Living in China

Staying in China - Living in China

For those that are likely to stay around for a while.

Culture Shock is real in China
How many of the Ex pats living in China have experienced some sense of frustration at some time or other, sometimes in the extreme?
It is no longer as bad as it once was in the past, there is now far less here to frustrate you and the Chinese are learning very quickly how to smooth things out...We can but hope?
Take note
Especially important for those just arriving or planning a live in China for the first time.

What can you do when frustration sets in? - Stop, think, count to ten, keep your mouth shut tight, inwardly seethe but smile on the outside, see the funny side if you can, and most of all try not to be too insulting if you cannot resist the urge to open your mouth Check this out... Four Stages of Culture Shock

Don't forget, it's not where you are from, it is where you are that is important.

Day to Day Living in China
If you are out on your own, write or get someone to write your destination and living address in Chinese, this will help enormously but not always guarantee the quickest, cheapest route taken by the taxi driver... Gotcha.
Finally the words of caution, protect your valuables at all times, commonsense needed.
You will find China traffic jaw dropping, whichever city you are in.
When out walking cross the roads very carefully.
Watch out for the SILENT electric bike that can and do go, just about anywhere.
Pavements are not just for pedestrians - BEWARE
Tipping or gratuities are not common practice in most sectors of Chinese life, although I always tip the hotel porter. A small tip of around 5 RMB. It is not customary to leave tips at restaurants.
Cultural Issues
Do not compare Western culture with Chinese culture. The Chinese people are very proud of their ancient heritage. Many customs will be very different to Western cultures. It is necessary to be sensitive to these cultural differences.
The cultural differences may not always be to your liking, you will need to embrace them and not resist them. You will need to adjust yourself to going with the flow, the sooner you do, the sooner you will relax, enjoy yourself and have a great time.
Guanxi [pronounced "Gwan Shee"] - What is it?
In my short time here in Nanning China I have come across 'Guanxi' time and time again in many different situations.
Everything from the purchase of a property and employing tradesmen to buying a ticket for an event or transport.
No man is an island - You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours - A friend of a friend - A network - A connection - An exchange of favours - A relationship - A cooperative - Support.
Elements of Guanxi :- trust, respect, favour, loyalty, obligation, dependence, harmony, reciprocity, mutual benefit, adaptation, patience, cultivation.
On the surface Guanxi has a clear meaning, a personal connection between people. Be it two or a two hundred. Be it personal, business or official.
Guanxi is the relationship of one person to another or one person to a group of people or one group of people to another.
Guanxi is a currency, a currency of favour, help, influence and obligation.
The Chinese will not normally develop a relationships with people they do not know. An introduction or maybe someone to vouch for you will always work best - a simple example of 'Guanxi'
Some 'Guanxi' can be based on family connections, an old school friend, a work colleague and sometimes 'Guanxi' is cultivated.
Often, the reason for the 'Guanxi' connection between two people is open and transparent, sometimes not.
Gifts are sometimes used in "Guanxi" to help establish and nurture a relationship.
This might explain why, sometimes, the Chinese appear reticent in receiving gifts - What does the gift giver expect in return?
Guanxi is used extensively in business and work.

Guanxi and Mianzi (Face) often go hand in hand, a great insight can be found here...

Mianzi - 'Face'
Mianzi, commonly referred to as 'face' is a reflection of ones level of status in the eyes of his or her peers.
Saving 'face' means you have avoided bringing or giving embarrassment to yourself or others.
It is a subject that is not openly discussed in Chinese society, but nonetheless exists in all areas of Chinese life.
As a foreigner, it is not necessary to take 'Face' too seriously although you should always do your best to abide by the social rules.
Try not to embarrass others, especially not in front of their own peers. 
Mianzi 'Face' can best be described as the avoidance of embarrassment in front of others.
Food in China
Food has a special meaning to the Chinese people. Be Brave…Go ahead and try out all the different specialties of every region. Most restaurants provide the tea free of charge. If you prefer a knife and fork, ask.
Normally there is never a problem in taking photo’s. Please refrain from taking pictures of the police and government officials. They do not like it and may respond accordingly. The last thing you want is your camera confiscated. At some tourist areas you may have to pay for the privilege of taking a photo.
Plentiful in most areas and probably the most comfortable way of getting around. They are numerous in the cities, large and small. Prices vary by city but are usually very cheap and should be displayed. Expect to pay between 5 and 10RMB as a starting tariff, depending on city. A lot of the drivers will try to practise their English with you. The meter should always be activated. You can order a taxi from your hotel and ask the concierge to write down your destination on a card, this may help, but not always. Best to make sure the driver fully understands the written instruction before you set off. Never pay in advance, always pay at the end of your journey.
It is not customary to give tips to drivers.
In the past western toilets were not generally available outside hotels and airports anywhere in China. The good news many establishments are installing them. Toilet paper is usually not supplied except in the Hotels.
Tips... always carry a supply of paper tissues with you.
Phone booths are scarce in China. You will find various establishments offering the use of a phone, sometimes many phones. Most Cell phones now have global roaming which will allow calls to be made, anywhere anytime. These calls can be expensive so it would be wise to talk to your local cell phone provider before leaving your home country. Hotel phones can be very expensive. Always check the price before using.
Internet and Email facilities are available in most hotels and most have Internet connections (broadband) in the rooms and are also in some cases WiFi enabled. Internet cafes are plentiful and inexpensive in China but security might be an issue.
Chinese Etiquette
Be courteous and watch your manners
In order to avoid unnecessary mistakes and embarrassment during communications, a better understanding of Chinese etiquette is essential.
Often referred to as the Nation of Etiquette, it is important to always be polite and courteous in China. Chinese people are courteous but reserved and politeness is appreciated at all times. Even when faced with the less than glamorous circumstances. The Chinese attach great importance in this area. In some provinces in China you may be the first westerner they have seen, now highly unlikely but still remotely possible.
Always remember that you are a guest in their wonderful country, and a representative of your own.
China is a nation with a culture going back thousands of years. Just like you, they deserve respect. Please view China with their cultures in mind and not your own.
Basic daily do's and dont's
The Chinese people may nod or bow slightly as an initial greeting, you can return this gesture also.
Nowadays handshakes are used widely. Handshakes are considered formal greeting behavior in China. They are used to show respect. The grip should be firm, but not overly so, and it should not be prolonged because the Chinese like other Asians, prefer a brief handshake.
Chinese people are not familiar with being touched, an example would be the western welcoming greeting of a kiss on the cheek. This you would never do with a stranger and especially not in any business meeting. But is now accepted with old friends and family members and is usually accompanied by shrieks of laughter. Interestingly laughter is the Chinese way to hide embarrassment.
Do not be to surprised if you find yourself in a compromising position only to see a Chinese smiling at you, they are not laughing at you, just sharing your embarrassment.
Great importance and respect is given to the old.
It is not uncommon when travelling on public transport to see teenagers giving up there seats to the old, pregnant women and women with young children.
When meeting a group of people for the first time, acknowledge the most senior person in a group first.
Holding hands in public is OK but other displays of affection, like kissing or hugging is generally frowned upon, but times are changing.
When in public, avoid biting your nails, openly removing food from your teeth, the Chinese do this by using tooth picks but they tend to cover this action by shielding with their other hand. You are likely to see this in a restaurant.
Pushing is common in queue's and if you are in no rush it can be quite amusing to watch the "pushers in" but on the other hand, if you are in a rush it is very annoying and the one thing westerners tend to comment on.
Also, spitting in public is common although with changing times it is in some cases frowned upon even by the some Chinese, prepare yourself for this.
Blowing your nose with a handkerchief is OK but once again be prepared for some strange looks.
Casual clothes are acceptable everywhere, although I do notice, just like elsewhere in the world smarter clothes can gain more respect. It is not uncommon to see Chinese women and men walking around in the evening in what looks like and may very well be pyjamas.
Revealing clothes should be avoided.
You may find Chinese people are not forthcoming with information unless they are specifically asked for it, even when you ask direct questions to get the information you need, it may still prove to be a mini battle, it is just their way. Sometimes it does appear that the truth is not forthcoming. This is not done maliciously probably more to do with Chinese 'face' and an element of patience and understanding will ease any difficult situation.
Don't always be fooled by what looks like a kind smile as this can mean that the person is upset or embarrassed and try to avoid confrontational situations that may cause a loss of 'face'. Confrontation is not appreciated in any way and will only worsen rather than resolve a conflict.
If you follow the usual rules of etiquette in China, you will extend the proper respect to the people you meet. But do not worry too much about any cultural barriers, as the warm and friendly Chinese will try their best to respect your customs when communicating.
Eating Out
Customs and the types of food eaten vary according to which region of China you are in, it is common for Chinese families to gather for three meals a day. Restaurants and tea houses are widely used also.
In general, the association we practise in the West between the type of food and the time of day it should be served is not followed.
You know the sort of thing I mean, bacon and eggs for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, a cooked meal for dinner.
A whole range of food is eaten at any time of day in China, once again though, some provinces have fairly rigid customs.
In most parts a main meal is eaten in the evening.
When dining out in a restaurant the main meal can resemble a banquet, lots of dishes all available with various vegetables and meats, you then take what you want unto your plate and eat. Sometimes it is not quite as simple as that, so if help is at hand use it.
You won't offend by getting it wrong, on the contrary, you will entertain but to get it all right first time is highly unlikely.
The main element to most meals is rice but also noodles are used also.
Normally, dishes are laid out in the center of the table, and each takes there food and places it on there own bowl and plate using their chopsticks.
It is perfectly acceptable to reach across the table to take a food from a dish.
In the restaurants you may find the center section of the table rotates.
Eating begins in order of seniority but as a guest you will probably be asked to start first, good luck.
To eat rice from a bowl sometimes a diner raises the bowl to their lips and pushes the grains into the mouth with chopsticks. A difficult task for a beginner to master.
During your meal, your host may ask you to have more food or alcohol. Most meals will be served with rice, try to eat most of the rice as it is considered a waste to leave some, my tactic is to always eat at least one small bowl of rice.
If you are truly full up, it is better to refuse directly, otherwise, the host will continue to refill your bowl.
The number one pastime in China is eating.
Mcdonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut are in most cities now and the eating habits are the same as any where else in the world, pick it up and eat it.
If you can, visit a  Chinese tea drinking ceremony or exhibition.
The Chinese take great pride in their tea rituals and you can always try a cup of delicious green tea with many benefits.
Family Visiting
In China, gifts are given when visiting a family. Usually, flowers, fruit and food is okay. Before you give alcohol it is best to check first if this would be acceptable as some Chinese frown upon it.
Gifts...the Giving and Receiving
Chinese people consider gifts an important part in showing courtesy.
Gift giving and receiving is important to both private and business situations.
Favorite for the initial meeting is a gift that portrays some unique aspect of your home country. Ideally gift packaging should be red or any other festive color. White and black are should be avoided.
If you are invited to a family party, small gifts like cigarettes, fruit, sweets and flowers are OK.
Odd numbers are seen as unlucky.
The number four is considered a bad number, it reads like death in Chinese so avoid that. The number eight is good.
You should use both hands when presenting it as you would also do if handing over a business card.
Do not be surprised if the receiver graciously refuses the present when first offered.
If this happens then you should, after a short pause present it once again. You might find that a gift is not opened immediately, as sometimes it is considered polite to open it after you leave.
Gifts are given and received more through common courtesy so value is not considered that important, although, if it is for a lady, just like anywhere else in the world, a huge diamond ring would not be refused, only received with lots of embarrassing giggles.
Essential Travel & living abroad advice from the British Foreign and Commonwealth office.

A recent comment...
I recently visited my fiance in Nanning. I also went the route you are taking. As with any other country, there customs agents are very tired and unhappy. But if you are a law abiding citizen here or anywhere else, you will be ok. You know what you should and should not do. The same applies in the US and China is the same. Learn some basic language skills first. They will ask you a few things and if you cannot communicate, they will search you for an hour. they will ask you for your id and or passport, and for your final destination, things like this. Not much more. Maybe how many bags you have and such. I agree totally with the author of this article. Very factual. I could not have said it better. You will have no problem with immigration or customs in China. Even everyday life is like business. Nobody wants to stand around and chat like we do in America. Just pay for it and go. Or eat it and leave. But a very beautiful country. I have to say one of the most I have ever seen. Be careful not to touch the women in other parts of the country, to some a simple touch is an engagement.Even a brush in public. You are safe from this in Nanning. You will find the Chinese are the most gentle people you will meet. I feel anywhere. But the police or government agents or soldiers are told to be harsh. Even physical if you break any laws. Never take a photo of a policeman, govt. official or facility. I made this mistake and if it wasn't for my fiance, i would have got a baton over my head. You will see a wide variety of social class as you do here. People are people everywhere you go, so this is the same,but the culture is very different as you have learned. Personally I believe it to be to my liking. The elderly and family are more important to them than they are here in the US. much more.So respect their family time or the time they spend at home. It is a law in China for the children to care for their parents as they age when help is needed. As a people, China is a very gentle soul. And never leave a tip in a restaurant. To some it is considered an insult.It is also an insult to refuse a gift if presented to you. Enjoy your trip.


Alan, Isaan Thailand said...

I find this information to be similar here in Thailand. Most notably, tablespoon and fork are standard for meals, with chopsticks usually being available if preferred. Also, touch does not have larger implication here. Many Thai are touchy-feely. The only rules I know about touch are: don't touch a person's head or back; hand arm ok. Your commentor speaks strongly of the gentle nature of Chinese people. I listen to Chinese music on You Tube often. It is superior listening! Thank you for very useful introduction for my first visit to China soon.

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