Culture shock – My first time in China
Culture shock is overall a sense of strangeness and disorientation experienced by people visiting a culture where things are being done very differently from their background. They can’t make sense of the cultural meanings and practices of what’s happening all around them.
Culture shock is the impact you may feel when you enter a culture very different from one to which you are accustomed. From the little time I have been in China, I can say I have moved from the shock one experiences from the airport to complete acceptance of the Chinese way of life.
The first day I was unimpressed by other things, the “fog” (that to me was fog, but turns out to be heavy pollution), Facebook being censored, a huge number of people, humidity, and poor condition in the Chinese hostels.
No care for pedestrians
When we took the taxi from the airport, I was shocked to see that our driver was about to kill a poor pedestrian that was crossing the street; to me there seemed to be a total absence of rules. I learned the hard way that when walking down the street, you don’t have the right of way.
You have to be very careful crossing the street. It’s congested with both cars and pedestrians, and when they honk, it’s not to say “watch out,” they are saying “I’m coming through (whether you like it or not) and if you don’t move, you’ll get hit.”
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Finally, I have learned to cross the street placing one of their citizens in between myself and oncoming traffic (i.e. the locals know when it is safe to cross). That seems to be working just fine.
I have no problem trying new things (which China can offer), but I hate not knowing what I’m eating, not saying that the menu doesn’t tell you but it’s in Chinese, and no English translation whatsoever. Almost any living thing is possible food, and if it’s intended to be food, the approach is often very pragmatic. This varies a lot by region and individual, but don’t be surprised to see some horrific treatment of animals used for food. Also, don’t be surprised to see animals that you’d normally see at a pet store or being hunted by exterminators on a menu.
It doesn’t mean that the Chinese don’t have pets (I was surprised to see that they do) or don’t have respect for animals. It’s just a question of practicality and cultural norms. Chinese people have a love for food, love talking about food, and of course eating it! The variety of food and the food culture is incredible.
I’m a dark-brown skinned African girl. At first, I will admit it was overwhelming. I have never had any attention focused on me being black, but here I’m pretty sure I got more attention than a real-life Chewbacca would get in a Star Wars convention. I have no idea how many pictures I have taken with strangers so far, but every weekend when I go to the mall, I must be ready to smile and pose for the camera. Besides that, I don’t even know how many photos of me are taken without my permission (not that I care). Overall, I’m not complaining; it is somewhat fun feeling like a celebrity, and it’s quite an ego boost (sometimes). Still, entirely unusual. People will openly stare at you, expressionless, and sometimes even point you out to friends and family by jabbing a finger in your direction. I noticed it doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white, you’ll get stared at.
I should have expected a city of 25 million people to be noisy, but it caught me off-guard. It was 2 am in the morning and I had just gotten off a flight from Dubai. I was tired. Jet lag was setting in, but all I could hear was the sound of cars passing by and people singing, which turned out to be karaoke. In the first days I couldn’t get proper sleep, not because of lack of trying but the noise was too much.
Many Chinese people, in particular older generations, lack any sense of manners or etiquette based on my personal sense of manners. If you’re in someone’s way when they want to get out of the metro, expect an elbow to the ribs. Spitting everywhere, throwing rubbish everywhere, naked babies peeing in the middle of the street, etc.
Drinking hot water is normal. Drinking iced water is not. I remember this one time at a restaurant I requested water, and they gave me hot water. I was lost for words. Where I’m from, hot water is associated with tea or coffee; you just don’t drink hot water anytime. Long story short, I had to buy the cold water at the shop across the street.
Before moving to Beijing, I spent a lot of time on Google, not only did it warn me about the food in China but it informed me that the population was over one billion, I just didn’t think it was a big deal. Then came the first day on the subway! All I could see was black haired Chinese people everywhere I turned.
As an African, I am so used to the diversity of people that I found the sea of black-headed Chinese people all dressed in black, gray and white to be a big shock. Where were the Indians, the Africans, the blondes, the African-Americans? Nowhere in sight. I only saw a few Americans, and that was it.
Overall, I love China, and for everything that shocks me in a bad way, there’s always something that surprises me in a positive way. At the end of the day, our differences are what makes this world such an interesting place. This is all based on my observations, my culture shock. I may well be wrong, and my experience may well be warped by the fact that I’ve been in one place in China, which is Beijing, but I think most of these cultural differences will be the same if not more exaggerated across all of China.