Top 8 Sounds in China that Drive Expats Insane

Top 8 Sounds in China that Drive Expats Insane
Sep 30, 2013 By Trey Archer ,

I couldn’t help noticing on a trip back to my hometown in the USA how silent everything was, and the reason was clear: all of the irritating sounds that I have been hearing on a daily basis in China were missing. These irksome, infuriating and even at times nauseating sounds exist only in China, and drive the average expat absolutely insane.

1) Spitting
According to Chinese, it’s better to spit it out than keep it in. Even though I personally believe spitting is disgusting, I must ask: if you’re going to do it, why do you have to make such a loud hacking gag from the pits of your lungs to hawk up that thick glob of sordid mucus? Apparently it’s necessary because hawking a fat one is as common as hooting the car horns in this country.

2) Scooter/e-bike alarms
Scooter and e-bike alarms are extremely irritating; this is especially the case for the ones that sound like an intergalactic nuclear war is taking place between distant alien planets. What’s even more bothersome is the fact that these alarms go off at the touch of a hair. When one goes off it seems like it triggers other alarms in the vicinity; it’s a domino effect of exasperating noises.

3) School bells/songs
You just bought a new apartment and are sleeping wonderfully in your new bed for the first time. Everything is great until the clock strikes 07:00. That’s when the school next door that you didn’t even know existed begins blasting their morning anthem of crazy cartoonish chanting. It goes on for thirty minutes and only intensifies as the loud screams from the crazed school children electrify the atmosphere. Sometimes, even on your beloved holidays and/or weekends, school will be in session and you will not catch up on your much needed sleep.

4) Drills
The school songs mentioned above are maddening, but can be avoided if you choose an apartment wisely. However, there is one sleep-buster that will follow you wherever you go and will strike with zero warning: the infamous Chinese drill. All of you who have ever lived in China know exactly what sound I’m talking about. They start early, around 05:00, and meticulously grind all day until you completely lose your sanity. You can’t sleep through them, and you can’t tell them to stop because for some reason it’s impossible to find out where they are coming from.

5) Slurping/Smacking
China has a long culinary history and is renowned for having some of the tastiest food on the planet. Unfortunately, enjoying your favorite bowl of noodles in your preferred little hole-in-the-wall is often disrupted by sloppy slurping and relentless smacking from the other customers. To make matters even worse, the slurping and smacking is usually followed by a gaudy burp. Bon appetite!

6) Cell phone rings
Why do the cell phone rings in China have to be so damn loud and annoying? Throughout the more than 80 countries I have travelled through, I have never heard worse ring tones at such a high volume. Whether it be a low-tech electronic beat that belongs in an old-school Nintendo game or a blaring digitally-reprocessed Chinese love song, the ring tones here (which always seem to blast in busses, book stores and other “quiet” places) have to stop at once before it causes permanent hearing loss.

7) Sajiao Behavior
This is my personal, all-time most hated sound. Have you ever seen a petite Chinese girl stomp her feet, pout and squeal with a childish temper all while embarrassing her boyfriend in public in order to make a scene? This act actually has a name and it’s called sajiao in Mandarin. Unlike the other annoying sounds, there’s no escaping it, so walk with caution when navigating crowds at “High-Risk Areas of Sajiao” like malls, subway stations and shops.

8) Chinese New Year Music at Carrefour
Dear Carrefour management: please change you Chinese New Year holiday music before you drive away all your expat customers from your branches in China. If you haven’t shopped at Carrefour during January or February, go check it out in a few months to see how horrible it really is. This music is spiked with crashing symbols, bullying drums and wailing screams. You must endure this music for the entire time you’re shopping there. Now for the record; I like traditional Chinese music and have nothing against New Year tunes. I only hate the crap they play at Carrefour and not at Auchan or any other place.

By all means, this list is not complete. If you know of any more aggravating sounds that drive you and your expat friends crazy, feel free to share in the comments section below.

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Keywords: sounds in China Sajiao


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Ring tones are annoying, but what about the loud talking over the phone? It's like people are suddenly transported to another dimension, where their conversation partner is at the end of a long tunnel. They need to shout very loud to make sure they are heard, and completely forget where they are. All the while interspersed with "Eh? Eh?" because Chinese with all its homonyms and homophones doesn't come across very clearly over phone, no matter how loud it is spoken.

Nov 28, 2013 10:35 Report Abuse


I'm loving this article!!!!! As much as I love China, Shanghai in particular, these sounds still annoy me no matter how long I've been here for...All of them!! Economical progress in China is far ahead of the cultural....

Nov 22, 2013 21:22 Report Abuse


Even as a native Chinese, I still havn't gotten used to those maddening sounds. It's an everyday thing that reflects what you said is the case to some extent. I believe the situation is getting better and better.

Feb 20, 2014 15:15 Report Abuse


I want to add crazy old ladies with voices like buzz saws that scream all the time. I had a lady in my apartment building who screamed like a demon for a 24 hour period. She would carry on for an hour, then stop for a while, then carry on again. Sometimes she would shout incredibly loudly, and sounded like a cat being anally raped. If you are just passing by one on the street, it's not so bad, but living next to an old Chinese woman who has completely lost her mind.....Jesus!

Oct 20, 2013 13:10 Report Abuse


You've all forgotten about the loud, irrepressible, nagging, whining, complaining of foreigners who seem to think that these things are abnormal in China. They've somehow missed the point that this is how the Chinese live, whether you hate it or not. I always wonder why people stick around so long with so many complaints. I've experienced all of the above numerous times, have a Chinese wife who does some of these, but do I for one microsecond think I'm going to change it. Absolutely not. So, as they used to say in the U.S., Love it or leave it.

Oct 11, 2013 07:00 Report Abuse


My wife is also Chinese and she abhors many of these bad habits. She is also from Shanghai, now living in Shenzhen, and educated. If your wife has many of these habits, then she's probably a "farmer".

Oct 11, 2013 15:20 Report Abuse


You left out one of my favorites which is: Every morning outside my window there are 3 ladies who meet at 6 a.m. to walk their dogs. They talk like they're hard of hearing and talking loudly like it's as normal as any other hour of the day. Then at 7 a.m. we have all the children walking to school and the child walking with the parents always talk like they're attached to a megaphone. I've yet to understand why parents allow their children or want them to talk so loudly. Loud talking is my prime beef being an expat in China. When I go back to the U.S. to visit, I am amazed at how quiet people actually are.

Oct 10, 2013 19:22 Report Abuse


What about the fireworks during the Chinese New Year??? They start at 7 in the morning and go on for the whole day... for days..also after the Spring Festival celebration for NO APPARENT REASON

Oct 10, 2013 16:44 Report Abuse


The constant announcements in supermarkets, screaming at customers about the newest deals on awesome products... It's all a dream..

Oct 08, 2013 12:36 Report Abuse


the lovely parks that have messages broadcasting out of fake stones

Oct 07, 2013 21:07 Report Abuse


I definitely think the megaphone needs an honorable mention. Blasting out the same, short, indecipherable phrase again and again and again and again and again....

Oct 06, 2013 12:08 Report Abuse


It's a good explanation (or excuse). On a first class carriage to Hong kong, I assumed most of the people around me weren't "villagers". I've also travelled to much less developed countries where the standard of social etiquette (both in countryside and cities) was significantly higher.

Oct 11, 2013 21:15 Report Abuse


On trains: Loud earth rumbling snores - within seconds of pulling out of the station…oh to be able to fall asleep so fast and blissfully unaware of anyone or anything The electronic soundtrack of someone else having fun (on the latest computer game) The sounds of nails being clipped - followed by the thought of sitting on someone else's nail clippings on my next train journey.

Oct 05, 2013 18:10 Report Abuse


No mention of the the obvious:...Fireworks.

Oct 01, 2013 22:49 Report Abuse


Definitely the people who yell into their phones are the worst of mankind. Yesterday I had the most peaceful bus, everyone politely seated, even the children weren't making a sound. Then of course one guy who looks like he has been living in a cave for months gets on the bus, pulls out his 90's era cell phone, and proceeds to turn the speaker up as loud as it can, and yell at some girl on the other side of the line. My own personal annoyance is the bus terminal outside my house. Every morning about 6:30am I get a rude awakening of buses reving up their engines like a NASCAR race, as they get started on the morning route. During winter it is even worse, they sit with the engine rev'ed for 20 to 30 minutes and wake up the entire neighborhood. Also, if you live in an area where scooters are allowed, not only are the car alarms annoying, but so are the horns. They have some "Wheee" noise that makes me cringe everytime, and I also know every single time that person is "wheeee"ing, it means they are running a red light, or about to run over a young Mom and her 2 children because road signs don't apply to scooter drivers.

Oct 01, 2013 19:42 Report Abuse


Street watering truck (Dust Trucks)...everyday...constantly blasting a cheesy Casio keyboard arrangement of "It's a Small World"...Mouth of Madness stuff

Sep 30, 2013 23:21 Report Abuse


The "Happy Birthday" tune was ours, but thankfully they finally cut off the music, I haven't heard any music coming from the water trucks in my area in months, so somebody must have complained enough.

Oct 01, 2013 19:36 Report Abuse


Call 'em dust trucks

Oct 01, 2013 22:54 Report Abuse


Those carrefore songs are annoying and Sajiao Behavior, i have seen old woman do this same crap to family members. I told one to just "shut the @#$% up" once as it was really grating on my tits in the store and people just stared for a bit and then she carried on.... oh and death to schools, car horns and builders working during hours i can't be arsed getting up and screaming and creating a huge kerfuffle! I see someone else mentioned the shouting on phones because you are so far from then that clearly only a shout will get to them.

Sep 30, 2013 19:40 Report Abuse


The strange music that seems to be reserved purely for passengers of Beijing subway line ten!

Sep 30, 2013 12:42 Report Abuse


Sucking their teeth..use to it from London but as annoying as ever..

Sep 30, 2013 10:34 Report Abuse


Living in Grand Gateway will save you from #2,3 and 4 :)

Sep 30, 2013 09:50 Report Abuse


The crowds taking a stroll in the park on a wonderful summer evening and each single individual carrying his own ghettoblaster to make sure peace and quiet are not part of the fun.

Sep 30, 2013 09:50 Report Abuse


what about the people screaming in their phones? They dont seem to notice it but there are always screaming in their phones

Sep 30, 2013 08:38 Report Abuse


Its because, the peoples are so far away from each other while phoning :-)))

Sep 30, 2013 09:25 Report Abuse