What’s the Worst that Can Happen? Dumb Things Expats do in China

What’s the Worst that Can Happen? Dumb Things Expats do in China
Jun 24, 2013 By Trey Archer , eChinacities.com

Since Ding Jinhao defaced an ancient Egyptian relic, Chinese tourists have been under the gun for misbehaving in other countries; so much that the government has called on international Chinese tourists to shape up. Even though the Chinese media quickly retaliated by depicting foreign names scribbled into the Great Wall, they forgot to mention some other instances of foreigners acting up within Chinese territory. Below is just a sample of some of the dumb things foreigners do whilst in China.

dumb China expats  

1) Public Urination
The Chinese definitely adhere to the old saying, “If you gotta go, you gotta go.” I literally see a Chinese person (toddler or grown man alike) urinate on the street every single day. But for some reason there’s a cultural contradiction between what foreigners can do in China and what Chinese can do in China, making it OK for the Chinese to relieve themselves out in the open while foreigners are strictly forbidden from doing so.

However there are limits to pushing your luck with public urination as proven by the recent involving a group of Danish tourists who stopped their tour bus in the middle of a busy Shanghai highway to relieve their bladders. According to the driver, the Danish men, who were drinking beer, grabbed the wheel and forced him to pull over. Local drivers who spotted this were pissed off to say the least and posted pictures of the six men on Sina Weibo, leading one blogger to plea to the police to take a tougher stance with badly behaved foreigners and another suggesting that their tourist visas should be canceled.

2) Too far off the beaten track
There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of adventure while exploring a foreign land… unless you get lost and make a complete fool of yourself. In May of this year, an American male and Spanish female decided to skip the shuttle ride back to town after a music festival at the Great Wall and instead opted to hike back. It didn’t take long for them to get lost, but luckily firefighters tracked their location using their cellphones. They were rescued 5:30am that morning and were reported to be “exhausted.”

This incident also reminds me of the time I met a British guy at a hostel in Dengfeng, Henan who told me he was going hiking that day. At around midnight, when the hostel shut its doors, he still hadn’t returned, so everyone assumed he decided to camp out. At 3:00am, he came back, broke the glass door of the hostel to pieces, woke everyone up and then told us how scared he was for being lost in the mountains all day. The furious owner told the man that he needed to pay for the door, but the following morning he had mysteriously disappeared without paying a dime. The owner was livid!

3) Overstaying your visa
There’s a lot of noise about what can happen to a foreigner if he or she overstays their visa. But according to Travel China Guide, “If you have overstayed your visa and would like to remain in the country make an application [for a new visa and]… apologize for your error.  If you are leaving China anyway, you can just front up at the airport or border and be dealt with there. In either case, you will probably have to pay a fine of 500 RMB per day up to a maximum of 10,000 RMB.” You could also be expelled from China and/or be prohibited re-entry for 10 years.

My friend actually overstayed his visa once and, surprisingly, didn’t face any dire consequences. He told me that upon crossing the border from China into Laos, the Chinese customs official noticed that he had overstayed by three days. He then told my friend, “Oh, you must like China very much if you stayed more time than intended.” With a laugh my friend agreed. However this laid back border guard still made my friend fork over the cash. So just keep in mind that it’s not a good idea to overstay your visa, especially since it could lead to losing a lot of money or worse.

4) Late night house parties
Instead of pointing fingers at other “dumb foreigners,” it’s my turn to have a go at myself. It’s quite common in my home country to invite people over, but last year during Thanksgiving my American friend invited all the nostalgic expats over to her house for dinner. After several bottles of wine and the music probably being a bit too loud, the neighbors came in and put an end to our get-together. Though everything went peacefully, I have to admit it did make me feel like an “idiot” who disrespected the culture I currently reside in.

I’ve heard other stories from expat friends involving late night house parties as well. One time my friend in Beijing had the neighbors actually enter his house and have a “look around” after the neighbors were woken up by their noise. Another time, some acquaintances from Wuxi told me they got a note taped to their door with some derogatory, anti-foreign statements in broken English after they had a house party.

5) Drugs
This one is more serious than the others since you can be executed for drug dealing in China. In 2009 Danweireported on a Nigerian man and his Chinese girlfriend who received the death penalty for selling heroin. (In China, smuggling more than 50 grams of heroin is enough for the death penalty). Also in 2009, a British national named Akmal Shaikh who allegedly suffered from a mental illness was sentenced to death on the charges of trafficking 4kgs of heroine across international borders. He was the first European to be executed in China in 58 years. China Post also spoke of a Canadian man growing and distributing marijuana inside his residence in Taichung, Taiwan. There were more than 57 grams of the illegal plant and more than 3500 hemp seeds.

On another note, one has to be careful of personal drug consumption while in China since it could lead to serious legal problems, hefty fines, deportation or even death. Foreigners stick out here and given the “liberal” stereotypes the Chinese have slapped on us, cops (especially at places like night clubs which frequently get raided for drugs, and music festivals which have drug sniffing dogs) will definitely have an eye on you. I’ve personally experienced a raid at a Chinese nightclub and the cops made sure to inspect every foreigner at our table from head to toe, so think twice about doing any illegal narcotics here. 

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Keywords: dumb things expats do dumb China expats


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The point of my complaint was that the article was one sided. If the person is going to write an article that is downing foreingers than we have a right to tell that we are not the only ones who do wrong. I will go back when I am good and ready.

Jun 30, 2013 09:52 Report Abuse



It's funny how some foreigners seem to have their preconceived ideas of what is and isn't acceptable behavior. But just because it's offensive in your country doesn't necessarily make it so in others. The Chinese are still pulling out of a dark period where anything western was considered evil. It will take time for an entire culture to gain awareness of internationally considered proprieties. Even those vary from country to country. Apparently, in French restaurants it's acceptable to splash coffee on me. It happened several times. And in the U.S., what's acceptable in one city might be completely misunderstood in another. Treating others with respect while making an attempt to see their point of view is a good start. For those who want to whine, criticize and complain about the Chinese, I say this: Welcome to China. Now go home.

Jun 26, 2013 22:48 Report Abuse



REGARDING STUPID PEOPLE THAT DO STUPID THINGS: It just goes to prove that there are ignorant people in every country. I have lived and worked in several countries and feel that we should not identify the people by ethnic group but by that person that is committing the act. It works the other way too...there are good people everywhere also.

Jun 26, 2013 19:48 Report Abuse



You mention drugs. I saw a sight which stunned me in Lijiang whilst waiting for a bus. There was a high wall opposite us, about 12 feet high. Towering over it were a number of dope plants[ you'll understand that I recognised them from photos I'd seen]. It was about an acre of waste ground, opposite a tourist village. On walking around to the other side and getting a good look there were about 20 of the tallest plants I had ever seen[ in pictures] about 14 foot! Through my Chinese wife i asked a local nearby if he would walk along the wall and pick some to confirm that they were what I thought they were. He said he wouldn't because he would be in big trouble. No doubt but my question is how did they get there? I'm sure that foreigners hadn't planted them[?]

Jun 26, 2013 16:14 Report Abuse



This article seems to one sided to me. How about writing an article about the rude and disrespectful things the local Chinese do in their own back yard. 1. Not only do they also urinate on the streets but the parents whipe their babies bottoms at beaches, and restaurants as people are trying to eat their meal. 2. The taxi drivers driving extra long routes, giving fake money, over charging. 3. The people who cut in line to get on the buses, trains, or to get food. 4. The drivers who will not stop at green lights, run stop signs, and make u-turns that block all the traffic. 5. The locals giving out fake money. 6. All the annoying people on the streets and at the bus stations honking their stupid horns asking you ni qi nar? After you tell no, the whole bunch will keep asking you. Really annoying! 7. All the idiots standing out on the street harassing us about buying their stupid overvalued studio apartments, and those who say exercise, gym, jian fei, who the heck is Jim?

Jun 25, 2013 19:42 Report Abuse



Every country has weaknesses. What is important is whether there's a concerted effort to change. Take for instance the practice of frisking people from minorities in the streets of US cities. This is discrimination and this is supposed to be the country that preaches by example, but it stands out for this kind of negativity. People from other countries cannot comprehend why Americans are sticking to guns and murdering each other. What you see as primitive behavior in other lands maybe lurking in another form in your own country. Also, each country has the right to restrict some kind of wayward behavior. If Americans are lax with immigration, don't expect China to do same, because the social situations are completely different. Say what we may, it must be made clear that the way people react to slights from foreigners in China is governed by pre-conceived notions about them. Chinese pretty much know they often exhibit uncouth behavior, but they find it strange that foreigners could even stoop lower. It is a learning curve for them, as some foreigners move from one petty crime to another. In a short time everybody will be on the same wavelength. Finally , a country with this large a population is bound to have people with loose manners. If in 2013, US citizens refuse to give up guns, while slaughtering each other in school, what much can you expect from people of a developing country?

Jun 24, 2013 19:02 Report Abuse



when in Rome do what the Romans do, and when in China do what the Chinese do LOL

Jun 24, 2013 17:10 Report Abuse