Abuse
"underwear in the washing machine" anyone with a brain would not wash underwear with outer-wear. any decent washing machine has a setting for 'delicates' and washes are done seperately - but that would require some planning, thinking and common sense, things that are in short supply in China.
Apr 03, 2018 14:13 Report Abuse
I really don't care what Chinese people think of me. I always catch people staring at me, don't they have anything better to do? If they don't like what they are seeing, be it me licking my fingers or kissing my wife, then maybe they shouldn't be staring at me in the first place, it's so simple and obvious, problem solved. Oh and by the way, I don't like Chinese people staring at me, if I complain about it will they stop doing it? Most likely not, then why should I?
Mar 29, 2018 22:20 Report Abuse
It is only natural that each country will have their own cultural traits and norms. Heck, even within one country you will find varying cultural traits and norms and subcultures. What is important is to understand that all of us have our own habits and viewpoints that are shaped by our own family and society we grew up with.
Mar 28, 2018 07:58 Report Abuse