China is one of the most fascinating countries in the world, whether you're traveling or teaching there.
But like any country, it has its problems.
Here’s an honest appraisal of some of the things foreigners find difficult dealing with when visiting China, or what I call the seven deadly sins of China!
Despite government campaigns encouraging people to be more ‘civilized’, for many Chinese men spitting in public is virtually a national pastime.
In the dry and dusty cities, like Beijing, the sound of someone noisily drawing up phlegm and depositing it on the street is practically customary.
The culprits don’t care where they do it, either. You could be sitting in a taxi and the driver winds the window down mid-journey to clear his throat.
To describe this experience as unpleasant would be an understatement!
Spitting is one of the few things that foreigners never really get used to in China, even after spending a number of years there.
(Check out this interesting blog on why Chinese people spit if you want to know more.)
China is full of bustling markets with a range of clothes, gifts, toys and homewares. That’s great, right?
Yes and no.
Although China is a bargain-shopper’s paradise, you’ll rarely see a price on anything.
That’s because Chinese people are accustomed to the age-old practice of bargaining. It’s practically part of their DNA.
You'll have to bargain for goods while in China.
As a foreigner, you’ll be offered a 'special' price – so special, in fact, that it could be inflated by two or three times the local price.
To get a good price, you’ll need to think and act like a Chinese person. This means slashing their offer in half or not budging from a price that you think is fair.
Never accept the first price you’re given.
If you get a kick out of bargaining, or can speak a little Chinese, you’ll enjoy market shopping in China. For everyone else, it can be a bit of a headache.
3. Pollution and littering
Despite strong government efforts to improve the environment, the pollution levels in China always seem to make headlines worldwide.
It was recently so hazy in Beijing that residents were advised to stay indoors. It’s no wonder then that sales of air purifiers and face masks have skyrocketed.
Rapid development comes at a cost and China is bearing the brunt of it.
Littering is also a big problem. People unashamedly drop litter on the street, in parks and gardens, even out their car windows while they’re driving. It’s a sad sight to see.
Sadly, face masks are becoming a necessity in Beijing.
Why don’t many Chinese people care about the environment? They believe it’s not their responsibility. The prevailing mindset is that someone else (beneath them) will clean up their mess.
Unfortunately, it will be many years yet before we see a significant shift of thinking.
4. Learning the language
Learning Mandarin is hard. It’s hard to speak it, it's hard to write it, and it's hard to read it.
Mandarin is a tonal language, which even the bravest language-learners struggle to grapple with.
Although there are only four tones, the difference between each is subtle and getting it wrong can render your entire sentence meaningless.
Writing in Mandarin is equally challenging. This is due to the non-Romanized script and lack of alphabet.
There are literally thousands of Chinese characters, and to learn and retain them all requires a razor-sharp memory and countless hours of practice.
Sure, you’ll be able to get by with a few expressions and knowing the numbers, but you’re probably never going to master the language.
(Note: As an English teacher in China, you don't have to know any Mandarin.)
China is the most populous country on earth. No matter where you go, there will be people. And lots of them.
The most crowded places in China range from the beach in Shenzhen to the Shanghai Metro at rush hour.
On public holidays, especially during Chinese New Year, crowds are at their worst. Large train stations are particularly manic as people make their way home to see their family.
The only place where you might be able to get some peace and quiet – and this really depends on your location – is within the confines of your apartment or hotel.
You can't escape the crowds in China.
Some people revel in the hustle and bustle, while others struggle.
If you’re in China for the long haul, like an English teacher, you’ll get used to it simply because you have to.
Unless you’re inside the international terminal of a major Chinese airport, the concept of lining up doesn’t exist in China.
Whether you’re at the supermarket, cinema or bus stop, it’s a classic case of every man or woman for themselves. And there’s no such thing as a discreet queue-jump – Chinese people will openly cut right in front of you.
The longer you stay in China, the more you’ll get used to it. You might even start to beat the locals at their own game!
Still, it’s a pet peeve for many a foreigner visiting or working in China.
7. Last-minute changes
Are you super-organised? Love planning ahead?
If so, you’ll need to adjust to the Chinese way of life. Pronto!
In China, plans can be changed at the very last minute. Likewise, you could be invited to do something with no prior notice and be expected to immediately drop what you’re doing.
This takes time getting used to and, like queue jumping, you might even start doing it yourself. As they say, when in Rome…
Have I missed anything? Is there an eighth deadly sin? I'd love to see what you think!