Chinese culture is vastly different from that of Western countries. Although expats may have prepared for the cultural differences before arrival, they will still go through a period of misunderstanding of some of the customs and behaviors in China. Here I list ten things foreigners find strange in China.
1. Girls always use umbrellas when it's sunny
In your eyes, an umbrella might only be used when it rains. However, in China, an umbrella is something girls are using no matter what the weather is. Girls will explain to you that umbrellas are good for blocking strong sunlight and especially ultraviolet rays, which is regarded as being harmful to the skin. Furthermore, tanned skin is not popular and poorly accepted in Chinese society, so girls will try every way to protect their skin from being black or brown. There goes a famous saying in China: A white complexion is powerful enough to hide any imperfections.
2. Drinking hot water
Even during the hottest season, Chinese love to drink hot water. It is said that the custom is inherited from old times and greatly benefits the body. Usually if you don’t specify what kind of water you want, they will serve you hot water. So be smart when you just need something to cool down. Sometimes though, they may not even have anything but boiling water!
3. Students are wearing “oversleves”
It is not unusual for people to wear “oversleeves” if they are going to do something that might get their clothes dirty. An oversleeve is a plastic covering you put over your clothes on your arms.
The interesting thing is the students in classes actually wear oversleeves most of the time. The reason is simple: they don’t want to get their sleeves dirty because they have to hand-wash it and it is a not an easy task to thoroughly clean. This scenario is quite common in a boarding school as they don't have access to a washing machine.
4. Take photos of food
When you add a Chinese friend on Wechat (The Chinese version of WhatsApp), the chances are high that he/she will post lots of photos about various foods on his/her “Moments” (Similar to a wall on Facebook). It is not surprising that Chinese like to share every kind of food they are eating to their friends. It is perhaps due to culture that Chinese often eat out in a variety of restaurants, or food is considered important in Chinese society as the saying goes: food is the first necessity of the people.
5. Dancing in the square
When night falls, usually a group of aunties and uncles start their dancing in the nearby square or park. They follow the rhythm from a loud portable speaker and try their best to imitate the steps of the leader. The scenario often gets complaints in China as the dance music affects the people living nearby. The square dance, nevertheless, still continues to exist and prospers due to being are an important leisure activity among retired people.
6. Walking backwards, swinging arms and clapping hands
This is something the elderly often do in the street especially in the early morning. According to traditional Chinese medical science, these movements are of great benefit to people, especially aged men. The series of movements can help relax muscles, accelerate blood circulation and strengthen bones, postponing aging. The reason why the elderly prefer these movements are probably because they are typically believers of traditional Chinese medical science and are able to finish these movements easily and anytime, anywhere.
7. Trying to pay the bill first
As going Dutch is not a popular option in China, the most senior or most successful person of the group will always pay. If there are males and females, males often have to pay as it is considered a gentleman manner in China. It's common locals also fight to be the first one to give the money to the waiter due to the reason that the winner will gain face because of his/her generosity.
8. Asking private questions
If you are a newcomer in China, you will probably get frustrated and annoyed by the huge number of private questions. “How much do you earn monthly?” “How tall are you?” “Are you married?” “Do you have sister or brother back home?” You will be bombarded by the above questions. It is a dilemma most foreigners will encounter during first visit and don’t know how to deal with. You'll get used to it quick enough though as you can also ask these questions back! Asking personal questions is actually a quick way to get to make new friends.
9. Lucky “eight” and unlucky “four”
“Eight” is considered a lucky number in Chinese society as it sounds similar to “fa” (å?), which means “get rich”. Therefore, it is rare and difficult to get “eight” on things related to numbers. The car number plate number contains a lot of “eight” is of high value and the phone number is subject to it as well. Conversely, four is a number that Chinese will attempt to get away from since the pronunciation resembles “si” (æ»), which means “die”. Occasionally you will see some buildings (in particular the old buildings) have no fourth floor (it would be named after the next number) or no.4 room doesn’t exist at all!
10. Fish with bones
It is very rare to see boneless fish in China. Most Chinese get used to it and know how to handle the bones. As it is not a skill can be developed easily without long time training, you better not eat this kind of fish without special treatment about the bones. It also applies to fish soup, in which there may be unseen fish bones flowing inside the soup. Generally, you can ask the waiter/waitress which fish have the least bones and in good restaurants you can find really perfect fish where the bones come out with the spine in one piece.