Before arriving in China many expats don’t know what to expect. Will it be something completely different from what they are accustomed to or will it almost be the same, since it is developing so fast? The answer is quite simple: it is an Asian country with a different culture, so there will be a degree of culture shock in China but Westerners will still have a lot in common with Chinese people.
Meeting and greeting in China
When it comes to greeting, people usually say “ni hao”, which means “hi”. If they want to show extra respect, they use the phrase “nin hao”. It should be kept in mind that Chinese people do not shake hands in general because it is not a part of their greeting ritual. Although, sometimes when they see a foreigner they shake hands to show an understanding of Western culture. Chinese people are generally friendly and very hospitable. Don’t be surprised if someone asks you out for lunch or dinner, even though they might be a stranger – it’s just a part of Chinese culture, a way to communicate with people and create social circles.
Dress code in China
Chinese people usually dress in a way that Western expats would perceive as normal and casual. Apart from big festivals, it’s difficult to find traditionally dressed people. What’s more, there are a lot of Western clothing brands in China.
Language barrier in China
The language barrier is a really big problem in China. There are a few reasons for this. First, apart from Chinese Mandarin, which is the country’s official language, hundreds of dialects exist as well. For some people, learning Chinese Mandarin is difficult enough but in some rural areas, and especially the older generation, people cannot even speak Mandarin.
The second reason is that even though young people learn English nowadays, the education system does not give them many opportunities to use it. That’s why many people can understand easy phrases but are quite shy when it comes to speaking.
The third reason is that China covers a vast area so, although there are often large numbers of foreigners in major cities, there are still not many compared to the whole population. So, people generally don’t bother translating things into English outside of the big cities. Because of this, it would be a great idea for expats to learn a few useful expressions in Chinese before coming to China.
Time in China
The official time zone in China is GMT+8, which is called Beijing time. As it is commonly known, China stretches over several time zones in practice, so in some provinces far away from Beijing two versions of time are said to exist. One is the official one and the second is the local one. Urban Chinese people are generally punctual, although huge traffic jams and conditions on the road are often difficult to predict and expats should keep this in mind when making appointments. On the other hand, in the smaller cities and rural areas time is much more flexible. For example, people often don’t say, “Let’s meet at 6pm.” Instead they would arrange to meet in the evening.
Religion in China
Religion is not very popular in China. It is more common to find religious people in the rural areas than in the big cities. Most people that are religious are Buddhists and Muslims although it is possible to find Christians in bigger cities. Although Chinese society is not very religious, during festivals such as the Spring Festival, many locals go to Buddhist temples to pray for the happiness of their families and, interestingly, for their children to achieve good marks in their final exams before entering university.
Women in China
Although perceptions of a woman’s role in society changed, an ancient concept of women still exists in many Chinese minds. The Chinese concept of beauty is called baifumei which means “white” (woman should have white skin), “wealthy” (wealth is very important in China) and beautiful (women should be quiet and feminine). Women nowadays do play a significant role in the management of Chinese companies but it is still somehow expected that they should fulfil traditional roles when it comes to home and children.
Cultural dos and don’ts in China
Chinese culture is so diverse that only the most essential and crucial cultural dos and dont’s are listed below:
DON’T be surprised if a stranger asks about your age, marital status or and your parents’ jobs
DON’T refuse the invitation when you are invited to lunch or dinner because it is considered as losing face. Rather reschedule if you have to.
DON’T criticise Chinese food and culture when eating out with local people. Rather focus on the country’s good points.
DON’T be too individualistic. China has a collective culture that values society over the individual.
DO realise that Chinese concepts of personal space and privacy are different. The local shop assistant will follow their customers around and teachers sometimes look at their students’ notes. Not to mention the massive crowds in some cities.
DO be tolerant when people spit in public places. Foreigners might be shocked or disgusted when they first notice it but this is a Chinese cultural habit.
DO spend time in parks. Chinese people spend a lot of their time in city parks, singing or dancing together.
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