Before moving to live in China for two months, I was excited to embrace many of the cultural differences I would face. I had heard about the hole-in-the-ground style squat toilets and slurping of noodles, but It was not until I actually came here that I understood slurping is actually a sign that you are enjoying the food rather than a rude noise frowned upon in western cultures.
I have now been living in Zhuhai for just over 4 weeks and throughout my time have noticed a variety of differences between Chinese culture and my own back in the UK. Many Chinese traditions are beautiful to witness and I have really enjoyed gaining a better understanding of life here.
For example, the central role of elderly people in the family and raising of grandchildren is a lovely tradition that gives the adults more time to themselves, seemingly keeps gramps feeling young and develops a community respect for, and connection to, the elderly. It is not uncommon to see old people taking their younger relatives to school on the bus, or playing with them outside, which always makes you smile on your way to work.
I have also learned to enjoy Chinese drinking culture, including constant toasting throughout a meal, as well as lowering your glass to a friend to demonstrate your respect. And, as an avid tea drinker, I have loved the use of tea to show friendship and hospitality, admiring the delicacy of some tea ceremonies.
Nevertheless, a few cultural differences I have noticed are a little bit harder to get used to, and you’ll just have to learn to live with them when living in China.
Number 1: The whole animal served on a plate
The first cultural difference I discovered was on a business trip on my second day of my internship. For lunch, we stopped at a restaurant by a river and my boss ordered chicken and duck along with other dishes.
To my surprise, a whole duck and chicken were placed on the table, including the heads. They had been prepared by being cut into equal sizes, regardless of whether bones were in the way.
This presents a further challenge; if you are a meat eater, be prepared to try and master the Chinese way of picking bones from your mouth as you eat, something that seems so effortless to the locals! Even the tiniest piece of meat is likely to have a bone in.
Number 2: Wild driving
This is another I found out about early on, while taking my first taxi ride. I was shocked at how rude the taxi driver was being, swerving in and out of lanes, cutting in front of people and even driving in between lanes.
However, after living here for a month I have realised this is completely normal driving in China. In fact, because of all the unpredictable swerving, it seems drivers are more observant, with quicker reactions than most in the UK. Not to mention they get you from A to B super quick and so cheaply! Upon that realisation, and having taken many more taxi journeys, I have become increasingly trusting of the local drivers. However, I will welcome the orderly and comparatively peaceful roads with open arms when I return home.
Number 3: Non-existent queuing
Being British, I have had queuing drilled into me at an early age and can’t help but be overwhelmed with annoyance if someone queue jumps. In China, however, queuing seems to be more along the lines of a polite suggestion rather than a strict social norm.
Many times I have been queuing for the cash desk in a supermarket and, as it reaches my turn, someone walks in front of me and places their items on the desk. You soon learn to become more pushy and assertive, as well as perhaps a little more impatient. Although it can become a bit of fun, I still can’t quite overwrite my innate desire to respect a queue.
Number 4: Eat very fast
I’m sure I was once told that one of the reasons Chinese people are thin and live so long is because using chopsticks means they eat slower. What a misconception that was.
During lunch at work, my colleagues shovel down their food so quickly I sometimes wonder when they get a chance to breath. Often, after less than 10 minutes, I am left alone with the other InternChina intern whom works here, as everyone else has cleaned their plate and do not tend to wait for everyone before leaving the table.
Number 5: Spitting
This one is probably the worst Chinese habit I’ve put up with during my stay here, fortunately in big cities it is not too common. However once in a while, when having a peaceful walk along the streets of Zhuhai, you may be startled by a very loud snorting sound, followed by someone spitting. Although it truly is a disgusting sound, it is not considered rude here and so locals don’t even bat an eyelid. So, unfortunately you will have to learn to live with it and, unlike them, swallow your distaste.
Throughout my time in Zhuhai, I have attempted to fully immerse myself in the Chinese culture and have really enjoyed my time here because of it. Even these cultural differences that may be a little out of my comfort zone made my experience more enriched and interesting and, aside from maybe number 5, I wouldn’t want them to change.