Daily Culture Shock, China Style

Updated: Jan 13

Camila Luna


Recently moved to China? These cultural differences might be the first to hit you!

Shanghai, one of the most advanced cities in the world

1. Spitting on the street, accompanied by the loud, deep-throated gurgling sound.


This one is at the top because you will probably encounter this the moment you step outside the airport. To westerners, this is absolutely disgusting, I understand. I have no other comment but “ unfortunately, you'll have to deal with it”. Also understand that to many Chinese, you blowing/ wiping your nose into a tissue and then (*gasp*) putting said tissue back into your pocket is a straight- up abomination. I try not to blow my nose in restaurants or public places knowing that in China, it’s considered repugnant.


2. Sometimes you will think you are being screamed at, but really that is just how some people (especially older people) talk.


When I first met my landlord, I was so scared because he was yelling and pounding on the door. When I finally got a translator, I found out that he was just trying to tell me to “let him know if I need help with anything.” Some Chinese dialects, like the Shanghainese dialect, can sound ferocious to the western ear.


3. There is no such thing as waiting in line for the public bathrooms.


Get ready for the hunger games!


4. You will be served boiling hot water.


Even in the peak of summer. You will think it’s a mistake (where’s the tea bag?)

You will learn it is intentional. Apparently, hot water cures everything from period cramps to broken legs to broken hearts. You must learn to love hot water.


5. Having sudden “privileged” status as a foreigner.


Coming from the Americas- places where black people have been discriminated against for hundreds of years, it’s really refreshing and even weird to suddenly gain social status & credibility. I’m not profiled in stores as a potential shoplifter (instead, I gain preferential treatment as a potential buyer), I don’t earn a lower salary (instead, I earn more as a foreigner), and people are extra nice to me. I’ve never felt so pretty in my life, with random people complimenting me daily, willing to listen to my mundane stories, and handing me their babies to take photos.


6. You will be pushed & shoved, and in turn, you can push & shove.


Sometimes I can’t help but imagine some of these people on an NYC subway. The lack of personal space and propensity to use elbows is worthy of a good ol’ NYC subway fight. But fortunately, we’re not in New York, we’re in China. So this is normal. Get used to it. And while you’re at it, have some fun barging around on the train as well. There is a different concept of personal space here... especially on public transport.


7. Half the time, everything is hard.


A new delivery guy doesn’t know how to use your elevator. He calls you and starts (what you believe to be) yelling at you in Chinese. Good luck getting your food before it turns into a soggy, mushy mess.


You try to tell your tuktuk driver your address in Chinese but your accent is so bad that he doesn’t understand what you’re saying. Have fun getting home.


8. The other half of the time, everything is TOO freaking easy. Life shouldn’t be this convenient.


It’s 9pm (or 9am) and you want a glass of wine but you’re too lazy to leave your apartment. Just order it on your phone!


You see a girl on the street wearing the cutest shoes you adore. Just discretely take a picture, upload it on Taobao (Amazon on crack), find the exact shoes, and have them delivered in two days. It’s dangerous.


You don't feel like taking the train, so you pay less than $10 USD for a cab to take you all the way to the other side of the city.



9. You don’t just need to assimilate to Chinese culture, but you need to navigate the cultures of other foreigners as well.


This is a big one. When your friends from Spain invite you to grab dinner, what they really mean is to meet them at 9pm. When they invite you to a party, what they really mean is to meet at the bar at 11, talk and drink until 2am, and then go out and dance until 5 in the morning.


When your French friend invites you to his birthday party, what he really wants is not an individual thoughtful gift, but for you to show how much you care by participating and helping to coordinate the larger group gift(s) from the entire group of friends.


10. Comments about your body are normal, and honestly, don’t take offense.


If you are overweight, a person might point to your belly and say, “so fat”. If you’re skinny, your tailor will remark “so slim!”. If you have a round butt, your trainer might tell you that you have a pronounced butt. If you have small boobs, your doctor might comment "so little” while doing a breast exam (actually this happened to me.)


It is what it is. I don’t know why this is considered normal, but just shrug it off.



What culture shock have you experienced while living abroad? Let us know in the comments!

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