China is a fascinating country rich in history and culture. With growing prosperity this economic powerhouse is attracting more foreigners every year. So what are the strange customs of China and things you need to know? Here are 21 things I’ve discovered over the years.
Customs of China and other things you need to know
1 Register yourself at your accommodation when you arrive
You’ll need to present your passport when you check in at a hotel or guest host. If you are staying with friends then you should really register this address at a local police station. The Chinese authorities like to know where you are, but don’t worry. As long as you behave yourself you have nothing to worry about.
2 Driving is crazy
There is little doubt that the driving on the roads in China is pure madness. I still can’t figure out if the drivers are crazy or just highly skilled without lane discipline. You’ll see 3 point turns made in front of oncoming traffic, wild manoeuvres to overtake, undertake, drivers without headlights, going down the road the wrong way. If it is a traffic rule you can guess it’s been broken in China. Passing though the eye of a needle doesn’t even begin to describe it.
3 A lot of food is served on the bone
With over a 1.3 billion population it is little wonder very little food is wasted. When I say they eat every part of an animal that is food then don’t be surprised when you see this. Chicken feet is a speciality.
What really struck me though is the basic nature of preparing food. Meat is often basically chopped up and cooked whilst still on the bone. Yes, even with chicken as you eat it I end up picking pieces of bone out of my mouth.
4 Hygiene in public
Without any embarrassment there are some personal hygiene issues from many of the local Chinese people. Don’t be too shocked as you quickly become accustomed to seeing people spitting in the street and indoors, even the women.
Also, if you notice that awful smell whilst walking down the street, don’t worry it is only urine. Yes, you’ll often see guys flip their little fella out and pee in the street.
5 Squat to drop your lot
If they can be bothered to go to a public toilet then don’t expect a rose smelling lavatory with sit down facilities. Here the locals do the squatting technique. Just be thankful if they’ve hosed away any remnants.
I genuinely mean this when I say the Chinese are a lovely people. I’ve met hundreds of them and they are wonderful hosts and genuinely care about how you are.
On the flip side their social graces are slightly different to those in the West. Shall we just say they are a little too honest? If they think you look fat, scruffy or bad in the morning they’ll tell you. They don’t mean any harm or insult by this. I guess that in their society it is not seen as being impolite. (I’m assuming they are being honest, a lot of the Chinese women tell me how handsome I am so it must be true 😉 )
Karaoke is a massive social past time in China. Labelled as KTV, lots of friends will descend on these locations to hire a room and sing along to their favourite songs. Beer and food will flow. Even if the songs are seriously out of tune nobody cares. Everyone there has a great time just enjoying each other’s company.
8 Present your card
When you present your passport, credit card or even business card just observe the local custom as they hand it back. They will present rather than hand these back to you. They will grip the sides of the card with both hands and politely present it back in a very respectful manner.
9 Massage in China
Asian medicines and natural techniques are still very popular. If you go to big urban centres such as in Shanghai or Beijing you’ll be spoilt for choice. Massage parlours and health spas abound. If you can’t afford these places, even though they are reasonably priced compared to the West then you are likely to find someone on the street who’ll give you a massage.
10 They like my writing
This really threw me since my writing is anything but neat. However when a Chinese person sees me write they often comment on how nice it is. I can only guess they say this since it is so different from their own. Chinese writing is in symbols which are often a collection of straight lines. Our English writing has a lot of swirls and curls which make it very different in appearance.
11 Noisy habits
Don’t expect peace and quiet when you are in a restaurant or a public place. Whilst it does not apply to all, you will find many Chinese are quite loud and I don’t mean talking. When they eat you’ll often hear them slurp or chew with their mouth open. You may also hear them snort or clear their throat in a very loud manner. Personally I find it very off putting yet somehow it is the norm here.
China is an amazing country which I highly recommend people visit. It is different to the western world though and is very much a controlled, police state. This even ventures as far as the internet. If you find a good internet connection, no guarantee, then don’t expect to be able to surf like you do at home. A lot of social media sites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Google+) in addition to YouTube, Google Maps and so on are blocked. The government wants to control social media activity to prevent any anti-governmental movements.
All is not lost though. Like anywhere you should protect your online activity and security with a good VPN host. Also with a good VPN like HideMyAss you can access Twitter and Facebook even though you are in China.
Hazy days abound in many of the cities. With such large production facilities and heavy traffic you’ll find some smog heavy days. They tend to come and go depending on the climate. Just bear this in mind if you plan to go sight seeing.
For some reason it is like a holy grail trying to find deodorant to buy in China. It’s just not sought after and sold to the locals. As a foreigner it is best to bring your own stock with you.
15 Toothbrush and toothpaste
Whenever I’ve stayed in Chinese hotels they’ve always supplied a complimentary dental kit in the rooms. Okay the toothbrush and toothpaste is not of the highest quality, but it is a sure fire way to save some money on my own toiletries each day I’m on the road. Beware of the tap water though. It is ill advised to drink it so use the complimentary bottles of water that you will also find in your room.
16 They’ll be dancing in the street
Yes, it’s true. Don’t be surprised to walk past a park or public square area and see lots of couples doing the tango. Especially the elderly. It is not uncommon to see lots of groups of people get together for a little slow dance whilst the world passes by.
17 He said, she said
At first I was baffled by this yet now I’m fairly accustomed to the Chinese people’s confusion on gender in speech. Far too often I hear them say “she” when they are referring to a guy. Likewise don’t be surprised to hear a lady be called “he”.
18 Married women keep their maiden name
Maiden names last a lifetime with the ladies of China. Whilst she may commit to you for life with a vow it is unlikely that she’ll take your family name too.
19 Choosing your own name
In spite of the above the Chinese have made efforts to be easier to communicate with for the West. In order to do this many of them have a Western name as well as a Chinese name. People will often choose their own English name in their teenage years or early twenties.
I know of one person who chose the name Winnie because she likes Winnie the Pooh. I also meet one person who didn’t have a Western name and wanted me to choose one for them. I don’t know why but I said okay, let’s call you “Julie”. It just felt right at the time I suppose. The last time I saw this person was close to a decade ago so I don’t know if the name stuck.
20 Smoking in public places is widespread
Many Western countries have moved towards restricting the smoking of cigars and cigarettes in public places. As for China, they have a more liberal approach to this, little wonder with such a high rate of smokers across their population. Don’t be too surprised to be greeted with a smokey reception when you enter a restaurant or bar.
21 They are not as old as they say they are
Every time I see a Chinese person I often think that they look a lot younger than they are. Yet if you ask them their age you may also be surprised at how old they say. This is even more complicated since age in China is not strictly based on the Western style of a calendar year. Here is an example as to how it works:-
A child is born on 5th January 2012 – immediately that child is called 1 year old even if it is in it’s first or second day of life.
Chinese New Year is celebrated on 23rd January 2012. Since they begin a new Chinese year the child is now in the 2nd year of life. So even by early February 2012 the child is 2 years old.
So by early 2013 the child is approaching their 3rd year of age, whereas for us they’ll be approaching 1 year old.
Confused? Yes I am a bit too but that is how it was explained to me.
Have you visited China on your travels? Do you have any customs of China that I should add to the list? Please leave a comment below to let me know. If you are interested in visiting China then have a look at C Trip, the China specialists.