Tips on how to adapt, socializing and habits of Chinese people ,what to do or not to do?!
Tip1: Air in Beijing may be a lot different than in your country. So be prepared for a wet and sometimes smelly air. You will either love it or hate it there is no middle like everything in Beijing in my opinion. When days are foggy and smoggy you will feel it in summer time how it enters your nose. I never had felt anything similar like that. If you love Beijing you will anytime when you come be happy when you feel that smell again. It will be your first association on Beijing whether you like it or hate it. For example I left China in 2001 as I wrote. I was dreaming to see it again. In June 2013 when I got out of airport terminal building first thing that made extreme impression on me was feeling and breathing that air. However it is not so poluted like it was before. On my last trip in 2015 from 10 days, 8 of them were completely sunny with pure sky.
Tip2: Get used on another street smells mostly of food. It may be unpleasant and strange but you will accept it sooner or later. Specially can be strange smell of tofu cheese that is prepared on street its smell reminds on smell of shit but don’t worry its tasty.
Tip3: Some places can be dirty, messy and dusty like older hutongs and larger streets may seem dusty. Even some restaurants can seem unclean but don’t worry they can serve perfect food. But don’t worry there are plenty of clean and green areas such as parks in city, lakes, also hills beyond city. Also clean and modern streets, shopping malls. Simply get used on everything. Get used on contrasts that behind modern residential or financial area there are cheap buildings made of brick. But that is Beijings and charm of all China.
Tip4: Get used on different mentality. A lot of noisy people. But that is way how they speak. When it seem that they shout on each other or even that they are having an argument don’t worry that is way how they emphasize on what they speak.
Tip5: Get used on traffic. Street rules are different here so be careful. Generally rules and laws are same as everywhere in world and are strict but most of people don’t pay much attention on them. Driving is very chaotic here especially in crossroads. Be careful especially if you are pedestrian and at pedestrian crossing. Car or bike will hardly let you to pass first they will try to pass as fast as possible in front of you or behind you. If it is red light for them they will wait green turn. But if it is crossroad where there is alternative green light for cars passing by to left or right you still have permission to go first but forget it. I was almost hit by a motorbike once. They will attempt in any case to pass before you even at cost of hitting you. Even that punishment waits them to pay you all cost of treatment of injuries they still want to pass first. So in such cases better wait when larger group from 5-10 people will start crossing street and join them. and than they will have to stop and let you pass. In China traffic rules are special. Those who has bigger vehicle feels stronger. Bicycle drivers are afraid of cars, cars of trucks and pedestrians of everyone. Also on sidewalks many bicycle drivers and drivers of electric motorbikes pass very fast into masses of pedestrians. They just ringing or pushing horn to warn you to take care and they will pass very fast. I remember experience in a van when we travelled to Great Wall and Ming Tombs. When we were passing through hutongs our driver was horning so much to chase away pedestrians and bicycle drivers which were in front of us. Even on expressway I was watching big trucks trying to go in front of cars and like that they raced between each other and tried to make obstacles by their large truck bodies to other cars, vans or trucks even. I felt scared a bit as I thought that big mess can occur. But fortunately nothing happened. When you get used crossing a street and such experiences on roads will become fun for you like a big game.
Tip6: Toilets. Their appearance varies. In clean restaurants, shopping malls and business areas they are very clean. While in some tourist destinations especially beyond city may be very messy and unclean. If you go somewhere for a trip prepare a toilet paper in your rucksack.
Tip7: If you see someone especially older people starring at you don’t worry they do not have bad intention. They are just interested in you as you are a foreigner and probably they didn’t saw many of them and they are just curious. I wrote in some of previous articles how one old and wise man approached me next to lake in Xiangshan garden. He was starring at me for few minutes before he asked me something and it finished in very friendly and open conversation.
Tip8: Start meeting new people. You are new here so best way to adapt and not feel alone is to start making friendship with your classmates or job colleagues. You will meet here a large number of foreign expats and students. All of them are usually very friendly and looking forward to meet some new foreigners to talk, go for a beer, dinner, nigh club… Beijing is like global village you will find people from all over the globe from, US to New Zealand. For example when traveling to Ming Tombs I was in same van with family from India, couple from Morocco, one girl from Africa ( I am not sure which country) and one couple from US. Or one evening at Sanlitun when I was on beer with my Chinese friend we met some people from Australia, US, France, Singapore, Russia, Germany, Pakistan and Tanzania…
Tip9: Also on your workplace or faculty you will meet Chinese people of course, you are in China. Best to get closer to Chinese people, their habits and way of life is to make friends with them. You will see that most of people that you see on street are willing to help and friendly. It happened to me when I was beyond of Beijing that one man came to me to ask if I need some help. With your Chinese colleagues, classmates be generous and friendly especially if you want to date some Chinese girls. Also when I was searching for a guesthouse hidden among large buildings I asked 3 Chinese teenagers to help me how to get there. One of them spoke good English and he entered maps on his smartphone to check where it is and how to get there. Also in pharmacy when I couldn’t explain to sellers that I need thermometer as they didn’t spoke English one young guy ( also had poor English) gave me his mobile to type in translating application English word so he could tell them what I need. At beginning most of Chinese may seem shy and a bit uncommunicative but don’t give up it is their culture to be a bit reserved and a bit closed. They may be very short in asking formal questions and even shorter in responding to your questions. But keep to show interest in them. Show that you are open and friendly, speak about yourself and ask few questions and they will see that they can trust you and step by step and will become more open. When they open their hearts to you it is harder that you will find more sincere and friendly person than Chinese. For example here in Slovakia where I study now I met a Chinese student. He is one of my best friends here. We can speak anything from politics to private topics. When I was in Beijing during summer 2013 when he heard that I am there he passed 600km from Taian( Shandong Province) to Beijing. Although it is just 2h by express train still I appreciate it very much. He was so happy that I am in his homeland and he did best to tell me and show me as much as possible new. He brought me best tea from Taishan and said it is present from him and his family. I was so deeply and sincerely happy for such gift. In China when you get gifts from a friend and in name of his all family it means that it was given by them sincerely with a whole heart and shows big respect to guest in their country. Also I heard that when you receive a tea as a gift from a Chinese friend it means friendship forever.
Tip10: Dinner with Chinese will be amazing experience for you. However in all world it is a way of socializing Chinese dinner may be a bit different. Unlike probably most of you got used when you go to restaurant everyone orders his meal but here advice with friends which you came what you will order. As in Chinese restaurants on one table more meals are ordered and shared between each other. Larger portions are there and everyone has small plate or bowl where he can put from each of meal. Don’t use chopsticks for picking a food to your plate as no one would like to share your saliva 🙂 Use spoon given with a meal. Chinese people are friendly and have good sense of humor but you shouldn’t do some things during meal. Have in mind that they may get offended if you point a chopstick even for fun to someone as it can mean that you want to point a weapon on him. Also never put chopsticks to stand vertically in a bowl as it will remind them on incense sticks burning what will mean that you wish death to someone on same table. They would know probably that you don’t intend to do that but may feel unpleasant. Put sticks next to each other in horizontal position and everything is fine. Also don’t intentionally hit a bowl or plate with stick in a way of fun. It will be same if you played with work or knife in your country. Also when picking food if you intend to take from particular portion if someone started slightly before you let him finish as it is unpolite to pick from same one at the same time. Also if you don’t like some meal on table don’t say that you don’t like it as it may offend someone who ordered it. Just avoid picking from that portion and everyone is happy. Lastly even if they suggest you to try it, try it and say it is fine and don’t take anymore. Chinese friends will see you as a guest in their country and for first time there is no way that they will allow you to pay dinner. However as a polite gesture they will expect that you will also pick out a wallet to show respect but they will stop you immediately. After a short arguing let them pay. But next time take necessary measures to pay them dinner. They even between themselves “struggle “who will pay. It can be very funny when you start taking bill from each other and putting faster money in hands of a waiter. With my Chinese friend we spent two days in Beijing. He paid first lunch without giving me any permission to pay. In evening we went on dinner with his friend. I wanted to pay but she stood up and said “ You are a guest in China you shouldn’t pay”. Finally second day I paid him lunch after competition who will catch waiter first.:) Last point here it is a better to leave few pieces of food unfinished than to clean and pick each grain of rice so those who invited you will think you didn’t had enough and may decide to order more meals. When it comes about drinking Chinese people like to drink quite a lot. And person who organizes dinner may persuade and insist you to drink a lot often expecting to finish glass to the bottom. If you feel that you had enough don’t excuse that you had headache or stomachache but just say that you are a bit drunk even pretend that you are a bit drunk. Don’t be afraid about making a mistake just have these few things in mind and enjoy friendly atmosphere full of various discussions, serious and funny, jokes, laughing and making even more friends.
Tip11: Gifts: It is special category that you should pay attention. Remember once again you are in China, different world, different culture, different habits so its same when it is about gifts for New Year or Birthday or some other occasion. Among common gifts can be for family that invites you to their house or some friends can be: basket of fruits, flowers( except chrysanthemums as they are used on funeral), tea( Chinese people love healthy life), perfumes, clothes like t-shirts or shirts( but never white colored as it is used on funerals), also some decorations paintings or souvenirs such as fridge magnets or some figures from your country can be warmly accepted. Don’t give bracelets or necklets to friends or colleagues as it is associated with more close relationship and intimacy. If you have a Chinese boyfriend or girlfriend you can give it to him/her. Bringing to someone bottle of alcohol or package of cigarettes is very common as Chinese people widely use both of things. As you are foreigner they will very appreciate a beverage from your country- some beer, wine, brandy, whiskey, vodka… I gave to my Chinese friends a Serbian Slivovitza( brandy made from plum around 45% strong) and he was very happy with it. If you really don’t know what to buy to someone you can give some money. It is common thing for birthdays, weddings, new year… You should put it in nice red envelopes( red is color of luck and wealth) with golden Chinese characters. That’s how money is given among closer friends, family members or couples. You can buy such envelopes on many places if you are not sure where ask someone to give you. Never give amount of money that starts with number 4 such as 40 or 400 as 4 is similarly pronounced as death. Chinese etiquette is to give a gift with both hands also to receive it with both hands as a sign of respect and sincerity. Greeting cards as addition to gift is uncommon however no one will get offended if you do so. You can give gifts even in pair as Chinese people believe that pair of things is lucky. I will give you several “warnings” about gifts that may be common in your country but avoid it in China: clock( as it is similarly pronounced with word that means that family has finished all ceremonies related to burial, especially never give it to older person as it can be a gesture that his time is passing by and he can watch on clock how much it has left for him to live), never give a green hat to man( as it is gesture that his wife or girlfriend is unfaithful, there is old Chinese saying” He is wearing a green hat” what means that his girlfriend or wife is cheating on him), umbrella( similarly pronounced as separation) and shoes( are often gift in European countries and US but here it isn’t common, especially not to your girlfriend or boyfriend as it is gesture of separation what would mean that you want her/him to go away from you soon and relationship will end. However if you give them such gift they wont be seriously offended or find it as an insult on them as they know you are not Chinese and will believe that you didn’t do it on purpose because of cultural differences, they can feel embarrassed. Just don’t make them feel bad and everything will be amazing with your new Chinese friends.
Tip12: Losing a face: Traditionally Chinese people are proud and emphasize on honor. Therefore they avoid to make mistakes and try their best to show themselves in best light in front of others, family members, friends, colleagues…They are avoiding to make mistake in front of others so they will feel ashamed and lose face. So just in case you see someone did you consider inappropriate don’t tell that in front of others as it will make him embarrassed and he will lose face. Just call him next to you and tell him silently about some mistake.
Beijing is as most of other Chinese cities extremely safe. Attacks, robberies, murders on a daily basis are minor. As you see above Chinese people are friendly, peaceful and warm but there are things on which you should take care. As in every country here are also cheaters and bad people
Tip1: Taxis cheating. Be aware of taking a taxi there are thousands of them in Beijing but not all of them honest. Don’t go into taxi that doesn’t have taximeter. Even some that they have taximeter they can be set in such way to raise a price much higher than it is and you cant argue with driver at the end of ride when he already tells or shows final price. It is best to negotiate a price when you enter a car or before ride starts. So if he doesn’t want to accept reasonable price you can go away. For example ride between Beijing Airport and city center( around 20km) cant cost more than 150RMB. Even it can cost less if driver is honest. So for example on this destination dont accept anything more than 150RMB you can suggest between 80RMB and 150RMB. If you are not sure that taxi is legal it is best to call it by yourself a number, or ask a receptionists in hotel to call taxi for you. Or ask a Chinese friend or colleague to give you proper number. In such case there is very low probability to be cheated. For example ride between city and airport cost me only 70RMB last summer morning and I gave a tip to driver 30RMB as he was very friendly, honest and open.
Tip2: Scam of various types. A) Some people may randomly stop foreigners on street, be open and can ask you for English practicing it is all fine to speak and walk until they invite you to tea house or dinner. Chinese people are friendly and warm but no one with good intention will stop you randomly with excuse to practice English and invite you so fast somewhere together. Attractive women do that especially. Thing is that it is part of plot to get some money from you. They are often hired by owners of restaurants or tea house to make as big bill as possible often with added prices and meals or tea and women which took foreigner receives some percent of money. So for example I heard story about person who was invited to tea house by such girl and bill was 300$. Chinese tea can be expensive but not so much it can be around 100-150$. Also I heard about one person who went to lunch by two girls who wanted to practice English and bill was 900$.You don’t have other choice but to pay as they disappear just before bill comes. Most of such women can be found between CBD and Tiananmen Square. For example I was approached by one of them last summer in Wangfujing street when around 30-35 years old women asked me to go for beer or coffee. And I rejected as it was all too strange. Also in summer 2013 one man approached me and my father asking us to show his gallery. It is another type of scam as when you go there they push you and behave aggressively to buy some painting. B) Nightlife is very developed in China and lively. But if some people on the street suggest you massage for 100-150RMB at 2 or 3am in massage house don’t dare to go. It is prostitution. But it can be very dangerous you can be even beaten and robbed when you arrive to brothel even before you get service. Or even after getting service you can be beaten and robbed. C) Be aware of too friendly girls in night clubs. I mean by too friendly that approach you first. Generally Chinese girls are shy and it is not so easy to make relationship with them until you try hard. In nightclubs there can be commonly found girls interested in one night stands which are more communicative and less shy but they wont approach you by themselves. You must approach them. If some girl asks you to join your table reject it. It is scam. She will order as much as possible expensive drinks as she is hired by owner and she gets some percentage. Than she will disappear and bill will appear. You wont get anything except bill to pay or being beaten if you don’t have money or refuse to pay. Generally night life is safe and I will speak about that in other articles.
avoid such girls, they bring trouble 🙂
Tip3: Made up incidents: I don’t know how it is often but I heard only two such stories. One of them is that one older lady jumped in front of foreigner on bike and pretended that she was hit by rider and she was demanding money from him as a compensation. Another one is that in night in hutongs one man saw few people beating one person when he came to defend him they all turned against him and called police with demand for compensation from foreigner as they told police that
Tip4: Drugs are strictly prohibited in China. However it may happen that someone intentionally puts you drug to your bag, to use you as a mule and someone can take it away somewhere else. Especially such probability exists when you travel through airport. It is rare but may happen as if they catch you with drugs it is very hard to prove that it isn’t yours. You can even face death penalty if you are caught with more than 50g of heroin.
Tip1: Avoid drinking water from faucets. Water is bacterially safe but there is significant amount of scale in pipes and therefore it isnt healthy enough for drinking. Anything wont happen if you take a glass or two but better buy bottled water or boil water from faucet. This water is safe for cooking and showering. If you are in restaurant ask waiter to boil you glass of water or ask bottled one.
Tip2: “Eat where you see many people eating” It is common Chinese saying and take it literally. Go to restaurants if you see many people eating there. ALso try amazing street food only where you see a lot of customers and nothing will happen to you.
Don’t worry come to Beijing and enjoy it. I love it as my second home.