Whether you like it or not, living in China changes you. That’s not necessarily to say it does so for the worse, it’s just inevitable. After a certain amount of time, some things are just easier when done differently, and often you don’t even notice you lost certain habits until someone else points it out. Below I’ve highlighted some of the biggest and most curious habits you may lose while living in China.
In the West, the younger generation is accused of only talking through their mobile phones. Parents complain about their kids communicating with slang and acronyms that would make an English teacher faint. In China, however, the kids have taken it a step further. And after a while living in China, you’ll be communicating like this too.
In China, text is often substituted altogether for emoticons and stickers. Ask your boyfriend or girlfriend how they’re feeling and you’re likely to get a smiley face (which could mean cute or angry here, just to confuse things). Start a conversation with your colleagues and you’ll be bombarded with Trump stickers and Teletubbies gifs. What does it all mean? If you have to ask, then you’re not ready. But the moment you are, it will all become clear.
If you don’t have time to select the perfect emoticon for your reply, then rather than wasting all that energy to type out text, you’re more likely to send a voice message in China. While many in the West find these one-sided conversations off putting, here you’ll fall into the lazy habit in no time.
Quite simply put, there’s no such thing as personal space in China. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but you’ll find yourself in a number of situations each day where it feels like the whole concept has gone out the window.
The elevator is full. Nope, I’m just going to back into you guys until you make some room. School kid on the subway has nowhere to lean. Okay, just lean against my leg for the whole ride. No more room in this train carriage? Don’t worry. You can stand over me in my seat until we get to Beijing.
You may tut and scoff at first, but you’ll soon realise that personal space is a luxury you can’t afford in China. If you don’t push your way onto that elevator, you’ll be wasting 10 minutes of your lunch hour waiting for it to come back up again. Sometimes you’ve got to force your way onto the subway because if you don’t, you’ll be late for work. If you don’t stand in the aisle on the train, you’re going to miss a seat and find yourself standing up for another five hours.
Chinese cuisine is amazing. It’s a fact. But Chinese cuisine is often not for the faint of heart. You may think you know what Chinese food is before you come to China. You may even believe it’s your favorite food in the world. But the stuff you’ve been eating in the US, or wherever, is not Chinese food, my friend.
Prepare yourself for tons of spices, bones and fat on your meat, lots of animals you would never have dreamt of eating before, and lots of dishes you just plain don't know what it is. You may be hesitant to commit to the local food, but there are only so many McDonalds you can eat before you realise you’re accidentally reenacting the documentary Super Size Me. Soon enough you will be chowing down on chicken feet, stinky tofu and century-old egg.
If you’re coming to China thinking you’re going to change hearts and minds, you’ve got another thing coming. If you imagine sitting down to drink tea with locals to discuss the merits of Communism or the political history of Sun Yat-Sen, you might find yourself drinking alone. People just aren’t interested in talking about politics.
It’s not through a fear of any sort of retribution necessarily. It’s born purely out of apathy. Most people are too busy living their lives with a number of pressures and responsibilities to think too much about how the country is run.
They want to relax when they talk. They don’t need to discuss matters that they may not view as affecting them personally and which seem out of their control. After several years of living in China, you’ll likely find yourself being less and less political too, at least in the conversations you have with locals.
When you imagine having a maid to clean your house, you probably picture yourself living in Downton Abbey. This is understandable as the idea of paying someone to clean your home is quite alien to most people in the West. After a while in China, however, you’ll begin to wonder how you ever managed without your beloved ayi.
A mix of it being much more the social norm and also much more affordable means that most foreigners and many Chinese employ an ayi, which translates literally to “auntie”. They clean, wash up, iron clothes and even cook the dinner if you need them to.
So watch as you turn from that once tidy person into a slob who leaves the dishes for days because "the ayi is coming this week". But it's okay, nobody will judge you here. We all do it.
Of course, many expats don’t have to worry about washing up because they don’t have any dishes to clean. Where back home, most people like to go to the supermarket and buy ingredients to cook their own dinner, here it seems to be a rare occurrence.
The reason why is a combination of a few factors. One; it’s cheap to eat out, especially at local restaurants. Two; it’s super convenient to order takeaway food on food delivery apps. Three; people tend to work long and tiring hours here. Who has the time or energy to cook at the end of the day? Four; to cook the dishes that you like back home usually involves ingredients that are either expensive because they are imported or just flat-out unavailable.
Whenever a foreigner arrives in China, they are usually eager to try and learn some basic Mandarin. At first, we’re all just thinking of the words we use back home. We’ll learn how to say “hi”, “bye” and “thank you”, but things start to come unstuck a bit when delving into the realms of “excuse me” and “please”.
The thing is, these two phrases are just simply not part of the Chinese vernacular. In some ways, the language is quite direct. People aren't being rude if they don't ask to get your attention or say please. It's just not how the language has developed.
Even “thank you” is not overly used here. While in the West we would say it freely and repeatedly, almost without thinking, in China it’s used more sparingly and therefore has much more emphasis.
In the beginning, most foreigners try to force their own culture’s politeness through Mandarin, adding 请 (qǐng - please) onto every request. But as you get to grips with the language more and more, you’ll start to realise how awkward it sounds to do so.
This is fine. Just remember to say thank you (谢谢 - xièxiè) when it is required and more importantly, sorry (不好意思 - bù hǎoyìsi) when you owe an apology.
What habits have you lost while living in China? Tell us in the comments section below.
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