8 things I'll never get used to in China

By: Sarah Bennett

It’s been said many times before that China is a world away from home. Okay I get it, you all know that. However it’s also possible that as much as you begin to understand China when you live here, there are also certain aspects which you will never seem to get a grasp on, or at least, that’s how I feel anyway.

  1. The climate and the way that the Chinese deal with it
    Coming from England this is an obvious choice but an important one nonetheless. In the north of China, you can get down to as low as minus 25. In the south, you can get highs of 37 degrees Celcius, plus ridiculous percentages of humidity. In the north, it’s common to have windows open in the winter. In the south, some people don’t like to use air conditioning because it’s “unhealthy.”
    You many fancy sitting out in the sun during the summer to tan yourself. The Chinese will think that you are crazy because you are making your beautiful and desirable white skin “black,” and yes, that is a direct quote. They also have no idea how to use beaches.

    Do you think the water’s cold?
    Do you think the water’s cold?

  2. People speaking VERY LOUDLY into their mobile phones
    Tone of voice in China is very important and it seems that most people can’t get their point across well enough unless they shout it down the phone. You can be in a lift with another person and wanting to cover your ears as they are so loud.

  3. Constant beeping of horns on cars and scooters
    It seems like there is no way for people to know that you are on the road unless you beep your horn. It’s like having a conversation with someone on the road: “beep” means “hello, I’m here!” The flip side to this is when horns are actually used properly. You know, when you are riding a scooter of your own and someone just comes out in front of you as they haven’t looked. The Chinese never seem to look.

    This is quiet…
    This is quiet…

  4. Spitting on the floor
    Or in the bin. Or in a plastic bag whilst you’re on a bus. “It’s unhealthy to keep that phlegm in your body so just get rid of it” seems to still be in practice around China. This is despite the whole incident with SARS a few years ago. Yes, it is more the older generation, but it seems that the younger generation still do it, especially the men and I’ve even seen very attractive young women do it too.

  5. Lying
    I cannot get my head around the fact that people are such blatant liars in China. Obviously, in all countries there are liars and to be honest, we’ve all told lies ourselves. It’s more the manner that it’s done in that you can’t get used to here. For example, a colleague had a girl arrive at work in tears, saying that she couldn’t work for the company anymore because her father was ill. Two weeks later, it was found that she was actually just working for another company… It’s all to do with face. China revolves around a face-culture which means that you don’t want to lose face, or pride and people find it easier to deal with this here by lying.

    Chairman Mao watches over China
    Chairman Mao watches over China

  6. QQ
    You won’t be allowed Facebook in China* so why not get yourself acquainted with QQ instead. It offers instant chat and something akin to a Facebook wall which will allow you to post photos on yours and friend’s walls.
    However, it is frustrating to use. Whilst you can get an international version of the instant messenger, the home page is in Chinese and your comments seem to disappear. Also, people in China use it constantly, as a social and business tool. You will hear the “beep beep beep” of a message arriving on someone’s phone, iPad or computer constantly. It seems like the Chinese are never off QQ! Though I’m sure many people will say that about Facebook too, at least it doesn’t have the annoying “beep beep beep!”

    *The Great Firewall of China always has ways and means of being bypassed…

    Great Firewall easier to pass than this wall!
    Great Firewall easier to pass than this wall!

  7. Being stared at and called “foreigner”
    You walk down the road, you’re stared at. You walk past a school and hear “look, a foreigner!” You go for a haircut, you’re stared at. You go for dinner and hear “a foreigner is here!”
    This is daily life if you live away from the main expat hubs of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and something I have never gotten used to. How can people still be surprised that there are people who look different around the world? OK, so toddlers will often get away saying things like “mummy, he’s fat” at home, but you would be scolded to high heaven if we’d said “mummy, he is a foreigner” as at home that would be considered borderline racism.
    Even if they are brave enough to talk to you, they will think you are American 95% of the time because we all know the world only consists of China and America, right?!

  8. Being “papped”
    This can sometimes go hand in hand with being stared at. You will soon begin to realise the constant attention celebrities receive from cameras and may begin to sympathise. Sometimes you cannot even do your weekly shop without someone taking a photo of you and that’s just the ones you know about. Whilst it is something that I have never really gotten used to, what can be funny about it is that if you sit in once place for too long, someone will always approach you, to talk to you and/or take a photo with you. And once one person has done it, more will follow in their footsteps.

    The most difficult thing to accept and get used to in China is that you are exotic. I come from England, a land as exotic sounding as mud to people who complain about it all the time, but in China, this place is fantasised and romanced about. This goes for any other country where you are of Caucasian descent.

However, these experiences will not only make you enjoy China and find it hilarious, it will also make you realise that your non-exotic home really is as cool as other people make it out to be. So what are you waiting for? Come and experience a fantastic land whilst finding out that your own is just as awesome.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingSarah Bennett is a British expat living in China. Blog description: Sarah blogs about TEFL, life in China, travels and everything in between.
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Contest Comments » There are 17 comments

Rachel wrote 9 years ago:

This list is really interesting! I've often wondered about what life is like in China. I don't think I could cope with the spitting but I imagine you can get some great food out & about. Good work!

Roxanne wrote 9 years ago:

Another great blog as always. These are my favourite things about your blog- the stories about how different China is to England. I can also imagine you (and your reactions) in all these different situations! Keep writing :)

Rachel wrote 9 years ago:

Sarah, I always find your blogs really interesting and this is no exception! I love how you show the side of China that people don't really know about, and make it funny at the same time. Keep writing, and maybe one day I'll have the courage to go out there myself! :)

Holly Nelson wrote 9 years ago:

Great blog post - I think the spitting would be a stretch too far for me!

Katie wrote 9 years ago:

Great fun to read! I'm visiting China in July and it's great to know what to expect. Ever wonder how many photo albums you have ended up in?!

Lesley B wrote 9 years ago:

Always funny to read and educational by default, those I have shared the blog with also adore that Sarah is truly enjoying herself in this-to us-exotic land full of such diversity. How she compares and encompasses her new experiences.And that she shocks the natives being able to understand and respond!! Pictures add a wow factor of course-scorpions on a stick, the fate of the latest bicycle and the behaviour on the beach... And she is a Man, having visited The Great Wall not just once, but Twice. What an experience.

DannyZ wrote 9 years ago:

Thanks for sharing these. Very enlightening given my limited knowledge of Chinese culture. I think I would have a blast with the "papping." I'd strike all kinds of poses for them, but I can see that it might start to get weird. Great post, good luck!

Sarah Bennett wrote 9 years ago:

Thanks all! Katie - I have no idea, but I'm sure it's a lot! Danny - They love it when you do the 'V' pose, as that's what they normally do. Unfortunately I can't stop now either, oops!

Bron wrote 9 years ago:

Yet again Sarah amazes and delights us about her experiences in China! I love learning about this country through her eyes.

Beka wrote 9 years ago:

I totally agree with some of those after staying in Beijing with you - the spitting is horrid! Although I did find it funny watching the locals trying to take sneaky photos... Keep up the fantastic work on the blog. The insight you give into life in China is what helped me make the decision to visit :)

Paul wrote 9 years ago:

Still managing to highlight the quirky and humorous things she sees. What a wonderful time she's hving in China despite - or perehaps because of - working very hard. Sarah is obviously enjoying finding out about the lives of the people she's living with.

Truth wrote 9 years ago:

I agree with the 1st point , the climate in Zhangzhou is just like a roller coaster,sometimes you can experience four seasons in a week.As for the people's curiosity about foreigners,I think you'll have to get used to it,most of them have never seen a foreigner in reality,so they'll keep staring at you or taking photos.Even I myself feel excited to meet a foreigner.

Sarah Gregory wrote 9 years ago:

Excellently written as always, very entertaining! Looking forward to reading more. :-) xxx

Nigel wrote 9 years ago:

I have followed this blog for a while and the writer always finds descriptive ways of showing that a life in another part of the world that I am unfamiliar with, can be extremely interesting and a great individual learning experience. The quick summary of the different culture that can be found in this single blog indicates by just scratching the surface and observation techniques that a wealth of knowledge and, new experiences can be gained. I'm sure Sarah's descriptive writing will encourage those that seek a different adventure, than the norm, to follow similar footsteps.

Kate wrote 9 years ago:

Your writing is always so interesting and so fresh- your experiences and candor about them never cease to entertain and surprise, so well done, Sarah- another great installment!

Xiaoyi Hu wrote 8 years ago:

As a Chinese, I totally agree with you. That's exactly what Chinese do. And sometimes I think that's because China is so big and so "dead", I mean people is so narrow sighted, that we are very curious about anything that is different.

Jen wrote 8 years ago:

Absolutely brilliant, I couldn't agree with all of these things more as I'm living in one of the 'smaller' cities in China about two hours away from Xi'an. The blatant lying is particularly funny - I can't get my head around the amount of lies and excuses I hear on a daily basis. Even if a fairly 'westernised' English speaker hasn't a clue about something I've said, rather than ask, they'll make up an entirely different answer to something else completely unrelated rather than admit they didn't understand what I said. So refreshing to read other people's views on these things, it's certainly an experience being a Brit in China!

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