As you might remember I had a pretty hard time travelling in China. It is a challenging country that requires a lot of patience and understanding but at the end you are rewarded with an encounter with amazing places, interesting history and intriguing culture. I just wish before my trip to China I could have read advises like these given by Agness from eTramping as they would surely make my time there much easier!
I can give you countless reasons why you should add China to your travel bucket list. Some of them are affordable and yet delicious and healthy Chinese cuisine that will make you discover new flavours and spices, 5,000 years of culture you will have a chance to explore, beautiful landscapes such as the Hallelujah Floating Mountains or Longsheng Rice Terraces and endless possibilities to comprehend one of the most difficult languages in the world – Mandarin Chinese.
Once you set foot in the Land of Dragons, you will start to discover one of the oldest cultures in the world. You will promptly notice that China is so proud of its people, long history, resplendent culture and distinctive customs. However, there are few things you should know before you decide to travel, work or live like a local in China. This knowledge will prevent you from being misunderstood by locals and protect you from disrespecting their customs and beliefs.
When travelling, we can find it challenging to accept different ways of rituals, but it’s crucial to be open-minded and understanding, especially in China. Some people’s behaviours might be perceived as silly, irritating and unacceptable by Westerners, but you need to develop an open mind, study Chinese culture, religion and history beforehand and keep interacting with people in order to understand them. After some time, you will get used to everything you could not accept or understand at the beginning.
Here is a list of DOs and DON’Ts when visiting China:
Dos in China:
#1 Ask locals if they have already eaten their meal when greeting them.
When seeing someone for the first time, it’s polite to ask if they have already eaten their breakfast, lunch or dinner, depending on time. Chinese often use a very common phrase nǐ chē le ma? = 你吃了吗? which literally means Have you already eaten? You might find this routine odd, but food plays a great role in Chinese people’s life and asking if they are not hungry is a sign of kindness and concern.
#2 Be punctual.
Chinese can’t stand unpunctual people. If you make an appointment with someone, make sure you show up on time. Otherwise, it might be perceived as something extremely disrespectful.
# 3 Greet older people first.
When you greet someone much older than you in China, you should lower your head below the person you are bowing to in order to show respect and recognition.
When you meet someone your age, you should firstly wave, then smile and say “Ni hao!” which means “Hello!” Unlike some Western countries, Chinese do not accept hugs or kisses as a form of greeting.
#4 Eat and drink as much as you can.
If you go out with Chinese for a party or dinner, you need to eat and drink as much as they do. Locals love to see you enjoy the food you are offered. Once you refuse to eat or drink (even if you are already full) you can see some disappointment on people’s face.
Don’ts in China
#1 Don’t leave your chopsticks upright in your bowl or tap your bowl with them.
This is an absolute no-no! The reason being, this is the way a bowl of rice is offered to the spirit of a dead person, at their deathbed or in front of their photograph on the household Buddhist altar.
Moreover, It’s also not considered to be very good form to cross the working ends of your chopsticks while eating, so pay more attention to how you use them when eating.
#2 Don’t be surprised to see, and feel pushing and shoving everywhere.
The Chinese have little knowledge of queuing and personal space. If you leave a gap in a queue because of your personal space, someone will fill it.
#3 Don’t expose your body.
When in China, you should not wear very short shorts when going to school or entering a temple. Showing your legs or neckline can shock many locals, especially the old ones, so always make sure you look neat and modest.
#4 Don’t draw attention to yourself in a negative way.
As a foreigner, you will grab everyone’s attention, but things like behaving abusively will get you noticed far more and for the wrong reasons.
#5 Don’t be offended by the Chinese.
Locals will often say “you are fat,” “you should wear more clothes, it’s getting cold” and also ask how much you earn and how old your girlfriend or boyfriend is. They are only interested in showing that they care about you and are not trying to offend you. You don’t have to answer them however.
Meet Agness – a Polish budget traveller, baozi lover and adventure hunter, who has been living, travelling and working in China since August 2011. She is currently an English teacher in one of Dongguan’s private kindergartens. Between her work and travels, she is blogging on eTramping – a travel website where you can find plenty of budget travel tips on how to travel the world with $25 in your pocket. If you would like to read more about China, you can check out her “Add the Brick to the Great Wall:” Experience-based Advice for China from Expats” e-book which sums up her two-year experience of teaching, living and travelling in the Land of Dragons.
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