China is the first country I've visited where it felt completely foreign. There were definitely a handful of occasions where I thought to myself "What the hell is going on here?" That's why I decided to compile this list of quirky things you should know about China. Hopefully my list can help take some of the shock value out of your first trip to the Chinese mainland. I'd like to preface by saying that I am not an expert on China or Chinese Culture. My thoughts below are just those of an ignorant American visiting for the first time.
No One Speaks English
It sounds obvious, but I was really surprised by how little english was spoken. I've visited other foreign countries before, but I thought China was the first one that wasn't catered towards western tourists. Our hotel staff knew enough english to communicate, but they labored to hold a true conversation. When Elizabeth and I were out and about in Beijing it was all Mandarin, all the time.
Everyone Is Really Nice
Despite the language barrier I thought the people in Beijing we're extremely friendly. I always made it a point to say hello (Ni Hao) and thank you (Xiexie) and I think that went a long way with the locals. The few interactions I did have were all very pleasant and the people were more than happy to help. I also didn't get yelled at in any foreign language so that's always a plus.
They Drive Like Maniacs
The drivers in Beijing were some of the most aggressive drivers I've ever seen. If they needed to change lanes they'd just run the other driver off the road until they moved. Now add in all of the cyclists and mopeds on the road and you wonder why there aren't people dead in the street. You're safest bet is to take the subway, but if you need to take a taxi make sure to wear your seatbelt.
Toilets Are a Hole in the Ground
This is no joke. If you see a sign for a public toilet, be prepared to squat above a hole to use the bathroom. A lot of the time there weren't even dividers so you could enjoy going to the bathroom alongside a total stranger. I was lucky because a lot of the men's bathrooms had normal urinals. Elizabeth on the other hand spent the whole trip trying not to pee in public.
Kids Pee Everywhere
I can't tell you how many toddlers we saw peeing in public. They just drop their pants wherever they please and let it fly. The weird part is that their parents encourage it. I saw a man holding his daughter up while she peed in the middle of the zoo. A lot of the kids even wear pants with slits in the crotch and the butt so it's easier to go to the bathroom in public.
Water Is Served Hot At Restaurants
Okay, that's enough about toilets and public urination. If you go to a restaurant be prepared to be served hot water. The Chinese believe cold water is bad for digestion so every meal starts with a small cup of hot water. You can order something else to drink, but they're always going to serve it to you.
They Eat Weird Stuff
Scorpions, snakes, cicadas, and chicken feet were just a few of the Chinese delicacies I saw for sale on Wangfujing Snack Street. I don't know if it's true, but I heard they had to resort to eating bugs because their farming techniques are so archaic they can't possibly feed their entire population.
Queues Mean Nothing
People in China don't like to wait in line. If you're in a queue just be prepared to have absolutely no personal space as people push and shove their way through. Don't be afraid to throw your weight around otherwise you'll never make it anywhere.
Lack of Bars
In China it's actually frowned upon to drink regularly. Elizabeth and I only saw a couple of bars and hardly any of them had any patrons. It's definitely a change of pace coming from the US where there's a bar on every street corner.
Once again, I'm not claiming to be an expert on China or Chinese Culture. I just wanted to give my fellow Americans an idea of what they can expect on their first visit China. If I screwed something up or you have more valuable insight, please don't hesitate to comment below.
What else do you find quirky about China?