There comes a time in every longterm China expat's life when you realize that you’re starting to adopt the unspoken rules and cultural nuances you found so strange on arrival. There’s no set timeframe in which this happens, but for most I think it comes around the two-year mark. So how can you tell when you've not only got accustomed to the local culture, but are, in fact, helping to perpetuate it? Here are eight signs that you’ve gone native as an expat in China.
Source: ankledeep / JJ
You think “your” city is the best in China
What's the best city in China? Does it happen to be the one you currently live in? Naturally! From those Shanghai expats who claim their fashion and food scenes are the best, to adoptee Beijingers who believe there's no real art or culture outside their city limits, to the expats who live in tier 3 and 4 cities who think they’re the only ones experiencing the “real China”, true China expat veterans will defend the cities they live in to the death – high crime rates, contaminated milk and rampant corruption be damned.
You’ve stopped taking photos
When you first arrived in China, everything looked quaint or exotic and your social media feeds were full of atmospheric photos of folk getting street-side haircuts, interesting local food and old blokes on bicycles. These days you hardly ever take photos unless it’s of you and your mates on a night out. Have those quaint scenes disappeared or have you just got so used to seeing them you don’t notice any more?
You have no qualms about spitting bones directly onto a restaurant table
Remember when you first moved here and politely removed your spare rib bones and fish fins and discarded them neatly on in side of your plate? When you would watch with veiled horror as the Chinese diners around you spat out their unwanted food debris in a mouth-to-table waterfall with no hint of self consciousness? Me neither. There's something downright rebellious about abandoning conventional Western manners and participating in the way it's done in China. I still wouldn't recommend spitting your bones out at a high-end Chinese restaurant, but this is what the table cloths in your local joints are made for.
You find yourself speaking with grunts instead of using words
Next time you're having a conversation with someone, whether in Chinese or not, pay close attention to the words you use – or lack thereof. Do you catch yourself saying “Mm” for “okay” or “uh” for “I agree”? Does responding in any other more expansive way seem exhausting and pointless? The Chinese have mastered the art of speaking in grunts and noises. There's simply no need to waste breath saying, “You're absolutely correct,” when a well-placed “uh” will do just fine.
You can judge the AQI accurately with the naked eye
There’s no need for an app any more. When you look out of your apartment window in the morning, you can accurately judge the Air Quality Index (AQI) within 5 points simply by the way the buildings in the distance look. And while a 250+ day used to ensure you stayed indoors with the air purifiers blasting, these days you take it all in your stride. Backwards power walk around the local park? Why the heck not!
You start carrying your girlfriend’s handbag
Men sometimes do this in the West, but usually only when their significant other is in the bathroom. Chinese men, however, seemingly have no qualms about carrying their girlfriend’s handbag for the entire day. If you’ve lived in China for a while and dated a local girl, chances are high that you’ve demonstrated this seemingly inescapable display of chivalry.
Your telephone voice is permanently at maximum volume
This is one that I often don't notice until I’m back in the States. I'll be on the train, chatting on my phone, when suddenly I notice that everyone is staring at me. I’ve realized that the connection is often so bad in China or the language barrier so thick, it now seems perfectly normal to shout into my cell at all times. There's nothing that can't be fixed by just speaking louder.
You’ve started using your umbrella on sunny days
The first time I saw someone (or indeed many someones) holding an open umbrella aloft on a perfectly sunny day, I thought it was odd. These days, however, I have no qualms about using my brolly as a sunshade. While I would do it just to avoid overheating and the inevitable expat sweat patches, most Chinese people do it because they think white skin is more attractive. They also avoid the sun because they're always on the lookout against cancer. Cigarette, anyone?
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Keywords: expat in China
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