China is an extremely large country, and the customs and traditions of its people vary by geography and ethnicity. There are more than 1 billion people living in China with the largest group being the Hans community while other minority groups include the Mongols, Tibetans, The Hezhen, The Manchus and the Nazi. Individuals within certain communities create their cultures which include food, style, language, religion, marriage, morals, music and so many other things that make up how a group interacts and behaves.

When you travel in this continent-size country, there is a myriad of surprises waiting for you in just around every corner. The Middle Kingdom has so much to do, and so many places to go to. It’s such a beautiful country, from high-tech flashy cities bordered by shabby towns and ancient temples scattering across Holly valleys and mountains to places where the smell of fish and tofu are all over the dusty air and shopping from a few cents to hundreds of dollars. Your experience can be quite nerve-racking or near perfection depending on how much you are willing to relearn simple, useful things so as to be able to navigate in this giant country. Some of the things you probably should learn include:

Fighting for your position

You would never get to understand what bad traffic jams and crowds until you visit China. Orderly queues in China are often disregarded, and people would blatantly step in front of you, push past you or cut line to the front of the counter as if you aren’t even there. It gets much frustrating especially in famous places during the holidays where it can take more than an hour just to buy a train ticket or more than 10 minutes to cross a bridge. This is greatly influenced by overpopulation thus practice a lot of patience, maintain your cool and don’t be afraid to stick out your elbows when defending to maintain your place in line.

English level in China

Only a handful of people in China can speak English or even any other foreign language for that matter. The possibility of getting one person who speaks English gets, even more, thinner when you move away from the bigger cities into the villages. Taxi drivers, public institution staff, certain hotels and restaurant staff, bus drivers and so many other people you might interact with don’t know English and if they do it’s quite little that it might not help as much.

There are no two ways about this, just learn some Chinese. There are two types of the most common Chinese which include Mandarin and Cantonese. Start from the basics like how to say ni hao: “hello”, bu yao: “No”, xiexie: “thank you”, mei yuo: “can’t do it/don’t have it”. Numbers in Mandarin are important too. One of the easiest ways is to use the Chinese translator to help you understand what some words in China mean, such as places names, subway or bus station names, directions and general useful phrases that will help you get by.

Buying SIM cards in China

Whenever you buy as “pay as you go” card in a particular province, you will be able to benefit from the included discounted fares and minutes but only in that region or city. For instance, if you buy a card in Shanghai only to use it in Beijing, it would probably cost you around ten times more than in Shanghai per minute. It’s always a safer bet to purchase them locally and see to it that they have credit because you might end up just paying for the card alone if you meet scammers. Ask to know if they can accept international texts or calls and if possible just go for the leading mobile service providers such as telecom China, China Unicom and China Mobile for they have better deals and more reliable.

Maps, subways, and taxis in China

It is always a good idea when you have a map written in both Chinese and English with you whenever visiting the city on your own. This might be the only way you get to communicate with your subway staff or taxi driver about where exactly you are going to. You might find the maps in hotels where they display free ones, and others sell them. Also don’t be scared to use the subway since they have such a nice underground network and if you are lucky you can find one displaying the names in English. When you get into a taxi, ask the driver to start the fare meter especially in big cities for they might easily rip you off. Ask for the receipt and if it looks that they have overcharged you, then consult with the taxi company. If it’s true to complain to get you extra money back.

Asking information on the streets

The information you get from the people on the streets is quite unreliable. Well, the Chinese people are very friendly and fond of foreigners and always have the desire to help but when does a rumor become the real deal. They might give you information they heard someone say or read on some blog some time back which might not be applicable today. When you want to get information about places, for instance, consult reliable travel websites or learn from getting lost which might just be exactly what you do not need.

Chinese Food rules

The Chinese food culture is quite diverse, and most of the people tend to share dishes whenever they go out rather than ordering the food separately. You might also learn some have habits of bringing the orders one after another, for instance, they might serve you the duck first then bring the rice after you are done. If you happen to experience this, let they waiter know that you would love your orders to be served at the same time assuming the waiter understands English. Also don’t expect the Chinese food to be what you always see on the international menus, the food here is more indigenous, fresh, basic but very delicious. You can as well try out the night food markets since the food is always cheap, fresh and very tasty. Get prepared about their choice of drinking hot water be it in summer or winter. They believe it’s good for your health, and the alternative can be tepid but not cold water.

Chinese Culture: Superstitions

In China, people are quite superstitious. They believe color 8 and 9 are the lucky numbers while number 4 is the unlucky number since it represents the sound of death. When presenting gifts do not wrap then in white or black, but they prefer their festive color red which they believe represents success and good tidings. You will be able to learn that house numbers, phone numbers or car numbers with 8 in them are in demand and quite expensive because people believe that they are the luckiest of all charms and represents prosperity. It is also expected that death shouldn’t be brought up in any conversation.

Good Manners is a Chinese Tradition

China is a collective community and family, and friends union is quite strong. When you take somebody out, it’s expected that you will pay for the meals and never order only your food since food in China is for sharing. You will also realize that guys in China carry their girlfriend’s handbags as a sign of chivalry, and they are not necessarily fashion-mongers or gay. The Chinese people might also ask to take a selfie with you, so you’ve got to be kind and learn how to smile like a celebrity. You will also realize that they stare at the foreign visitors especially the fair-skinned blond people and call them “laowai.” It can get overwhelming when you are out but try as much as you can to maintain your cool. In China, pointing at people with your index finger frowns upon thus when presenting something better use your entire hand but not the index finger because it’s offensive.

The Concept of Personal space: a Cultural Difference

The Chinese people know just little about privacy thus don’t be surprised when someone is standing just too close when talking to you or even someone pressing against you in very crowded areas. Being such an enormous population, they do not have the luxury of the personal buffer space that the westerners seem to enjoy. Maybe not by choice at the beginning but it’s now part of their lifestyle.

Thanks to pollution, it’s now commonplace to find people spitting and clearing mucus in public places. It can happen in public transportation or even inside rooms and trust me; this can get quite annoying, but you should learn to live with it.

Bargaining and Shopping is Part of Chinese Culture

Shopping in China is never an easy task. First, because most of the products and labeled in Chinese and second because you can easily get ripped off. Be ready to do your due diligence of the products you need because traders and sellers are not the most trustworthy people. They might tell you that a certain product contains exactly what you are looking for, and if you can’t read for yourself, there is nothing much you can do. This is where you or a Chinese translator becomes your friend. It can be time-consuming but better take your time to get it right than end up buying something that might be harmful or wouldn’t help.

Then there is the art of bargaining, actually, start practicing as early as you can in the mirror. The Chinese people believe that foreigners are rich and have a lot of money thus they will always quote a higher price. If you care about money, then you will bargain until it hurts. Though it can be time-consuming, it will help you cut your cost by half. The rule of thumb as always been the price is 20 to 30% less of the asked price. Always put that into consideration when bargaining.

Traveling to China is certainly an exciting experience. However, just like a trip to any other foreign country, there is a laundry list of things you can only learn through the experience. The above tips will be quite helpful as you prepare to have a remarkably unforgettable trip since you will not be quite shocked once you start learning how different things can get. There is just so much more that you will learn throughout you stay and the more you learn, the easier your life becomes.