I totally and completely understand the culture shock that happens which sometimes turns into cultural fatigue. But what has frustrated me is watching whole families allowing that to be an excuse to be downright rude and culturally insensitive. I reached out to Chinese friends and expats to see which bad habits really tick them off.
- Complaining about Everything
Foreigners complain about everything from infrastructure, food, water, culture, government policies, social rules to the language. I’ll cut your kids some slack since they’re still learning how to be adults, but when a grown man with a beard starts acting like a pre-teen, that man is 不礼貌 (bù lǐmào) (not polite).
- Judging before Understanding
I hope I never hear “That’s dumb” come out of my own mouth when I see or hear something I don’t understand about daily life or culture in the capital. I would suggest others prone to this instead ask, “Why is this person doing this?” or “I don’t understand this process. Please explain it to me.” If understanding still is elusive, I try to ask more clear, pointed questions. When I’m baffled and still can’t understand, I just remember, I chose to come here.
- Standing on the Left
Frequent commuters on the subway know that if you want to stand on the escalator, stand to the right. The left side is used for walking up the escalator. Although foreigners aren’t the only ones who do this, it certainly stands out when a family is the only group on the escalator blocking the anxious businessman from rushing ahead.
- Not Speaking Chinese
Confession: I went to my local market and was looking for ground beef. I tried to communicate with the butcher, but he got frustrated.
“How long have you been here?” he interrupted.
“Well, two years,” I replied sheepishly.
“Why can’t you speak Mandarin yet? You’ve been here for two years!”
I rattled off excuses of kids, work, blah, blah, blah through broken Mandarin.
It’s easy to get in the expat bubble, but don’t let that language vacuum cause your Mandarin to slip or the butcher will burn you like he did me.
- Coming Unprepared
This is related to number four because tellers at banks are secretly whispering expletives under their breath when foreigners come in without a translator and without any documents ready and prepared. Tasks take significantly longer even through perfect translation. When there’s a foreign passport involved (or five depending upon family size), sometimes steps are suddenly added to the process.
I know it’s incredibly annoying to be patient at a business when most are used to “efficiency” but keep in mind they (the service industry people) might not be happy to see you either. Foreigners ask a lot of questions Chinese clients don’t since many already know how these processes work. Second tip, have a Chinese friend call ahead to find out exactly what is needed ready before arrival.
- Carrying the White Card
Be careful flaunting the salaries that you or your spouse might have in comparison to a Chinese coworker. Under that sort of situation, nationals struggle not to think the better pay is simply because of skin tone and passport.
- Being Racist
In an unnamed English office, an expat friend witnessed a group of foreign teachers talking about Chinese culture. One man of several children gestured widely, “Chinese people are so dumb. They can’t figure out anything on their own. 小米 copied iPhone, Baidu copied Google, Youku copied YouTube. Can’t their people be innovative?” The English speaking teaching aide steamed with anger. Most families are here to work. I suggest not biting the hands feeding your kids.
- Squatty Potty Not-y Attitude
Guess what? In some bathrooms in Beijing, but more prominently in rural China, people squat to unload. The squatty potties in Beijing are sometimes clean and the holes in the ground elsewhere are comparable to porta potties at popular but under financed sports tournaments. Squatty potties certainly have their strange factor, but they also have many advantages. The position is better for your colon, easier for toddlers to aim correctly while potty training (peeing down vs. peeing up and over), and more hygienic when all you touch is the stall room door. I personally prefer never touching but sharing a Beijing squatty over hovering uncomfortably over a public seat that’s been touched by a million butts in New York City. Welcome to China, squat and potty train with joy!
- Being Ungrateful
Although this complaint was mentioned by a friend without an example, I’ve personally witnessed expat teachers becoming a bit entitled. The teacher typically comes to a school and a coworker might be assigned to help the expat’s family settle in. More than likely, that coworker is not making money in helping. They’re not paid to help expat families turn electricity back on in the middle of the night so their kids won’t freeze. They don’t owe anyone anything as they’re not the employer and most have already signed their contract terms. That’s just called being awesome, and they should be thanked profusely.
- Acting Like a Picky Eater Toddler/Adult
In general, Chinese people are very proud of their varied and regional cuisines. Therefore, bashing the food for its spiciness, oddities, and any other unappetizing qualities are not going to be heard with applause. If you don’t like a dish, just say, “谢谢。 我不要了.” (xiè xiè. wǒ bù yaò le.) (Thank you, I don’t want it). If they ask you if you like the flavor, you can respond politely with 一般般。(yī bān bān.) (A little bit). They’ll take the hint, but they would have great pleasure in knowing you enjoyed their food. Good news is that home cooked food is almost always tastier than what’s found on the street or in restaurants.